Madam Speaker, before I begin my speech, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and thank him for his wonderful speech earlier. I also want to congratulate him on his eloquence. My colleague represents a Montreal riding, but his speech clearly demonstrated that he fully understands Quebec and its dual nature, with its large centres and its regions like the Gaspé and all the others.
For some time, the Conservatives have been trying to divide us, to show that there is a difference between the Bloc members from Montreal and those from the regions. My colleague's speech proves that the Bloc Québécois is a tightly knit team. And that is why I am proud of this team. All of its members fully understand this situation and understand Quebec and its regions. I just wanted to point that out before I begin.
I would also like to thank my colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine for the motion we are discussing today. This story of what happened 40 years ago in the Gaspé has touched me deeply.
We are all defined by our origins, our pride and our sense of belonging to a family, a community and a nation.
Some 40 years ago, this sense of belonging and the pride the residents of Forillon felt for having worked their land and built their homes were stolen from them. They were forced off the land they had been living on for generations. The Government of Canada expelled them to create a national park. They left behind not only their history, their roots and their ancestors, but even worse, part of their identity.
Overall, 1,800 residents, 225 families, suffered this injustice. The tragedy surrounding the Forillon expropriation also includes the 1,200 buildings that were demolished or burned and the countless memories that were left behind.
Does it seem normal to expropriate the property of 225 families, to burn their houses, restrict access to their land and force them to start over somewhere else, and with such paltry compensation to boot? I do not find that normal. It is absolutely unacceptable.
Every time I have the opportunity to rise in the House, I am proud to tell anyone who may be watching or listening that I am a farmer from Sainte-Blandine, a small community in the Lower St. Lawrence region. My family has been on that farm for two generations and perhaps a third generation will one day live there. My family has lived in the village for four generations—four generations of farmers. As farmers, we know very well what it means to be uprooted from one's land. It is absolutely unacceptable.
I have been involved in regional development, the development of my little village and the development of agriculture in Quebec, for about 30 years. What happened 40 years ago is evidence of a gross misunderstanding of what regional development should be. It would be impossible to make a decision regarding the development, occupancy and habitation of the land just because someone flies over it in a plane, finds the scenery beautiful and decides to turn the area into a park. That is not how things are supposed to work. The people who live on that land must be involved in the projects and must be consulted regarding the development of the land.
Moreover, the compensation offered was grossly inadequate. Many testimonies confirm the unconscionable manner in which the expropriation process was conducted. One simply has to do a little bit of research to find countless statements to that effect. According to some of those testimonies, people were no longer allowed to cut wood on the land to heat their homes. They could not even recover a window or a doorknob from their houses, otherwise they could end up in jail. That is truly unbelievable. There is also the tale of a powerless grandfather watching his house burning. Surely, such experiences must be traumatic. Many talk about the meagre and even degrading pittance that they received as compensation. What a way to promote development.
These few testimonies confirm the unfair expropriation process, the unjustifiable harassment, the unacceptable pressure and the inhuman social uprooting suffered by those who were expropriated from Forillon Park.
Today, the Bloc Québécois is demanding that this House issue an official apology to the people whose properties were expropriated to create Forillon Park for the unconscionable manner in which they were treated. Again, we believe that things could have been done differently in the interest of these people, of the Gaspé region and of Quebec.
The Bloc Québécois has always advocated values such as respect, tolerance and compassion. Today, if those whose properties were expropriated to create Forillon Park are the topic of our opposition day, it is because the values that the Bloc Québécois stands for were not respected, and because justice must be done. It is a matter of dignity, fairness and integrity. As the previous speaker said, we should do more than set up booths and build museums. We are simply asking for an apology from this House.
While the intention behind the creation of Forillon Park may, in and of itself, have been laudable, we can now state loud and clear that the government failed miserably, not because the park is not fulfilling its primary role of boosting the region's economy, but because the expropriation process was done in a sloppy and disrespectful manner towards the people who had been living there for generations. This was their place, a place that they had built to raise their families. That is truly inhumane. This episode caused a great deal of worries and sorrows to thousands of people and hundreds of families.
Why were the residents not included in this plan? Why were they not consulted, made part of the project by keeping their properties intact, as the Government of Quebec had suggested at the time? Although these past mistakes have nothing to do with the current government, it has an opportunity today to make amends and answer the call of those whose properties were expropriated, namely, I say again, by giving them an official apology. It is the least the government can do. These people are not seeking compensation. They just want an official apology for how this was handled 40 years ago.
