That the House call on the government to take the appropriate measures to sell the 11,000 acres of arable land back to the families and farmers whose land was expropriated to build the Mirabel Airport.
He said: Mr. Speaker, the issue to which we are drawing the attention of the House today will no doubt revive many bad memories for two generations of Quebeckers. It should also be of concern to all Canadians.
The savage expropriation that took place north of Montreal 25 years ago in Mirabel is not only a Quebec issue. All Canadians, especially rural Canadians, Canadian farmers, understand that a person's home or land is a sacred refuge where families grow, where livelihoods are made, where dreams are pursued and where a sense of community is developed.
This was a massive injustice, an odious boondoggle, which effects continue to this day for thousands of people. This is a story that has been understood, at least in part, for some time across the country.
I believe today we will hear from the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast--Sea to Sky Country who was here in the 1970s. He spoke about the injustice and the boondoggle, on a scale never before seen, taking place in Mirabel. In the 1980s the hon. member for Niagara Falls, who I believe will speak later today, spoke about the attempts of the then Mulroney Conservative government to rectify this injustice.
The fact of the matter is that in some form, 30 years later this continues without full resolution.
The Mirabel wound has never been healed, the outrage has never been repaired and the error has never been recognized.
My intention today is not to re-open the debate unnecessarily, since it is still open; quite the opposite. The goal of our motion is to ensure that the Government of Canada puts an end once and for all to a saga that dishonours our country and our government and reason of state.
On March 27, 1960, the Liberal government announced the construction of what it called one of the largest airports in the world, which would greet 10 million passengers a year.
To implement this totally unrealistic project, the Liberal government expropriated close to 100,000 acres of the best farm land in Quebec. The area is equivalent to two thirds of Montreal island.
To put it in western terms, this is an area almost the size of the city of Calgary.
One hundred thousand acres is twenty times the area currently occupied by Mirabel, an airport that is nearly always empty. The worst thing is not that this was a government mistake, all governments can make mistakes from time to time. The problem in this saga is that the government made mistake after mistake, with no consideration whatsoever for the families that have been in the area for generations.
For more than 15 years, from 1969 to 1985, a merciless battle has been waged against the Mirabel families by contemptuous public servants implementing an arrogant policy. The psychological harassment and constant war of nerves waged with such vehemence have just about brought many to their wits' end.
Since 1969, the situation of Mirabel landowners, the farmers in particular, has been difficult, unjust, humiliating and painful, dramatic, even, at times, to an extent we have trouble imagining today.
I recently visited that area and met with the leader of the remaining people who had been expropriated, Mr. Marcel Denis. I met with people who had lost their homes and their land. I can tell hon. members that for them there has been no closure to this traumatic event and no resolution to the future of their economic lives.
There is no better illustration of that arrogance than the way the people were notified that they would be pushed out of their homes. Mr. Raymond, the leader of the Mirabel expropriates, has described the first hours of the bomb that was dropped on the people of Mirabel in 1969.
This is an excerpt from La mémoire de Mirabel:
When I learned of the expropriation, I started tried to find out if it was really true or just a false rumour. Radio and newspaper reports had indicated that the new airport would be built in the Sainte-Scholastique area. Minister Marchand made the first announcement on the radio on March 27, 1969, at 2 or 3 p.m. That is how we found out.
So that is how they learned about the expropriation, on the radio. No consideration was shown them, their children, their friends, the families themselves that were going to be put out of their houses, none for the communities or local businesses. Mr. Raymond's story is worth keeping in mind as evidence of the Liberal way of doing things.
Right from that very first day up to the latest speech by the current Minister of Transport, the tone has remained strikingly similar. There was no consideration whatsoever shown to the families and citizens.
There are stories besides that of Mr. Raymond that deserve to be told, as they are indicative of the Liberal way and the inhuman nature of this undertaking. In this respect, Mr. Cardinal's case is very telling. At the time of the expropriation, Mr. Cardinal was getting on in years. He lived in the little village called Mirabel.
The federal government had planned to open up a quarry to provide the stone to make the concrete for the runways. In its wisdom, the Liberal government decided to put this quarry right in the little village of Mirabel.The people living within a one-mile radius of the quarry were forced out of their homes and had to move out very quickly, whether or not they had agreed to the amount of the expropriation. Here is his story:
In that area of the town there were around 35 homes and some 20 farms. A total of 50 or so buildings had to be abandoned to make room for the planned quarry.
Having been ordered to leave, Mr. Cardinal bought land in Saint-Eustache and had a new house built. Unfortunately for him, work on his new house was stopped by a strike and he did not have the time to finish moving his belongings.
When he finally went back to his old house to retrieve the rest of his belongings, government agents had set the house on fire and burnt it to the ground with everything that was left of his household and personal belongings still inside. Again I quote the book:
A life worth of things had stupidly disappeared. Mr. Cardinal took out his handkerchief--the house held many memories--and started crying. They climbed back into the truck and, without a word, drove back to Saint-Eustache.
Today, we know that the federal government made a mistake. Real quarries were dug two or three miles further on. The lands the expropriated owners had been forced to abandon were sold. Mr. Cardinal should never have been expropriated, let alone forced to leave his home. That is another chapter in the Liberal story of Mirabel.
There are tens and even hundreds of examples of the turpitude of the Liberal government. More recently, even the present Prime Minister's predecessor said that he would not shed a tear if Mirabel were to be closed.
These lands were never used for the airport. These people want to recover their lands. Recently, dozens of farmers, members of the 11,000 acres committee, demonstrated to express their anger in Mirabel. They even said they were ready to buy their lands back, and they should.
Mirabel was a terrible mistake. The mistake was not only to break up an area many times larger than necessary, but to victimize thousands of Quebeckers, treating them unfairly, and to deprive this airport of the tools it would have needed to develop and secure the future.
Now that the airport is entirely closed to passenger traffic and will not expand in the foreseeable future, if ever, the expropriated land owners believe that the 11,000 acres of land outside the airport perimeter should be returned to farming again.
The Minister of Transport says that it is not possible. Yet it was possible for the Conservative Mulroney government to give back about 80% of the lands to the expropriated owners. There are only 11,000 acres left to give back. This should not be too much for the Liberal government to do.
The Liberals would like this issue to go away but it will not and it will not be forgotten.
I looked at the plans of Mirabel on a recent visit there. One really has to see the map of this semi-abandoned airport to understand the scale of this scandal, this boondoggle, this mismanagement involving 97,000 acres of land.
It was not as if the Liberals were building the largest airport in the world. Sitting there half empty, Mirabel is already one of the largest airports in the world. It was as if they were building a space station, as if they were sending people to another galaxy out of that facility.
This is a mess that has been created by the Liberals. It is a mess that a previous Conservative government did in its time make some attempt to fix. It is a mess that must be fixed by the Liberals.
I urge all members, including the Trudeauist Minister of Transport, who was a member of the Trudeau government during the first phases of this saga, to support the resolution. It is not a matter of politics but rather a matter of goodwill and justice.
Madam Speaker, I am very happy to take part in this debate. Of course, this debate is being held for reasons of crass political opportunism, as everybody realizes that the leader of the official opposition is a member of the party that signed a 60-year lease, in 1992.
Indeed, it is the Progressive Conservative Party which handed over the administration of all its lands, of all its airports, to a not for profit corporation, ADM, with the mandate to do the best job possible in the development of its two airports. This deal was initialed and it has legal standing.
Therefore, when the Leader of the Opposition says that he is going to pay a short visit, to hop over to Mirabel, and he decides he will repudiate the signature of the Conservative minister, Jean Corbeil, as well as the commitments of that government, I think this is crass opportunism.
Worse yet, he tries to raise false hopes in the public that things will not go as planned, and he knows he will not be delivering the goods. This is why I believe that the Leader of the Opposition, who announced that he would make a little pact with the Bloc Québécois, wants to try to have the people in Mirabel believe that his party and the Bloc Québécois will be in the driver's seat in this file. However, he is totally wrong.
I am very surprised that the leader of the progressive party, sorry, not progressive. I withdraw those words.
