Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the hon. member for Shefford.
This evening, I hope to make a useful contribution to a debate that will enable us to not only thank many people who deserve it, but to also reflect on the lessons to be learned from these events.
When the hon. member for Shefford wrote to you to ask that an emergency debate be held, she did so primarily to remind the House of Commons that this tragic disaster is not over yet. Indeed, there are thousands of people who are still without power and who are suffering tremendously from the effects of this terrible ice storm.
However, we also wanted to remind people that this disaster wreaked havoc not only in Quebec, but also in Ontario and New Brunswick. In fact, the riding of Saint John, which is represented by my colleague, was also hit by the storm, as was part of Nova Scotia. In recent times, other regions were also hard hit, including Manitoba, the Saguenay region in 1996—in fact, the hon. member for Chicoutimi lives close to the famous white house that we saw so often on television. Albertans, particularly those living in the Peace River region, also had to face major floods.
We felt that, by joining the other political parties that requested this debate, we would have an opportunity to discuss these tragic events.
First, I would like to make a comment which may seem somewhat unusual. These events remind us that a country is shaped by its history, its culture and its language. A country is shaped by people's memories and common experiences. And hardships are part of these common experiences. It is so true that, when we try to define Canada's history, our common experiences, the two world conflicts are often mentioned first. People talk about major operations such as Dieppe. Vimy Ridge is one of these experiences that shaped, if you will, our common identity.
Unfortunately, the same is also true of natural disasters, when Canadians have an opportunity to demonstrate the values they believe in. The positive thing in all of this is that, when facing an ordeal, Canadians remember the country they adopted, the country their parents built, this vast land over which we have no control when it comes to nature. We are governed by forces that go way beyond the means of this Parliament. And, from time to time, we have to bow to these forces and admit that we are not as important as we think we are.
Fortunately for us, our solidarity saves us each time something like this happens. Manitobans found in other parts of the country neighbours they did not know they had. People from the Saguenay region also discovered these extraordinary neighbours who lived in British Columbia, in Alberta and in Sherbrooke. And all Quebeckers and Ontarians who experienced this recent tragedy also discovered these distant neighbours. To me and to others who witnessed this solidarity, it was a great moment. These people went through tough times, but they were not alone. They had support.
I want to thank all those who took on responsibilities during this crisis because I was impressed by what I saw when I toured the region. Sherbrooke, Fleurimont and Lennoxville, in my riding, were not affected by the storm, but neighbouring communities, like Richmond, in the riding of my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska, were. The ridings of my colleagues from Shefford and Compton—Stanstead were also affected.
I was very impressed to see the importance of local leadership in a natural disaster such as this one. This leadership has to come from people like the mayor, the Knights of Columbus or other people in the community. All of a sudden, the natural leaders among us step forward and take control of the situation. And there was no shortage of leaders in any of the affected communities and in other places where people wanted to lend a helping hand. Leaders were there to organize things and take control of the situation.
The other thing that impressed me was the degree of poverty that we do not always see in our society, even though we suspect it exists. I will give you a concrete example. I think this disaster helped us realize how some people around us live from pay cheque to pay cheque.
In the normal course of events, some people rely on the pay cheque they get on Thursday or on Friday to buy groceries for Saturday and the following days. If there is no cheque, there is no food on the table.
Many of us and of our fellow citizens were probably stunned to see how many people live under such circumstances. When a natural disaster strikes, these people are destitute. They do not have anything. Without a pay cheque, they cannot buy groceries, period.
This brings up questions about the wealth distribution in our society, the measures we take to help these people out and the day-to-day lives of these people.
I want to thank the public officials concerned and the people who work for the government services. We talked about the premier of Quebec who did, I think, some good work. I also want to mention today that Prime Minister Chrétien also did well, in my view. I think of some of my colleagues. I saw on television members from the Liberal Party as well as the NDP, the Bloc and the Reform Party who volunteered to help victims.
At the risk of sounding somewhat partisan, but because of the stronger ties between members of the same party, we tend to think about our own colleagues.
The hon. member for Shefford got a lot of help from the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche. They knew each other, he called his colleague et sent her I do not know how many cords of wood, a dozen truckloads.
They sent wood from Chicoutimi to every community. I visited several communities. It seemed that every one I went to was receiving wood from Chicoutimi. Do not ask me where they got their wood from in Chicoutimi, but they kept on sending it.
The member for Tobique—Mactaquac was asked to locate a generator, which he did. Again, I am talking about our own members.
I saw the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell with his colleague for Ottawa-Centre. I saw Reformers, Bloc members, NDP members. They all pitched in, and they should be recognized and thanked.
I also want to thank the media. We seldom have the opportunity to do so. But I want to tell them tonight that I do not intend to go overboard. Neither do I intend to make this a habit.
I am thinking about radio stations, especially the CBC and Radio-Canada, and private broadcasters. With TV, it was a bit more complicated. You could see that it was a bit more complicated to cover events. The print media too. I believe that the media in general did a splendid job. They recognized their responsibilities. They deserve our thanks and I take this opportunity to say congratulations, bravo, we recognize the tremendous job you did.
I also want to thank the Canadian armed forces. I met young men and women who naturally and spontaneously came to their country's rescue. They did it without any second thoughts. The prime minister said it well: they did everything and anything. They did not come with a list of things they would accept or refuse to do. They did all the work. I think we are greatly indebted to them.
Mr. Speaker, you are telling me I have about one minute left if I want to share my time.
I just wanted to draw some lessons. First, we should be able to draw some lessons from these disasters in Manitoba, in Alberta, in Peace River, in the Saguenay, to point out, at the federal level, assistance and emergency problems.
There are lessons we must draw from the ice storm and from the disasters in Manitoba, the Saguenay and in the Peace River area of Alberta. The Government of Canada should establish a task force or assign this issue to a parliamentary committee to draw some important lessons from what has happened. Surely we have learned a number of things. We should take advantage of this opportunity to learn in order that we may do things more effectively in the future.
Second, if there are going to be programs to help companies, as a condition of receiving that help, those companies should tell us or include some help for their own employees. In certain circumstances their employees suffered a great deal.
If a company wants to receive some kind of assistance, why not give it on the condition that it does the same for its employees? No one expects to be fully compensated for everything that happens, but this would be useful for the company and for its employees, and I think the government would be well justified in saying “If you want the government to give you a hand, we ask you to meet this criterion”.
The third thing would be the role of the Canadian armed forces. They played a very useful role. Why not examine that role?
Fourth, I humbly make a suggestion to the Government of Canada. An inquiry will proceed in Quebec on these events. Perhaps there will be others in Ontario or elsewhere. I think the federal government should offer right away its co-operation and its assistance to these commissions of inquiry.
I want to thank the member for Shefford, the member for Richmond—Arthabasca and the member for Compton—Stanstead, who were in the centre of the storm. Congratulations to our colleagues who gave a helping hand. I also want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, as well as the House. I hope to have the opportunity to return and relive these events to draw some lessons from them.