Imagine the suffering of these men and women who had to pack their bags and start their lives over, to find new homes, new jobs and, in short, a new way of life. What a tragedy.
If only they had received acceptable compensation instead of getting crumbs. A number of them had to take out new loans, rebuild their financial health and start over from scratch. As a society, we should be embarrassed that we let such a thing happen to these people.
For nearly 40 years, the people whose properties were expropriated in Forillon have had to pay the park entrance fee to visit the graves of their ancestors. It is simply immoral. How can we allow something so absurd? Last summer, after hearing the complaints for many long years, during which the people whose land was expropriated were asking for free access to their land for them and the four generations after them, the federal government finally gave them a pass, which only partially satisfied their request. In fact, they were given a pass to allow them and the two generations after them free access to the land they had owned for generations. It is embarrassing!
Today they are again asking that, effective spring 2011, the passes be offered to the 1,500 families whose properties were expropriated and their descendants up to the fifth generation, and not just to the 225 families whose properties were landowners.
The Bloc Québécois believes that this was a right that should have been readily granted. The federal government's decision to give these people restricted passes is nothing but a token gesture of reconciliation given the extreme nature of the wrongs committed. I would even go so far as to say that it borders on mockery. It is just not right.
In addition, in the years following the expropriation and until very recently, the existence of these men and women who once lived in Forillon Park was ignored. Neither the guided tours nor the display panels made any mention of these individuals or of the heritage they left for the region and the tourists who today visit Forillon Park. They are not even acknowledged. Once again, this is completely unacceptable for these people who built this corner of the country, who cleared the land and developed it.
Ignoring the existence of a people and of a community means ignoring its pride and destroying it. Unfortunately, this is the situation that these people have been living in for 40 years. They have quite simply been wiped out. The events that occurred in Forillon 40 years ago had dramatic consequences for hundreds of families and the scars of this tragedy are still visible on those who were expropriated, as well as on their children and grandchildren. It takes time to heal.
It is true that an apology from the Government of Canada will unfortunately not return lost possessions to those who were expropriated, restore the thoughts they left behind or their scattered memories, but it will bring some solace to those whose rights were abused. An apology will also allow them to forgive and to look to the future with a little more peace of mind.
It is not right for people who have been cheated by the government to have to fight the government for the simplest form of redress: an appropriate apology for the major harm suffered as a result of tragic and inconceivable government decisions.
So, on behalf of the people who lived through a difficult, unjust, humiliating and painful time after those expropriations, we are asking the Government of Canada, in this House, to show some compassion and offer an official apology to those expropriated from Forillon National Park.
For five years now, this government has been patting itself on the back for having a brilliant record. The truth is quite different, as this matter clearly shows. The Conservatives could easily have made the commitment to apologize. But instead, they made do with small and insignificant gestures.
What is worse, they fell in line behind phony excuses and technicalities, dismissing the possibility of an official apology by saying how complicated the matter was or how long things would take. They are still laughing at those people. The expropriated people of Forillon deserve better. That is what the Bloc Québécois firmly believes and that is what we are demanding today.
The expropriation makes for a tense climate in the area even today. Since Forillon National Park was established, the people who were expropriated have been trying to have respect shown to the memory of those who went through that shameful time, which, regrettably, is also part of the hundred-year history of Parks Canada that we will soon be celebrating. What a tragedy.
History also shows that other parts of Quebec have also tasted government medicine administered by the federal Liberals. Take, for example, downtown Hull, where hundreds of homes were demolished in order to make room for office buildings.
These abusive expropriations reached their height, in Quebec once more, in Sainte-Scholastique, where 3,000 families were affected by massive expropriations to make way for the construction of Mirabel Airport. Almost 100,000 acres of land—believe me when I say that it is the best agricultural land in Quebec—were seized by the government. That is ten times the size of the largest airports in the world. We like big projects in Canada.
Fortunately, as it turns out, Ottawa returned 80% of that land to its astonished owners. But it was too many years too late.
Allow me to state that it is high time for the government to take responsibility for the mistakes of the past and to convey to the victims of such tragedies nothing less than the official apology they deserve.
So here is an opportunity for all members from all parties to do what is right, to agree that this House should offer an official apology to those expropriated from Forillon National Park for what they went through 40 years ago.