The leader of that party announced that he is going to make a pact with the Bloc Quebecois to renege on an agreement, a signed lease by Tory minister Jean Corbeil. It is just incredible. Those guys have no respect for the law.
Unlike the official opposition and the Bloc Québécois, we believe that Mirabel is an important airport for Montreal, Quebec and Canada. I am convinced that all options should be kept open. We absolutely must preserve the future.
This means that, in the meantime, we have to respect the authority in charge of managing this airport. It was the will of this Parliament to appoint a group known as ADM, or Aéroports de Montréal, to look after the future of the airport. It has been doing so since 1992, with a commitment until 2052. This agreement until 2052 was not signed by the Bloc Québécois or myself, but by the Conservatives. Later, they will have a little parade in Mirabel to look generous, when they are the ones who tied the government's hands with a 60-year lease. What hypocrisy.
I would like to put a more specific aspect of ADM's responsibilities into context. In 1988, 11,000 acres of airport reserve land, which were not being used for airport operation, were leased long term to local farmers. It is not true that the farmers do not live on their land. The fact of the matter is that 11,000 acres were leased to local farmers, and an agricultural renewal program was also offered to them.
Naturally, when the management of Mirabel airport was transferred to ADM, these leases were also transferred to ADM. That was part of the agreement. We are talking about 131 leases that the Conservative government at the time transferred to ADM. The fate of 131 farmers was put into the hands of ADM, not by the Liberals or the others, but by the Conservative government. These leases expire in 2010. Those concerned voluntarily signed leases expiring in 2010.
So, last year, when it reviewed its master plan, ADM looked at all this and proposed to extend the leases for an additional 13-year period. Many people are unaware of this, but there is currently an offer on the table to allow the people to continue living on these lands until November 2023.
There is no doubt that we want to protect the future. But at the same time, we want to respond to the immediate needs of these farmers. We are therefore convinced that this kind of long-term lease would help reduce uncertainty and foster development of these agricultural lands.
Unlike the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois, I am confident in Mirabel's future. I do not want to condemn Mirabel. In fact, Mirabel is more alive than ever. Here is what I think of the Conservative Party. We know that Mirabel is the ideal location to build the new Bombardier plant for the C series. We know what this party thinks of Bombardier and the aerospace industry. I think the Bloc Québécois is being drawn into a fools' pact. We know very well what the Conservative Party thinks of Bombardier and the development of the C series.
What I want to do is to create 2,500 jobs in Mirabel, thanks to the C series assembly plant. I do not understand why the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel does not realize that Mirabel's potential is extraordinary with the C series. Now is not the time to jeopardize the future of this airport. Now is not the time to give up and throw in the towel. I think we will create more jobs than ever in the Mirabel region. This is precisely what we want to do.
There is more: an extraordinary future is shaping up in the air cargo sector. Mirabel currently handles 110 tonnes of air cargo per year. I suppose that the leader of the Conservative Party would rather see this happening in Toronto or Calgary. Personally, I want to see it happening in Montreal, in Mirabel, and we want this volume to increase.
Since that airport can be in service 24 hours a day without disturbing the neighbourhood, without disturbing anyone, its potential is limitless in this regard. When I see that the Conservatives want to condemn Mirabel, I do not trust them, because their anti-Quebec tendency is well known. We have to be wary of all this sweet talking, because it is an illusion.
I want Mirabel to become a major industrial centre for the aviation sector. About 10 international companies are already there. I do not understand the Bloc Québécois. It wants to develop Mirabel, but at the same time it wants to deprive it of its assets. This is unbelievable. It looks like these people are advocating a scorched earth policy. They want to destroy everything. This is not what we want to do.
We have confidence in the future and we are convinced there will be a way to make Mirabel profitable. We are convinced there will be volume at Mirabel and there will be more jobs there than ever. We have confidence in Mirabel. We do not want to take a step back. We do not want to put the future at risk. We do want to put jobs at risk. However, that is what they are doing. They are trying to reopen old wounds out of sheer political opportunism, and it makes me sick.
For 30 years, year in year out, it has not been easy for these people, I agree. I would rather have 10 million, 20 million or 30 million passengers. However, that is not the case. We are realistic enough to come back and look at other options. As for the current number of jobs at Mirabel, it is absolutely extraordinary. In fact, four proposals have been submitted to ADM for the use of Mirabel's facilities. However, they know nothing about that.
The member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel knows nothing about this. He is prepared to put the future of Mirabel in danger without even considering the plans currently on the table at ADM. How irresponsible! I cannot believe it.
The transport critic asks, “what plans”? This just proves she knows nothing. She wants to condemn Mirabel without a thought to its future. ADM is responsible for development. They called for proposals and received eight, four of which require more detail. These proposals are currently on the table at ADM, in accordance with the ADM lease.
I do not understand the Bloc Québécois. They do not know what they are talking about and only want to gain cheap political points without even realizing that they are compromising the future of Mirabel and of job development in that region, which is totally irresponsible. I cannot believe it.
As for the proposals, the four bidders have until March 31, 2005, to present a detailed business case. Why would the Bloc Québécois not give a chance to the four bidders who want to participate in the economic development of the region and the development of this airport? Why are they shutting out the future? Unless they have inexplicable, or at least, unexplained, reasons. I look forward to hearing those.
There is one thing for certain: Mirabel's full potential has not been developed. We do, of course, have a responsibility to do everything in our power to make this absolutely extraordinary structure cost-effective. A few years down the road, I am sure that the members of this House who vote in favour of this motion will regret it bitterly. They will come to realize that we, with our confidence in the future of the new role of Mirabel, in the industrial future of Mirabel, will be proud of what we have accomplished.
This is the reason for our refusal to support such a short-sighted motion. The same members of the Bloc Québécois, the little buddies of the Conservatives, will be getting up shortly to vote in favour of the motion of the Conservatives, who want to have Mirabel as a hunting trophy, and then to develop elsewhere perhaps. These are the selfsame Conservative members who are opposed to assistance to Bombardier, yet the Bloc members will be backing them up on this one.
This will not hit them until tomorrow, or maybe today during Oral Questions, when they come asking for help for Bombardier to develop at Mirabel. They will be asking for subsidies for Bombardier to develop the C Series, so they will be voting out of both sides of their mouths. This is systematic hypocrisy.
I want to see Bombardier relocate to Mirabel to produce the C Series. I want those 2,500 jobs in Quebec. I want all our options kept open as far as the future of Mirabel is concerned, because it is going to be a significant pole of economic development, in the opinion of ADM. That is why we have four proposals on the table at the present time for the development of Mirabel and its present facilities.
So this is both ill-timed and sending a very wrong message. The people contemplating development are being sent the message that certain short-sighted members of this Parliament want to jeopardize their plans. In reaction to a little protest, they want to get back into people's favour. We have seen people like that before.
It is my impression that the Conservative Party's position is not based on principle, nor is it responsible. I cannot have any confidence in them as far as the future of Quebec is concerned. But the Bloc, of course—
Ms. Caroline St-Hilaire: Not what we said.
Hon Jean Lapierre: The member for Longueuil has just said that they have confidence in the Conservatives as far as the future of Quebec is concerned. That I find surprising, extremely surprising.
Madam Speaker, this is certainly not a point of order. They are getting so chummy now that they do not know anymore who stands for what.
I can tell you one thing. There are at the present time 22 air cargo companies in Mirabel, and there are between 10,000 and 13,000 flights annually. Contrary to what the Conservatives would have us believe and would like it to be, it is not a wasteland. One day, and perhaps sooner than we think, Quebec will have a strong development, thanks to facilities with a great potential.
If Bombardier is considering Mirabel, it is because there is an airport there. If it wants to build planes and do some testing there, it is thanks to the airport.
Basically, that is what my colleague is telling me. She does not understand. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand the intrinsic edge Mirabel has as a site for the Bombardier C Series which we want to develop in Canada.
Mirabel has a terrific edge. I do not understand why, today, when Bombardier is considering various sites, we should send the message that the party opposite wants to shrink Mirabel. The Conservative Party of Canada has always been eager to put a stranglehold on Mirabel. This is not new.
