Mr. Speaker, it is with great joy and much sadness that I speak today to this opposition motion moved by the Bloc Québécois—more specifically by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
This morning, my colleague expressed his sadness about this human tragedy involving hundreds of Quebec families from the Gaspé region. These are families that went through a human tragedy: their properties were expropriated and they were stripped of their homes, their land and in some cases their sugar bush.
It was time for an apology, and I want to thank the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for moving the motion we are debating today. This motion calls on the House to issue an official apology to the people whose properties were expropriated to create Forillon Park for the unconscionable manner in which they were treated and calls on the Speaker of the House to send the representatives of the people whose properties were expropriated and of their descendants an official copy of the Journals of the House of Commons indicating the adoption of this motion.
It is important to realize the significance of today's debate. This House cannot brutally expropriate property from the people of Quebec. These were brutal expropriations. That is the right word, since the motion talks about the unconscionable manner in which the property owners were treated. We could also talk about the brutal relocations by our government authorities. We have no choice but to seek an apology from the government.
We have no choice. This idea to create a national park was born in the late 1960s. A minister responsible for national parks was visiting eastern Canada, Quebec in particular, when he saw the magnificent beauty of the Gaspé region as he was flying over. The region is still just as magnificent today. The minister got the zany idea to create a park where people were living and had been proudly living for generations.
The federal minister at the time, a Liberal, came and told the mayor of Gaspé that it would be tremendous to establish a park, perhaps to be called Forillon National Park, and to set aside that part of Quebec territory to establish the first national park in Canada. At the time, it was already known that the then-minister, Jean Chrétien, wanted to establish the first park on Quebec soil and to tear the people from their land in order to create a park under federal jurisdiction. That was well known.
Then negotiations began with the Government of Quebec. Starting in 1968, the government started to put money on the table. It set aside $8.3 million to establish the park. Money talks. That is when it told the communities and the mayors that it was ready to put money on the table as part of a framework agreement. The Government of Quebec resisted, but the federal government had more up its sleeve and started to dangle the prospect of significant economic benefits in front of the people and the communities. It told them that, if the federal plan came to fruition, the region would see economic benefits.
Once again, money talks. What did the feds say? They suggested—it was a federal government commitment—that the park should bring in tens of millions of dollars in investments. They talked about $30 million to $40 million per year, 3,000 new jobs, 700 of which would be permanent, and a threefold increase in tourists, with the number reaching 600,000 per year. That is the impression that the federal government left with the communities of the Gaspé: “Yes, we are going to establish a park, but it will bring you major economic benefits”.
And what are the results today? Certainly nothing like what the federal government promised 40 years ago. The mayor's office in Gaspé conducted an assessment and, in 2005, it calculated that the park employed 35 people year-round and another 100 or so in the summer. This is the equivalent of about 70 full-time jobs per year, whereas the government had said that there would be 700 permanent jobs and a threefold increase in the annual number of tourists. But the number of annual visitors has stalled at about 146,000, a long way from the 600,000 per year that the federal government projected 40 years ago. It can also be seen that visits are dropping steadily by 9%. The economic benefits that the federal government dangled in front of people 40 years ago have not materialized. A number of questions must be asked.
It is also important to remember the position taken by the Government of Quebec in 1970 when it was time to move forward with the project. Dr. Camille Laurin clearly indicated that these issues were related to land-use planning, which was an area mainly under Quebec's jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the project was carried out, resulting in the displacement of populations and the expropriation of families. The record speaks for itself: in five municipalities, at least 983 people, 225 families, 214 residential properties, 355 buildings, 1,400 woodlots and 8 manufacturers were expropriated. We are talking about an area of 154,675 square kilometres. These are the results. This is the harm that the federal government caused to the people and damage it did to the region.
In order for the park to be established, under the Parks Act, the area had to be returned to the most natural state possible, which is what made what I will refer to as this “cleanup” necessary: populations were displaced, buildings and houses were destroyed and, in some cases, houses were burned. This event was a loss of human heritage. We did this. Some might say that generous compensation was provided in exchange for the demolition of these buildings and the destruction of this cultural and human heritage. But such is not the case. According to witnesses—I have at least 10 pages of statements—there are citizens who had 50 acres of land with houses and sugar bushes and they were offered only $1,400 in compensation. This is the type of compensation that the people of the Gaspé received. People who owned sugar bushes were stripped of their inheritance, which was earned through the hard work of their families for generations.
