Madam Speaker, I rise this evening to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill C-222, which would amend the Expropriation Act.
The concept of expropriation is not new in the history of humankind, nor is it new to Canada. Expropriation has been used since ancient times and has led to the development of organized societies. In Quebec, the right to property is protected by section 6 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which states:
6. Every person has a right to the peaceful enjoyment and free disposition of his property, except to the extent provided by law.
Quebec civil law has its roots in French law, which, since 1789, has recognized the right of the state to expropriate in the interests of the public, under certain circumstances.
This principle was later incorporated in the Napoleonic Code. It was then adopted by the Civil Code of Lower Canada and then taken up in article 952 of the Quebec civil code.
Canada's first expropriation law dates back to 1886. It was followed by the Expropriation Act of 1952, which was in force until 1970. This act did not contain any provisions for compensation and did not require the Governor in Council to provide reasons for the expropriation. This is unacceptable. It reeks of past imperialists imposing their views with no regard for anyone. This disregard for the public was rectified in 1985.
Expropriation is not a pleasant thing to go through or, I would imagine, to enforce. Mistakes were made in the past. For example, expropriations made to create Forillon National Park caused a great deal of suffering. Then there were the expropriations made to create the Mirabel airport, which also caused significant trauma.
Government of Quebec expropriations in the 1960s shut down villages in the Lower St. Lawrence and the Gaspé. My grandmother, Cécile Gagnon Vignola, worked for Operations Dignity to support the victims of these expropriations.
This is not about unfounded expropriations. It is specifically about expropriations caused by natural disasters or by the need to protect the environment, especially the most fragile areas. The bill before us today does not deal with compensation procedures, but rather with reasons that can be given for an emergency expropriation. Two sections would be amended in much the same way. Sections 10 and 19 have a subsection added to limit the Governor in Council's emergency expropriation powers. To my knowledge, these powers, although limited, have not been used in recent years.
These added subsections stipulate that the Governor in Council will no longer have the right to order emergency expropriations in the very specific case of restoration of former natural habitats or climate variability. In other words, the Governor in Council may make emergency expropriations except in cases involving the environment and climate change.
Accepting such changes would be as irresponsible as saying that the environment is not important, that climate change is not having an impact, or worse, that it does not exist. Some will argue that it is not up to the government to decide where people should move or resettle. In some cases, however, it is clear that government intervention is necessary. People, who are only human, sometimes cannot see past their personal interests and have no long-term vision, no intergenerational vision.
It is time to relearn how to take care of our environment, the place where we live, and to do so not only for ourselves, but also for the people who will live after us.
I have two examples that illustrate why this bill is unacceptable.
Because of record flooding in 2019, the Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac dike collapsed, resulting in the emergency evacuation of 6,000 of the village's 18,000 residents. A total of 800 homes had to be evacuated. It is important to point out that the municipality is largely built in a flood zone and protected by the dike because, as humans, we think that we can stop the force of nature. It was necessary to act quickly to raise the height of the dike, limiting the view of the lake from some homes and thus decreasing their property value.
Had Bill C-222 existed in Quebec in 2019, the height of the dike could not have been raised. As a result, the municipality would have flooded year after year for the simple reason that some residents would prefer to have a view of the lake rather than be protected. That also means that, year after year, the homes of these residents would have flooded and the government would have had to take action to move them out of the flood zone, house them, compensate them and so forth. All these costs are paid out of taxpayers' money, so this is not just a problem for the owners. It is the entire population that has to pay more taxes to cover such costs.
Then there are insurance premiums that go up every time there is a natural disaster and not just for the people affected, but for the entire population too. Protection of private property, which is an important right, also has repercussions for the entire population. It is therefore important to allow the government the right to legislate or make emergency decisions in the interest of the entire population and not just in the interest of certain individuals.
What is more, in the 1960s, if we had tried to see beyond the end of our noses, no one would be living in a flood plain. This would have been banned from the start. Disasters like the one in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac or the big storm that went through the Lower St. Lawrence in December 2015, if I am not mistaken, where homes and garages were carried away by the river because they were built too close to the water, would not have happened. Building homes in those locations would have been prohibited.
Caring for our environment means caring for our food sources and for our economy in the long term. Looking beyond our immediate needs means thinking about future generations. The bill includes an indirect element that would allow the Governor in Council to decide that a person cannot build a house in a given location. That is indirect expropriation. It is important that we keep this possibility.
I am thinking of marshes in particular. When a builder sees a marsh, he fills it in, builds condos and thinks that everything is great. However, without an understanding of the geology and geomorphology of the area and the structure of marshes, we may not realize that marshy areas still sink even after being filled. Consequently, foundations crack, then owners turn to the city or the builder for compensation. Add to that the legal bills. Once again, the entire population pays.
Therefore, it is not just an environmental issue. It is also an issue of fairness for the entire population. We should not have to pay for the decisions made by one or two individuals who make personal choices.