I do not understand why, at a time when there are four projects for the development of Mirabel as well as a huge $2 billion project at Bombardier on ADM's drawing board in Ville Saint-Laurent, with, as the crow flies, an almost direct view on Mirabel airport, one would want to jeopardize all that.
The message this sends is that, if these people were in office, we could say goodbye to Mirabel. Instead of developing 2,500 jobs, they would rather grow corn. That does not jive, it does not work. I cannot get over their not wanting to give the process and the potential for development a chance.
I will gladly oppose this motion, because it shows these people's lack of vision, lack of ambition and lack of trust in the future of Mirabel.
Coming from the hon. member for Longueuil, I could understand; she may think that Mirabel is competing with the airport in Saint-Hubert. But the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel? I cannot get over it. He is shooting himself in the foot. How can he be against the development of Mirabel? That is beyond me.
One thing is clear: this motion is not in the best interests of Quebec, of Canada, of Mirabel, of the workers or of economic development. This is a rear-view motion; it is about nostalgia. This motion was brought forward by people who cannot accept that a government, any government, made much more ambitious plans earlier. It was thought that there would be a new mandate.
We are stuck with decisions made by the Conservative government, decisions that the Conservatives are stepping back from today. That is also kind of embarrassing. The leader of the Conservative Party goes to Mirabel and is ready to repudiate a lease that a Tory minister, the late Jean Corbeil, had signed under the leadership of Brian Mulroney. And yet, as we learned from the CBC, this same Conservative leader had dinner with Brian Mulroney the other night seeking to be convinced about Bombardier's development.
I guess Mr. Mulroney failed twice. He did not convince the leader of the Conservative Party to respect his government's signature or to support Bombardier. So there is something fishy going on.
He has another agenda. This motion is hiding something. I do not understand how the Bloc can get suckered into supporting an anti-Quebec motion.
Having said that, I find it regrettable that this motion is being debated today, while there are two potentially extraordinary projects on the horizon for Mirabel. It is the wrong signal to send but, thankfully, the government will stand firm.
Madam Speaker, I would like to start by thanking my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, the Bloc Québécois transport critic, for allowing me to be the first speaker on this important issue brought forward by the Conservative Party, namely the return of 11,000 acres of expropriated land to Mirabel farmers.
I had a speech planned, but instead I must answer the allegations made by the Minister of Transport. I do not know whether I should laugh or cry. After all, he is the Minister of Transport for Quebec as well as Canada. Either he does not know what he is talking about or he is a true demagogue. He is pitting the file of the land to be returned to Mirabel farmers against the Bombardier file. He is stooping as low as his political masters of the time.
Currently, 6,000 acres within the Mirabel fence have been put up for tender. The 11,000 acres were not even included in the ADM call to tender. It just happens that I was shown the ADM call to tender. I set up a regional committee, which ordered ADM, by registered mail, to appear so the committee could find out what it intended to do and what kind of call to tender it had put out. Luckily for us, the call to tender was tabled. It includes the terminal, the hotel, the administrative buildings and the warehouses located on the 6,000 acres, which is nothing like what we have been told. The ADM call to tender does not include the 11,000 acres outside the fence. Either the minister is a real demagogue or he does know what he is talking about.
You will reach your own conclusion, Madam Speaker. But I do not want to somehow pit the return of the land against Bombardier and the development of the industrial site within the 6,000 acres. It never was the intention of the Bloc Québécois to do such a thing.
I am surprised that the Minister of Transport, who is supposed to know his portfolio, would come here and tell the House, more or less, that there will be bids, but no one knows anything about these four proposals. It is simple. We do not need to know more about them because they are not related to the 11,000 acres that do not form part of the 6,000 acres available for development and therefore covered in the invitation to tender.
So, once again, I do not know why we are having this debate today. Perhaps it is because the Minister of Transport is trying to make us understand that he will not be giving Bombardier what it is asking for. Perhaps he is trying to find a way out, saying, “Look, the interested parties and the Conservatives want to return 11,000 acres of farmland and Bombardier will not get any help.” Perhaps that is what this minister, this demagogue, is trying to do.
However, we have our eyes open and we have figured out what the minister is trying to do. We are going to defend Bombardier and the aerospace industry to our last drop of blood. And we will defend the farmers of Mirabel as well, because we defend the interests of Quebec.
I happily return to my speech now. The story of Mirabel began in 1967. The Liberal government of Lester B. Pearson finally understood that Dorval could no longer function as an international airport. Let us remember that in 1967 the only place in Canada that international flights could land was Montreal. Things have changed a great deal since then.
Let us also remember that it was the Department of Transport of Canada that opened the doors for more international flights to land in Canada, either in Montreal or Toronto. At the time, all international flights were into and out of Montreal. It was the Liberals who decided to give more and more international flights to Toronto. Then the Conservatives continued this policy. In that way, eventually, Montreal became a less important hub than Toronto.
The Liberal Party in 1967 decided that Dorval was too small for future development and obviously, in an urban area with many people around it, that was a wise decision. In my opinion, if ADM had decided to make the opposite decision, to keep Mirabel open while closing Dorval to passenger flights, today they would be hailed as geniuses, especially since September 11, 2001. But that is not what happened since, once again, the Liberals trusted in ADM. I will get back to ADM later.
However, we must remember that Mr. Pearson commissioned the study in 1967. On March 27, 1969, a plan is tabled to expropriate close to 100,000 acres of farmland. Since this acreage was in the middle of farmland, we can see what Mirabel has now become: an airport that is not served by highway 13, highway 50, or by a high speed train. When it was decided to build the airport in the middle of that farmland, highways 13 and 50, and a high speed train, were supposed to be built. It is the Liberals who, after thinking it over between 1969 and 1975, decided, when the airport was inaugurated, not to provide transportation services to Mirabel. This was a political decision and afterwards it was easy to defend the relevancy of Dorval. I will refrain from talking about the Liberal Party establishment in Montreal's West Island, but the fact is that there is some truth to this.
So, the project involved 100,000 acres of farmland and a readjusting of the boundaries of a number of municipalities, namely Saint-Canut, Saint-Antoine, Saint-Jérôme, Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Saint-Janvier, Sainte-Monique, Saint-Augustin and Sainte-Scholastique. As we know, this area is now called Mirabel. The area was larger than the City of Laval, 10 times greater than the then world's largest airport and 27 times larger than the Dorval Airport. Over 3,000 owners were affected. We know the whole saga that was triggered by this decision.
In 1975, when the airport was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau called it the project of the century. However, highways 13 and 50 did not go to the airport and there was no high speed train connection, even though rails are installed in the basement. Indeed, let us not forget that rails were installed in the basement of the air terminal. This was an objective set by Mr. Pearson but, for some reason, the Trudeau government abandoned the idea. I should also point out that the current Minister of Transport was part of the Trudeau government.
There is something here that should be mentioned. When Mirabel opened in 1975, the situation was simple: Mirabel handled all international and chartered flights, while Dorval was used for domestic flights. A decision was to be made later to transfer all domestic flights to Mirabel. In 1982, a cabinet meeting was held in a Montreal hotel and the manager of the two airports was in attendance. At the time, it was Transport Canada that managed the airports. The Minister of Transport then announced that he would not transfer all passenger flights from Dorval to Mirabel. Authorities had already begun to give many international flights to Toronto and a decision was made to protect Dorval. This is what led to the current situation, that is the closing, on October 31, 2004, of the whole airport to passenger flights.
The minister boasts of the work of ADM. It is true that ADM was created by the Conservatives in 1992. I am not sure that they are proud of it today, since ADM is the mother of all airport authorities in Canada. Considering the waste of money that has been characteristic of these authorities in many airports across the country, I would say that, at the very least, the situation would call for a thorough review by the Auditor General of their records. By the way, these are non-profit agencies staffed by direct government appointments. However, they are outside the scrutiny of this Parliament and they can establish their own rates independently, given the fact that they are empowered to collect airport improvement fees. This power gives them their own revenues. Therefore, they are given a credit rating by the banks.
Since I have worked at the municipal level, I can say that cities, by comparison, must submit borrowing by-laws for review by Quebec's Ministère des Affaires municipales. However, in this particular instance, when airport authorities wish to borrow money, they are totally independent and they do not even need to obtain federal government approval. That system was established by the Conservatives and, since then, has been kept in place by the Liberals. The Liberals are simply washing their hands of it and actually enjoy ADM's poor management decisions.