These people deserve compensation. These people deserve an apology. These people deserve an acknowledgement that they have lost an important part of their cultural heritage. That is why we cannot accept the federal government's response, which has been limited to providing passes to 225 families who owned homes there, but limits free access to the park to only three generations. It must do more.
The government must listen to the legitimate claims and demands of these Gaspé residents, who have come together to form a committee called Regroupement des personnes expropriées de Forillon et leurs descendants. They have three demands: first, provide passes to all expropriated families and five generations of their descendants, effective this spring; second, install five signs in Forillon Park indicating the number of families who lived in the area before the expropriation, as well as the names of the families; third, and the basis of our motion today, have the federal government apologize for the unfair treatment of these families, who had to leave their part of the country under duress and because of government harassment.
A few months ago, the member for Lévis—Bellechasse dared to stand up and say that the government acknowledges the type of pass demanded by the group, but that it would limit its use. Why will this government not apologize to the people expropriated? Apologies have been made for other reasons, in other contexts. It would be simple. The people expropriated to make way for Mirabel received an apology, as have others who were treated badly in the past.
This Parliament has been asked to assume its responsibilities on other occasions. Why can we not do so today for the people of Gaspé? Why? That is what we have been trying to find out all morning. All the parties in this House have asked the government why it is refusing outright to agree to the motion moved by my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine. The member from Quebec City spoke on her own behalf only, and not on behalf of her government.
This injustice has gone on long enough. Forty years of Gaspé history is a good reason for us to pause, reflect, conduct a debate in this House, and apologize. We have to ensure that justice is served and that we remedy the harm done.
I would like to say that this is part of our heritage, part of the history of Quebec. Earlier, I was reading the lyrics of a song written by one of our Quebec songwriters, composer Paul Piché, who put pen to paper when these communities were going through their ordeal. He wrote:
St-Scholastique or Forillon Park
Forced to leave in the early morning
For the tourists and their planes
We are always in the way
People lost their homes
Their land and then their country
All I could do was
Write this song
That can do nothing more for this place
Although nothing more could be done 40 years ago, this Parliament must do more. It has a historical responsibility to the communities to ensure that the parliamentarians who are gathered here today, and who have agreed to debate this motion, will vote in favour of my colleague's motion.
We must do so because this is not the first time that the government, with its heavy-handed approach and its completely phantasmagorical ideas, has shown that it could not care less about communities, as we have seen with Mirabel and Forillon Park. For the government, these lands are just commodities, and the people and communities on these lands have no history. For the government, it is as though these lands were never farmed or worked, as though families never lived on them.
We need to look at what happened. We are talking about five municipalities. It would be like the government deciding to demolish the Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie borough in Montreal to make it a federal jurisdiction. Imagine what that would mean for the people, communities and families who live in a region and, as Paul Piché says, in a corner of the country. I think that if we were not able to fairly compensate these families for the damages they incurred, the least we could do would be to apologize and acknowledge that we made a mistake.
This morning, the member for Honoré-Mercier told the House, hand on heart, that the Liberals were sorry. We are happy to see that the Liberal Party acknowledges the harm that was done 40 years ago, but we have not heard anything from this government. This government has a hard time listening to the claims of people whose property has been expropriated. This government refuses to participate in a debate when it is its responsibility. We have to wonder what this government is doing. We have to wonder because the government had been trying to buy the communities since 1968. That is more or less the situation.
Since 1968, the federal government had been saying that it would set aside $8.3 million to create this park. It was already starting to tell the communities that there was a little something in it for them, a carrot on a stick. This phantasmagorical idea to create a park on Quebec territory was completely irresponsible. The government tried to sell the idea of jobs and economic benefits. It was supposed to create structure. That term was not used in the 1940s, but if the then-parks minister were in the House today, he would claim that the Forillon Park project would “structure the community”. He would also tell us that this project would create jobs in the regions. Unfortunately, that never happened.
The benefits have not materialized. What is more serious is that federal power is being extended further.
To wrap up, I hope that the government takes responsibility and votes in favour of the motion that was moved, because it is time that the people who lived in that part of the country get some real restitution.