Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this motion, which I will now read to the House.
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, and that the Speaker of the House 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 has already been 40 years since the people were forced out of Forillon. Such injustices are not uncommon. For instance, consider the seniors who for years were cheated out of the guaranteed income supplement. I hope that in the next few years—and it should not take 40 years—the government will issue a public apology for the fact that some seniors were deprived of the guaranteed income supplement for many years.
The same thing goes for employment insurance. Once again, the government should one day issue a public apology for having often deprived unemployed workers. Very recently in my riding, an unemployed worker from Saint-Barnabé-Nord needed 595 hours in order to receive employment insurance benefits. He complained about the fact that he could not receive benefits because he had accumulated only 581 hours. He was only 14 hours short of the number of hours required, while everyone knows that there is an accumulated EI surplus of between $50 billion and $60 billion. Still, the government deprives people who work very hard to be able to access those funds.
These situations are unfair, which is also true in the case of the people who were mistreated and are the subject of this motion. They feel strongly about the fact that, for over 40 years after the expropriation, the federal government never publicly apologized for the major inconveniences they suffered as a result of the government's decisions.
Before I explore the matter any further, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.
The current government could have committed to making an apology in this matter. Instead, it made do with half steps. The initiative came about when the then federal minister responsible for national parks, Arthur Lang, floated the idea to the mayor of Gaspé of a national park on the Forillon Peninsula. In the 1968 framework agreement, the federal government earmarked $8.3 million to develop Forillon National Park. Negotiations with the Quebec government dragged on, and in April 1969, Jean Chrétien, the federal minister responsible for national parks, made known his impatience regarding the refusal of the Bertrand Union Nationale government to cede the Forillon land to the federal government.
This is a clear example of the contempt shown by the Liberal government—in the person of Jean Chrétien—for Quebec and its institutions. The Quebec government caved in, however, under federal government pressure, and came down on the side of nature conservation. The land was expropriated by the Government of Quebec and then ceded to the federal government. In keeping with the National Parks Act, the federal government stipulated that the land be returned to its natural, undeveloped state. The creation of Forillon Park therefore meant that land had to be expropriated from at least 983 people in five municipalities.
The experiences of those who had their land expropriated at Forillon are well documented and unambiguous.
I have been lucky enough to make a number of visits to the magnificent Gaspé countryside, for many one of the most beautiful regions in the world, with views of the sea, forest and mountains. Of course, people in this region have their own culture, poetry and songs, and they are good-hearted. Thousands of people visit the Gaspé and many stop to see Forillon National Park. Most of these people are undoubtedly oblivious to the fact that over 225 families were pushed off their land and evicted from their homes in the early 1970s in very trying, unfair circumstances.
In fact, across the entire area, from Cap-des-Rosiers to Grande-Grave, L'Anse-au-Griffon, Penouille and Rivière-au-Renard, the establishment of Forillon National Park in 1970 led to the complete expropriation of each and every one of these families, who were uprooted from their homes. This does not include the thousands of other Gaspé residents who lost part or all of their land. It was a terrible injustice.
After the residents were brutally cast off their land, their homes, barns and outbuildings were burned. Residents had been backed into a corner and there was widespread outrage. There was anger and revolt in the face of what amounted to government-mandated injustice. That is why we are calling for an apology to be made to these people, who were treated unfairly.
Still today, although some Gaspesians will talk about it, this is a taboo subject that has been concealed by the federal park authorities, hidden and ignored for years. Since the creation of Forillon Park, there has been no human presence there apart from interpretation activities. Visitors to Forillon Park were not told about the lives of the residents of Forillon before the expropriation, let alone about the tragic expulsions that happened in 1970. It was a hidden tale; no one wanted to talk about it. The government was ashamed to talk about the truth of what happened in the 1970s.
Yes, last year Parks Canada did decide to present an exhibition about the residents of Forillon and their lives before the unfortunate expropriation. And recently, the people of Forillon have received a three-generation passport allowing them to enter the site free of charge. It was not until very recently that they were able to see their homes again or go to pay their respects to their ancestors in the cemetery. But this is not enough.
They are asking for an official apology from the government for each person whose land was expropriated. They are also asking that the passport be extended to the 1,500 families whose homes were expropriated and their descendants to the fifth generation, not just the 225 families who owned land.
For five years now, the government has been boasting about its glowing record, including on the economy. The facts are quite different. The government has a very poor record on social and environmental issues. I am sure the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie will be able to say a few words about this. As I said, the facts are quite different and this case is one illustration of that.
The Conservatives could easily have agreed to offer an apology. Instead, they have made do with inadequate measures. This morning, there is nothing that tells me officially yet, after hearing a speech from a Conservative member from Québec, that this government will vote in favour of this motion. The people of Forillon whose homes were expropriated deserve better.
In conclusion, we have here an opportunity for all members from all parties to do what has to be done, to have this House offer its official apology to the people of Forillon Park whose homes were expropriated, for the unconscionable manner in which they were treated.
It would not be the first time that a government agreed to reform and offer apologies to people who have been affected. It was done for Canadians of Japanese origin who were interned and stripped of their property during the Second World War. It was done again recently for those whose land was expropriated for Mirabel. It is now time to do it for the people of Forillon who were uprooted from their community, who lost their homes and their land. These people are entitled to a public apology. They should be given their place in the official history of Forillon Park.