Such is reality. We trust ADM. It is an independent corporation. My opponent, in the middle of the election campaign, even dared to say it is a private corporation. I do not know where he got his information. While it is true that ADM is a non-profit and independent organization which operates in its own way, it is also true that it has its own way of wasting money. In our opinion, there is shameless waste in the Mirabel file.
The fate of the farmers is left in the hands of ADM by this minister of Transport. ADM is an independent organization. Its purpose is not to manage agricultural lands. In the worst case scenario, it is a problem for it. It is simply trying to manage airport equipment. It is true that this responsibility was entrusted to ADM through a lease signed by the Conservatives. I have a copy of this 374-page document here. I am a lawyer by profession, therefore, I have examined this lease and I can say that the Minister of Transport can, if he wishes so, take management of the Mirabel operations from among ADM's responsibilities.
The minister would have so many reasons to do so. I will give you an example. I have taken an excerpt from the lease to make sure my stand is well understood.
I will quote article 8, at page 101, which covers the use of the rented premises:
The tenant shall use the rented premises for the purposes of a major international airport and, without prejudice to paragraph 7.02.09, for purposes that are not incompatible with the management, the operation and the maintenance of the airport. The tenant shall ensure that all occupants and assignees use the rented premises for purposes that are not incompatible with the management, the operation and the maintenance of the airport. In addition, the tenant undertakes not use or allow others to use, in whole or in part, the rented premises for any commercial activity for purposes other than those pertaining to a major international airport [...] and, in all cases, the whole shall be in accordance with this lease and with the approved land-use plan.
Thus, it must be understood that, when the lease was signed, there was a land-use plan. This is the second time it has been altered under Liberal rule. ADM is allowed to do things other than those set out in the original lease.
I know that, at the conclusion of the bidding process, you will need to make further changes. Indeed, we do not know what will be in there, but I would tell you that the first role of this airport is the operation of a major international airport. This is why you expropriated 100,000 acres of land and displaced 3,000 families. Not to build a shopping centre.
Of course, this is the whole point and today, farmers are entitled to seek the return of those 11,000 acres. ADM has, in fact, decided not to operate a major international airport, and above all not on these 11,000 acres.. In addition, it has decided to use the bidding process, in relation to everything, except the operation of a passenger airport is permitted. This is what is found in the call for tender.
I am asking the minister to read that document. The Montreal Airport is telling would-be bidders that they can operate everything, except a passenger airport. Is that what you call operating a major international airport? Is that the point of view of the minister? I have a problem with that. That is why, at the outset, I did not know whether I had to laugh or whether I had to cry.
The minister decided to collaborate with people who have no respect or concern for the farmers' interests. ADM has only one concern right now and that is to try to make Mirabel profitable because their rating has just gone down. Their credit rating has been going down for three years now. Such is the reality.
They need money at all cost. They do not want to lose the farmers' leases, because they get to keep that income. If ever the federal government decided to sell the land, it would keep them because the money goes to the owners, not the tenants. Thus, ADM would not get anything.
ADM has no incentive to do business with the farmers. All they will try to do is increase the rent. Next they will try to get the municipal assessment lowered for the entire airport complex, because it is costing them too much in taxes and they need to make up ground for the mistakes they have made. Such is the reality.
In order to be able to transfer flights from Mirabel to Dorval, they paid, repaid and paid some more for companies to go to Dorval. This created a hole in ADM's finances, which they are trying to fill any way they can with help from the minister. To get us to forget about the 11,000 acres of land and the farmers, the minister, today in this House, is suggesting that a vote in favour of this motion is a vote against Bombardier and all aerospace development in Quebec.
At first I wondered if he said this because he truly did not understand his portfolio or if he is just a demagogue. I think he is a demagogue who takes after Pierre Elliott Trudeau. It suits him, especially when we know what happened, when we know that it was Pierre Elliott Trudeau who opened Mirabel. And this government had the nerve to name Dorval airport after him. How nice.
This would not be their first mistake or insult to Quebeckers, far from it. The fact remains that there are still farmers in Mirabel who are working hard to earn a living. They have problems too.
As you know, the mad cow crisis is causing problems for farmers in all sectors. The farmers have to rent these 11,000 acres. And renting is not like owning. You cannot change the layout, you do not have the same relations with bankers. This is what Mirabel farmers have to live with. They have never stopped to develop this land, these 11,000 acres. But there are still 6,000 acres that could be used by Bombardier and all the minister's great projects.
I will be glad to rise in the House when he tables his policy on aerospace and helps the whole industry. Of course, Bombardier is to be found in Mirabel, so are Bell Helicopter and a host of parts makers. It is a great sector.
Indeed, we could lose it if the minister does not hurry. I hope he will not say today that we will lose it because of the return of 11,000 acres of land not used by ADM. They are not part of the call for tenders made to different future partners. This was not the object of the operation. Such is the reality.
What we want to do today is return the 11,000 acres of land to the farmers, who have lived through human drama. I thanked the leader of the Conservative Party for mentioning the book that was written about this. Families were decimated. Some people are still having difficulty coming to terms with the fact that they were expropriated.
I cannot foresee the day when the Liberal government, which started off with 100,000 acres and ended up with 17,000 acres and which now uses only approximately 3,500 of them, will be able to use all the 17,000 acres. I do not want to indulge in demagoguery, but I do not believe we will see it during the minister's life.
Once again, if the situation ever gets really good, the land required can be expropriated a second time. It is that simple. The minister can take umbrage if he wishes to but, in fact, the powers of governments at all levels, be it local, provincial or federal, are in keeping with needs.
The error was to expropriate too much land. If again, 50 or 100 years down the road, that land is needed again, people will understand. However, I am convinced that this will not happen in my lifetime and I know for a fact that I am younger than the minister.
Once again, I was happy to speak today. The Bloc Québecois will also be happy to vote this afternoon in the Standing Committee on Transport. My colleague from Longueil—Pierre-Boucher tabled a learned motion,which will be voted on today by the Committee. The motion put forward in this House will be voted on next week. It is clear that the Bloc Québécois will support it, as you have understood, of course.
We only wish that past mistakes will never be repeated. What we have now is a cacophony of mistakes made by the Liberals. The tragedy of this situation is that the Minister of Transport tried once more today to justify the mistake in order to save Bombardier. After saving Bombardier, he will find some new excuse to try to save yet another party.
None of this is easy to hear, particularly when we have to cope with the people who have had to suffer all this upheaval. He, of course, is far removed from all that. As they say, out of sight, out of mind. So what may happen to the farmers of Mirabel is of no importance to the minister. That is his choice. but there are others in this place who have made the decision to no longer put up with these mistakes made by the federal government and to take steps to correct them.
We are focussing all our political know-how on doing so. The Bloc Québécois, of course, but also the Conservatives, and I hope we will see the NDP supporting this motion as well. Politicians have to know how to make use of this tool, the House of Commons. The people expropriated and the farmers of Mirabel are in luck to have a minority government at present, as I hope it will serve their cause well.
Once again, I hope I will manage to convince the minister, at least partially, of at least one thing. He must stop pitting the farmers' case against that of Bombardier. There is really no connection between the two.
On behalf of the residents of Mirabel, of the farm families of Mirabel, I would ask the minister to show a little compassion. There is still time to show a bit of respect and compassion. I would ask him to vote in favour of this motion in the House of Commons. That is what we in the Bloc Québécois will be doing , and no doubt the Conservatives as well, this being their motion. I hope the NDP will also be voting in favour of this motion, so that this injustice, this great injustice, will be remedied. Let us never forget that 3,000 families were uprooted, the greatest displacement of a population within Canada since the deportation of the Acadians.
I think it is time this situation came to end and the 11,000 acres returned to their owners. That will still leave 6,000 acres within the perimeter of development. That is, as we will hear, twice the area of Dorval. In my opinion, that is ample for anything the Transport minister may want to do.
Madam Speaker, first, I want to present the financial costs that have been incurred at Mirabel Airport and then I will give a bit of a history, so that those of us in the House will understand some of the dynamics as well as all Canadians.
It is hard, on an issue such as this, for all Canadians to see the benefit of spending a day discussing it or to see the big issue, but I think once they hear the financial costs and the history of Mirabel, it will hit home to each and every Canadian.
Originally, Mirabel was estimated to cost $425 million when planning began in the late 1960s. That money was spent in the first of several planned phases of the installation and by the time it opened for business, the projected price tag was $1.5 billion. Five years later the airport was losing money at the rate of more than $20 million a year and has been a loser ever since.
Montreal Mirabel International Airport is now used exclusively for cargo flights, not for passenger flights. The passenger flights ended October 31, 2004. We can give some credit to the government, which made a decision to close it to passenger flights, and we will not see the losses of $20 million a year. However, it does open up another situation, which I will get into after I give a bit more history on Mirabel.
It was constructed as part of a major project by the Canadian federal government under Pierre Trudeau for Montreal, originally to replace Dorval. It was not to be a part of Dorval or to work alongside Dorval, but to replace Dorval. From the start Mirabel was controversial. In order to build the airport, the government expropriated 100,000 acres of land. That, in itself, was absolutely scandalous. That was from about 3,000 property owners. Can hon. members imagine, 3,000 property owners just having their land taken away from them to put in place another airport? It gets better.
It was a huge expense and during the process, and this will shock all hon. members in the House and all Canadians, there were allegations of corruption and patronage. There is a shock. The airport was opened in 1975 with great fanfare. Montreal's Olympic Games were coming, and the international airport was deemed crucial to the games' success and the city's future as an international destination.
Supporters predicted that Mirabel would become a gateway to the world, luring 60 million passengers annually by 2010. It never fulfilled that promise. At its peak it drew no more than three million passengers. Three million passengers for 100,000 acres of expropriated land. Foreign media passengers at the airport have been calling it a white elephant ever since. There is no question that Mirabel, as a major passenger airport, never, ever followed-through.
The airport's location near the community of Mirabel was also a big mistake. It was the result of a fundamentally flawed compromise between the federal government and the Quebec government that satisfied no one in the end. The federal government had originally intended the new facility to be the international airport for the capital region, plus Transport Canada envisioned it being built to the west of Montreal. The province, on the other hand, was looking to lure Quebec City travellers to the airport and wanted it built to the east, near Drummondville, almost halfway between the two cities. It was a compromise that did not work for anybody. It had a couple of strikes against it right from the beginning, namely, to split flights between Mirabel and Trudeau, formerly Dorval, and the failure to build the necessary road and rail links from Mirabel to Montreal.
This has not been an experiment that jeopardized the future of 3,000 families that worked. It did not happen. It looks like it was someone's idea to do this and to heck with how it affected anybody. Right from the get go it was not done in a proper manner.
Toronto's Pearson International quickly picked up steam in the seventies, taking flights away from Mirabel. We had a situation where poor government planning, wastage of dollars time and time again, affected the lives of numerous people whose land was taken.
It was anticipated that a new airport away from the city but with reliable passenger rail links, again where the government has failed and continues to fail, would be successful. However, debates between levels of government moved the site further from the city than reasonably reachable and the only passenger links are by a long road. From day one, it was not a good move.
Dorval was flooded at the time due to too many jets using Dorval as a stopover to refuel. However, the advent of long range aircraft caused airplanes to stop landing to refuel there and as a result Dorval was no longer overcrowded. To this date there is not a major issue with Dorval.
What we are talking about today is not 100,000 acres. In 1985-86 the government returned 80,000 acres of that land, leaving about 17,000 acres. Someone's estimates were way off right from the get go. Of that 17,000 acres, farmers want 11,000 acres, leaving 6,000 acres for use by Mirabel, which is only used now for cargo services and charter services at some point. When the government returned the land in 1985-86, it made $81 million dollars. The land was expropriated, sold back and that is where it stands.
Today we have an opportunity for the government to right a wrong that took place. I think there are only 40 some farmers in this case now and that should seem like no big deal. The reality is we are dealing with a situation that affected a number of farmers initially. Those same family members are involved in this process. As someone from outside of Quebec and outside of the area, it looks to me as though the land was falsely expropriated. The government never needed that amount of land. At this point in time, when that land is definitely not being used, there is no feasible reason why it should not be returned.
The suggestion that some day down the road it might be needed, the 6,000 acres would still be ample. My colleague from Halifax mentioned what was presently being used for the Toronto airport, 4,200 acres; Ottawa, 4,500 acres; Heathrow, 2,700 acres; and Los Angeles, 3,500 acres. How can the government suggest that somehow more than 6,000 acres will be needed at Mirabel when we still have Trudeau airport? It is not acceptable.
It leads me to question the government's trusteeship in this case. It leads me to question what its intentions are, whether there is an intention there. We have seen many instances where it parcelled off that land to some private company, some friends of the Liberals, just as there were allegations of patronage initially. There is that risk, in spite of everything we dealt with in the last two years in the House related to the government's feeding taxpayer dollars to Liberal friendly people. It is not right.
All Canadians should stand up in support of those 40 some farmers in Mirabel and say to the Liberals that they will not keep their land and use it for their own selfish purposes. The right thing to do is to return the land to those farmers if it is not needed for a passenger airport.
The transport minister has mentioned that the government has an agreement with the airport authorities. He says that the government cannot break that agreement with the airport authorities. The government is the master and the initiator of those airport authorities. The government appoints those individuals to airport authorities.
There have been questions in a number of instances throughout Canada as to who may be on those airport authorities. I say may because I think some who are on those authorities throughout Canada are very good individuals who work for the benefit of the community. However, there have been questions with regard to the airport authority in Montreal, that there was some Liberal patronage.
The government is the instigator of the airport authorities. The government can change what took place with the contract. The contract was for an airport authority to operate the airport, the intent being for passenger service. Things have changed and passenger service is no longer there. To suggest that the government cannot change the deal with the airport authority or the airport authority cannot renegotiate and give that money back to the farmers is just not an acceptable reason.
The Transport minister might think he will be tied up in court with the airport authorities. As a Parliament, we are the master of the legislation that put those airport authorities into existence. Now we are in a minority Parliament and perhaps we need to take the government to task about changing that right here and now, for all the airport authorities, so we do not have that kind of a situation.
Perhaps the minister does not think the government can have control of the airport authorities to ensure that they provide the best service to Canadians as far as passenger service and act responsibly in that. If the Parliament of Canada says that the responsible thing to do is return that 11,000 acres, then something is amok within the Liberal cabinet and it needs to change. It is absolutely not acceptable.
I say to my colleagues from the Bloc, we intend to support this motion. I say it to the Bloc because its members have been very active in supporting the farmers in Mirabel. I say to the Conservatives, who brought the motion forward today, we will be supporting it for all the right reasons.
Land was expropriated unjustly in my view. It is presently being kept falsely. I do not believe for one second that the Liberal government's intentions are noble in this instance. I think there is an underlying plan here. I am not willing to see even 43 families, or 43 farmers or 43 individuals suffer unjustly because of false actions of the Liberal government.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on this motion by the Conservative Party, which asks that the 11,000 unused acres of land outside the perimeter of Mirabel airport be returned and made available to the farmers and individuals who owned this property.
There are a couple of reasons why I am very pleased that my party has brought forward this motion. One of them is that it puts a spotlight on one of the sorriest chapters of the Trudeau legacy in this country.
In the early 1970s the government made an announcement that it was going to expropriate approximately 97,000 acres of land for a new airport in Montreal. To put this in perspective, it is as if the people in my riding of Niagara Falls on their way home this afternoon heard that the Government of Canada was going to expropriate the Town of Fort Erie, all of the City of Niagara Falls and displace every resident in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Those are the proportions that we are talking about.
To put further into context the 97,000 acres of land, Heathrow Airport, which I believe may be the busiest airport in the world, has 2,700 acres of land, Los Angeles has 3,500, and Toronto has 4,200. Even with this motion, another 1,000 acres are available to Mirabel airport over and above that which is allocated to Toronto, despite the fact that passenger service now is discontinued at Mirabel airport and we have no idea from the government when it is going to reopen again, although we hear it will be some time in the future.
Nonetheless, that is not what we are talking about. We are not talking about those 5,200 acres. We are talking about the 11,000 acres that are unused and unneeded. That is what we are talking about. I believe it was one of the saddest chapters in the Trudeau legacy. I put it to the Minister of Transport and his friend, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, what is in it for them to defend what so clearly was a mistake on behalf of their party? Neither of them were ministers in Mr. Trudeau's government. They were ministers under subsequent Liberal prime ministers. What is it about them and their colleagues that they cannot admit this obvious mistake?
The mistakes were compounded at that particular site. They grew and grew and never once did the government ever take responsibility for it when there were hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of cost overruns. Members may remember what the government said. It said it was the contractors who were to blame. The local authorities were to blame. At one point the Province of Quebec was to blame. Everybody was to blame except the federal Liberals.
An hon. member: They are never at fault.
Hon. Rob Nicholson: They are never at fault. They spoke with one voice all those years.
When there was trouble getting airlines to locate at Mirabel, the airlines were to blame. If there were passengers who did not want to use the airport for whatever reason, it was the passengers who were to blame. There was always somebody else to blame except themselves. This has been a pattern within the Liberal Party. I guess Liberals feel it is their duty, which I do not quite understand, to defend everything in the Trudeau legacy. I do not really understand it.
The greatest Canadian who ever lived was Sir John A. Macdonald. There is no question about that--
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Rob Nicholson: Here is what I say to them. They can have their coffee klatch, get a few people together, keep dialling up the phones and vote for Mr. Trudeau. I do not have a problem with that. They should go ahead on that. It is not going to change the facts of this country or how this country was put together, but one does not have to be blinded by the fact that huge mistakes were made, and this was one of the biggest ones.
The mistake was those 10,000 to 12,000 people who were displaced, the people who had their property ownership taken away. I first became involved with this as an observer before I became a member of Parliament. Later, when I became a member of Parliament, when this issue was raised the part that touched me most deeply was the people whose properties were being arbitrarily taken away by the government. I believe that property rights are something that touches Canadians. I think that touches all human beings very deeply.
In my years of living in Niagara Falls and representing that area, one of the things that has impressed me is that people who have come to this country from other parts of the world invariably tell me many things but one of the things that is very consistent about people who have come to this country is their love of private property. Quite frankly, I was disappointed that when the Constitution of this country was amended there were not some provisions for property rights--
Hon. Jean Lapierre: It was the NDP.
Hon. Rob Nicholson: The transport minister says it was the NDP. That is quite correct. The NDP did not want property rights in at the time but that does not absolve the government of the time. The Progressive Conservatives were in support of it and the federal Liberals should have gone ahead with it but they did not.
Nonetheless, people wherever they come from in the world always tell me the same thing. Many of those individuals have come from communist countries. We can talk about the blight of communism. We can talk about how communism ruined every economy in which it took hold and how one of the things that is consistent about people from that was their loss of private property. It touches people deeply.
Indeed, we do not have to come from a communist country. I remember a colleague of mine, a man by the name of Kevin Mulvey, whom I went to school with at the University of Windsor and who told me that when he graduated from Windsor he bought a home in the Windsor area. I congratulated him on that. He told me he believed that he was the first member of his family to ever own land. He was an emigrant from England and his family had never owned land. This was something that touched him very deeply.
Indeed, my own ancestors came from Scotland as a result of property problems. Members may be aware of something in history known as the Highland clearances in the 1800s, in which Scottish citizens, including members of my own family, were evicted. They had lived there since the beginning of recorded time, but through government policy or government complicity they were evicted in the 1850s and they immigrated to Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
Over the years I have been in touch with many generations of my own family as I knew them. We have never received an apology for that. Nonetheless they came to other countries and indeed they have tried, but that is what drove them out of Scotland.
Indeed, when I was there on my honeymoon I could not help but reflect on that when we drove through the empty valleys. I wondered if anyone had any second thoughts about clearing out the population of the Highlands in Scotland.
Nonetheless this is something that is very deep in all human beings. I thought about those thousands of people who were evicted from their expropriated land. We saw the heartbreak and the heartache that accompanied it. It seems to me that there are many Canadians who could identify with this.
For some of those individuals, it is not even as if today the Government of Canada was going to expropriate the city of Niagara Falls. I have lived in my home for 16 years. I could live with it. If my home was taken away, I could go somewhere else although I would never want to leave the area of Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
It seems to me that the people who were the victims of this aspect of the Trudeau legacy were not people who just lived there or had just moved into the neighbourhood. These people and their ancestors had been there for over 300 years. Talk about deep roots in an area: for over 300 years those individuals and their families had lived there and raised their children and these were the individuals who found out on an afternoon on the radio that their land was going to be expropriated for the new Mirabel airport.
Hon. Jean Lapierre: Public interest.
Hon. Rob Nicholson: The minister says it was public interest. What about the interests of those 12,000 people? That is what I ask him. What about their interests? Who was worried about them? Certainly not the government of the time.
I remember when the move was made in the 1980s to try to rectify this. Let us guess who was up on their feet in the House of Commons fighting it every step of the way. It was the members of the Liberal Party. We would have to have seen the debates to believe it. They threw up every roadblock and every argument about getting into that area. Why? Because they had to confront the mistakes of their own past. That was what the problem was.
That is what the problem is today. They do not want to talk about it. I listened to the Minister of Transport and I am sure we will hear other members of the government. They want to talk about everything, everything else except the thousands of people who lost their property.
They do not want to talk about all those individuals who might get their properties back today because they do not want to have to confront that. If one asks members of the Liberal Party about the expropriation at Mirabel, they will want to talk about the price of coffee in Mexico or they will reach in their pockets and want to show pictures of their grandchildren, anything to get off the subject of those thousands of people who lost their properties.
Hon. Jean Lapierre: We weren't in government for nine years.
Hon. Rob Nicholson: He says we were in government. I can say that when moves were made to rectify this, it was the members of his party who would not. We can check Hansard and find out--
Hon. Jean Lapierre: You were in power.
Hon. Rob Nicholson: They wanted to do anything, anything at all, and when the move was made to offer the land back to the people who had owned it, they tracked it to see if there were any mistakes. But the mistake they never lived up to was the mistake that was made by them. That was the one they never wanted to acknowledge.
This story is not at an end. This motion is brought forward by the Leader of the Opposition and I and my colleagues are pleased to support it and pleased to have the support of other members in the House. It should have the support of the members of the Liberal Party.
They do not have to apologize for the mistakes of former Liberal prime ministers. Do what is right, that is what I say to people. They should do what is right and the Liberal members know what is right. Quite apart from the fact that they do not want to talk about it, they know deep down that what they did was a terrible mistake.
The job is not yet completed. There is plenty of land for Mirabel airport for the foreseeable future and the land that we are proposing be given back to the rightful owners to correct those mistakes is well within the purview of this government, but this mistake is just part of the arrogance with which the government has always treated property owners.
I remember speaking about this issue in 1988 in the House of Commons. I also raised the matter that is still with us about the St. Lawrence Seaway. There were expropriated lands in the Niagara Peninsula to twin the canals.
Have you heard that proposal lately, Mr. Speaker? Is anyone going to twin the Welland Canal? I asked the Minister of Transport if there were any plans for it. I will tell the House what the Liberals will tell us. They will say, “Well, we expropriated the land, there is no plan whatsoever, but it is always for the foreseeable future”.
The people who suffered because their lands were expropriated, like the people at Mirabel, just have to live with that. The Minister of Transport says it is the public interest, but what about those people's interests? They are Canadians too and they deserve to have their interests heard in this chamber, but again what the minister would say is that it was turned over to a crown corporation and “what can we do about that?”
The Liberals create these crown corporations and then nothing can be done. They have been the government, for heaven's sake, for 80 out of the last 100 years. They could correct all these mistakes if they put a mind to it, but they will not. They will not correct those mistakes. Why? Because they have to look at their own past and look within themselves to correct a mistake they made. That is a pattern and it is a pattern that I have seen throughout my life.
I remember about a year ago when there were D-Day celebrations and it was revealed that the Liberals were going to send 60 veterans and 70 bureaucrats. Do members remember that one? The government changed its mind, but what was fascinating to me was that the Liberals changed their minds because they had to be shamed into doing it. It is always the same: never do what is right because it is right to do it, do it because one has been shamed into it. Yes, in the end the government helped out Canadian veterans and sent some more. The Liberals had no choice. The spotlight was on them.
It is like the mess of the sponsorship scandal. When the light is on the Liberals, what are they going to say? They say they are going to repent. The Prime Minister was as mad as hell and was going to fix up things here. Yes, he was going to fix up things because everybody knew about it then, but that is always the way and that certainly is the way for the people of Mirabel.
I hope the people who had that land expropriated are following this along with the people who had land expropriated that would never be needed for the St. Lawrence Seaway. I hope all people who have been victimized by governments will have a look at this and follow the debate. What they will find is the same thing that took place in the 1980s. Every time the subject has ever been raised the government does not want to talk about it. They will talk about anything else, about 100 different issues, about the price of coffee, they will say, let us talk about that. It is Mirabel, we will say, but they will want to do something else.
It is a shameful part of the Trudeau legacy but I say to those members that they do not have to be stuck with it. They should do the right thing. Let us join together. This is a minority Parliament. The Minister of Transport has said to me on a number of occasions that he is flexible and wants to work with people, so let him work with all of us here.
He does not want to talk about those 11,000 people. He says that there are procedural difficulties and that there are contracts. There is a man on the moon. There is always something holding them up. I say that he should do the right thing and Canadians will thank him.
I hope the members of the Liberal Party get on their feet and say, “Yes, this is a minority Parliament. We want to work together. It was a mistake from a long time ago. We can admit that mistake. Let us move on and do something for these people because that is what is right”.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to take part in the debate on the Conservative motion that reads as follows:
That the House call on the government to take the appropriate measures to sell the 11,000 acres of arable land back to the families and farmers whose land was expropriated to build the Mirabel Airport.
Before getting to the substance of the motion and the reasons why I will not support it, I would like to give an historical overview of the whole situation and explain how we arrived at the decision to expropriate and then at the signing by the Conservative government and ADM of a long term lease transferring to ADM all the ownership rights.
I would like to put the development of Aéroports de Montréal into context in terms of its historical and geographic importance.
The Montreal airport known as Pierre Elliott Trudeau has been part of my riding since the last revision of the boundaries of our federal constituencies. The district that will soon become the municipality of Dorval is included in my riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. So I know what it is to have an international airport in an urban setting, and I also know the problems it creates for the neighbours, all those people who live in the area.
Historically, Montreal has always been a gateway to North America. First, by sea, then by roads, rail and finally air. Montreal's history is intimately tied to transportation and business development. Located near the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway, where the Richelieu River and the Ottawa River meet, Montreal has become a passenger transportation and business hub in North America.
As the continent developed, Montreal reinforced its position as a transportation hub. Montreal has always been and will remain a link between North America and the rest of the world.
The climate after the Second World War fostered Montreal's accelerated development. The city's geographic location, technological progress, industrialization and government policies helped heighten development. This situation eventually resulted in air traffic volume that surpassed the needs of the city and it became a transcontinental transportation hub.
Commercial aviation in Montreal therefore follows this tradition of international trade. Airlines from all over the world have made it one of their key destinations. Let us not forget that commercial aviation is essential to tourist, industrial and service companies.
To understand the situation at Mirabel, the evolution of aviation in Canada must first be explained. In the 1950s, piston aircrafts like the Constellation and the DC-7, were used for almost all links between Europe and North America.
The first transatlantic crossings were made only after the DC-8 and the Boeing 707 were introduced. We were entering a new era in the world of transportation
In the 1950s, the governments of the time studied the future needs of the Montreal area in terms of air transportation. They concluded at the time that a new international airport was needed in Montreal.
This conclusion was mainly based on information collected through a study conducted shortly before Expo 67. This study revealed that the more long-term needs necessitated the construction of a new international airport. Forecasts at the time indicated that at that pace, despite the expansion projects, the Dorval airport, now known as Pierre Elliott Trudeau, would reach another saturation point around 1985. A new airport was the conclusive solution proposed by this study in order to meet the future needs of the city.
Sainte-Scolastique, which at that time was made up of 14 cities and villages that were later merged to form one municipality called Mirabel, was chosen as the location for the new airport. Construction of the airport started in June 1970. Two 12,000- foot landing strips, taxiways, one terminal, one control tower and service buildings were built at a cost of $350 million.
The airport opened on October 4, 1975. Mirabel is the last international airport of this size to be built.
The government of the time set its sights high for this project and a 98,000 acre area was reserved for the construction of this airport. The purpose of the buffer zone around the airport was to ensure that the airport's needs did not conflict with the urban development needs. Mirabel was built 45 minutes from downtown to allow this new airport to develop without disturbing the neighbouring population.
Shortly after Mirabel commenced operations, some major events rattled the aviation field. Considered a technological wonder, the Boeing 747, which was highly popular among airlines, significantly affected air transport around the world. As a result, it became more difficult for some destinations to make a profit on this aircraft in light of the low passenger volume and the required infrastructure.
Air carriers also reviewed their operations and eliminated long-haul flights with stopovers, giving preference to longer direct flights. With a view to profitability, air carriers concentrated their flights in airports that were likely to attract the most traffic
Later, the liberalization of air transport to the United States also had major repercussions, depriving Montreal of significant domestic traffic. Air carriers could not longer serve the United States by extending their service to Montreal. To remain competitive, carriers eliminated stopovers like Montreal.
The economic conditions of the 1990s also had a significant impact for a number of international air carriers. The events of September 11, 2001 also contributed to the upheaval in global aviation. In Canada, these major upheavals translated into the merger, closing or downsizing of a number of national and international air carriers and noticeably slowed down this sector of our economy.
For example, in the first quarter of 2002, the number of passenger flight departures at Mirabel alone dropped from 94 to 56 a week. ADM therefore made the necessary decisions in this context in order to maximize profits in airport facilities and provide sound management.
Let us get back to the past. In 1985, as a result of changes in the aviation industry and at Mirabel, the Treasury Board approved the terms and conditions of a program to resell 80,000 acres of excess land and the implementation of an agricultural renewal program.
In 1988, 784 acres of expropriated land was added to the 80,000 acres. Then, 11,000 acres of airport reserve land was leased long term and an agricultural renewal program was offered to the lessees.
A special committee was set up to establish the terms and conditions of the lease program and the agricultural renewal program. This committee recommended that a 20-year lease be signed, with the option to renew for consecutive 5-year periods until these lands are required for airport needs.
Finally, in 1992, the management of the airports was transferred to the société des Aéroports de Montréal, known as ADM. This helped establish a framework, which clearly defined the federal government's role in airport management.
As an aside, I would remind the House that this motion was put forward by the Conservative Party, with the support of the Bloc. This is an unhealthy alliance in my view. However, what the Conservative Party is not saying is that it is the Conservative government that transferred the management of the airports to the société des Aéroports de Montréal in 1992.
It is the Conservative government that signed the lease with ADM, transferring ownership of the land at issue to the corporation. ADM was given full management responsibility. It is therefore solely responsible for independently providing financial and operational management of Montréal Trudeau and Mirabel airports. ADM alone manages the 131 leases for the lands for which it is responsible and it also has exclusive authority to make decisions regarding the current and future uses of these lands. I repeat ADM has exclusive authority.
For its part, as owner of these airports, the federal government ensures the long term integrity and viability of the national airport network.
The government's role is in line with the national airport policy implemented in July 1994, which provides local groups with the opportunity to become owners and operators. This policy enables communities that take ownership of airport facilities to profit further from their airports, adapt the level of service to local needs and attract new and different kinds of businesses.
Transport Canada, through its role as a regulator, ensures the safety of the travelling public and contributes to the enhancement of airport facilities. This is the true role of government.
I mentionned earlier that, in my mind, the fact that the Bloc supports the Conservative motion constitutes an unhealthy alliance. Why do I say this?
First, I say this because there is a lease. Yesterday evening, in our emergency debate on the situation in Ukraine, several members of this House mentioned that the rule of law must be respected. Several members also said that the Supreme Court of Ukraine should look into the election irregularity and the decision announced by the central election commission in Ukraine. Election results seem to indicate that the winner was the Prime Minister, and not his opponent, results which are obviously being challenged by the Ukrainian people.
Now, today, Conservative and Bloc members are telling us to flout the law and to ignore the lease. While criticizing the government for having expropriated too much land, they suggest that we flout the law, terminate the lease and sell the land back. The member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel even had the gall to say,“If ever, to develop Mirabel, ADM needed more land, all the government would have to do is to expropriate again”. What nonsense.
The opposition criticized us because land was expropriated. It wants us to sell the 11,000 acres back to the farmers who are operating and cultivating these 11,000 acres under the terms and conditions of legal leases. Now, it is telling us to terminate ADM's lease and sell the land back. Moreover, the Bloc Québécois adds, “lf the government finds out it made a mistake, that is no problem. All it has to do is to is expropriate again”. What nonsense, and how dishonest.
They could at least be logical. If it was not appropriate to expropriate in the first place, they should chose carefully the solutions they propose and make sure the mistake they claim was made then not be made again.
Also, in his remarks on this motion, the Minister of Transport clearly stated that calls for proposals were launched by ADM for development projects, major economic development plans, in the area. ADM received some 30 proposals. Following prequalification, four companies were asked to develop detailed plans. These plans could involve thousands of jobs. Bombardier could eventually be interested in this.
But the Bloc Québécois, which always claims that it alone can represent the interests of Quebec, is ignoring all that. It prefers to engage in petty politics with the Conservatives on this issue. That is a shame and a scandal.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Nepean--Carleton.
Before I address the substance of the Conservative motion that we are debating in the House today, as the agriculture and agri-food critic for the official opposition, I would like to take this opportunity to honour the men and women of this country who, day after day, work tirelessly to produce and process the food that we eat.
The value of the work of these men and women not only often gets ignored, but to add insult to injury, over the last few decades numerous levels of government have made life for producers on the farm more and more difficult. Whether it be through burdensome regulations, misguided legislation, flawed assistance programs, or simply being completely ignored in times of crisis, Canadian producers and farm families have suffered greatly at the hands of the Liberal government.
In spite of the Liberal government's legacy of disrespect for the agriculture community, Canadian producers and processors continue to produce the world's greatest and safest food supply.
In spite of being largely ignored during the current BSE crisis, cattle and livestock producers continue to press on with a resilience and a determination to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
In my riding alone, many producers with whom I have spoken and visited have conveyed to me their increasing frustration with the bureaucratic and regulatory nonsense that they have to endure at the hands of the Liberal government's gross mismanagement of the agricultural file.
Agricultural producers have a unique and demonstrable relationship with the lands they own and farm. For many farmers the lands that they own have been passed on to them by their ancestors, dating back several generations. This passing on of the family farm from generation to generation has long been the reality for many farm families. Unfortunately, due to the lack of support and respect that the Liberal government affords to Canadian farm families, the dream of passing on the family farm to the next generation is fading for all too many Canadian farm families.
To have this dream shattered by government mismanagement and poor public policy is a wrong that needs to be addressed by the Liberal government. Canadian farm families deserve respect from all levels of government. Rural issues continue to be ignored by the Liberal government. My constituents are tired of hearing of the Liberal urban agenda and gas tax for cities. They demand better from their government.
My constituents demand a government that will be responsive to, and dare I say this, the rural agenda. It is this lack of attention to rural Canadians that has led to the increasing polarization of rural and urban Canada. That is a shame.
To address the subject of our motion today, a prime example of Liberal mismanagement and disrespect of the agriculture community is evidenced by the situation that Quebec farmers had to face when their farmlands were expropriated by the Liberal government for Mirabel.
Before I go on, I find it highly ironic that Mirabel airport was in large part the baby of the former prime minister, the right hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau. In spite of this, it is the height of irony that the other airport in Montreal currently bears his name. Perhaps this was the Liberal Party's attempt to hide the legacy of the former prime minister who gave birth to the Mirabel white elephant, but I digress.
There is a common principle of justice in this country. It is called making amends for past wrongs. For example, the Liberal government recognizes the need to right past wrongs that the federal government has unjustly imposed upon Canada's aboriginal peoples. In so doing, the government is doing the right thing.
With regard to the injustices suffered by Canadian hepatitis C victims at the hands of the Liberals, the government recently agreed to compensate them. In this regard, I would like to commend my hon. colleagues in the Conservative Party who have been unrelenting in their pursuit of justice for those hepatitis C victims. Principally, I would like to commend our health critic, the member for Charleswood--St. James--Assiniboia; the Conservative member for Yellowhead; and the former member for Macleod, Dr. Grant Hill, for their tireless work for justice in this regard.
The Liberal government's capitulation on the hepatitis C compensation issue was the right thing to do. We in the Conservative Party applaud the government for its recent actions in this regard, however overdue its response may have been. Nonetheless, the Liberals continue to stall on other files where they so clearly made poor policy and poor management decisions.
It is no secret that the Liberals told Canadians to trust them with the gun registry. They said it would only cost taxpayers $2 million. We know that the Liberals were never good at math and that their projections for the total cost of the gun registry were off the mark by only a couple of billion dollars.
The Liberals should be ashamed for having treated the public purse with such disregard and disrespect. On behalf of my constituents, I demand that the Liberal government acknowledge its complete and utter mismanagement of the gun registry, do the right thing, and scrap it altogether.
Turning to the matter that we are debating in the House today, the incredible sense of attachment and belonging to the land that farmers feel is precisely what makes what happened at Mirabel such a disgrace. To have displaced 3,200 farm families from their land to the tune of 97,000 acres, an area equivalent to two-thirds of the city of Montreal, is beyond comprehension.
This mass expropriation displaced almost 12,000 people. Much of this displacement occurred through force. Many houses were torn down, stores were displaced and families were thrown out. The Department of Transport virtually wiped out the economic life of 10 villages. Former owners were asked to lease their own heritage for indeterminate periods.
To highlight the complete and utter mismanagement of the Liberals on this file, of the 97,000 acres expropriated for the purposes of the airport, Mirabel never used more than 5,000 acres for its airport operations. That is less than 5% of the total area expropriated.
It was not until a Conservative government was in power that the wrongs inflicted by the Liberal government on these farm families were largely addressed. In the 1980s, 80,000 acres of the original 97,000 acres were ceded back to their original owners. This was thanks in large part to the hard work of Conservative MP Lise Bourgault and the support of the then minister of public works, Roch LaSalle.
We are again caught in a situation that proves once again how poorly the Liberals manage public funds. Mirabel airport is a white elephant, a monument to Liberal arrogance, waste and mismanagement.
The farming families living in the area want to turn the page and go back to a normal life. It is high time the Liberal government take responsibility for this white elephant and apologize to the families that were so badly treated throughout this entire matter.
So unless the Liberal government can prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is necessary to keep the 11,000 acres of unused land in Mirabel, it should give them back to the farmers.
On this side of the House, we understand the suffering of these people and we feel for them. I hope that the Liberal government will recognize its wrongdoing, take responsibility and make amends.
Mr. Speaker, on all of these issues it is important to remember, as the hon. member across the way pointed out, the need for us all to work together to advance the interests of all Canadians.
In so doing, I would like very briefly to mention on behalf of all parliamentarians our congratulations to the 10 finalists in the As Prime Minister Awards, who were just congratulated here in the House, in the Parliament of Canada, and who have succeeded in bringing forward terrific new ideas for the future of our country. They are: Ashley Androsoff, Paul Beaudry, Sean Keating, Jason MacLean, Alim Morali, Yongxin Quan, Cameron Sabadoz, Juda Strawczynski, Tian White, and Wendy Yu.
I would also like to congratulate the member for Vaughan—King—Aurora for creating this opportunity for young people to contribute their ideas and make proposals for improving our country.
We have before us a very important motion.
This motion shows that the Conservative Party is the only party that defends the interests of all Quebeckers. Quite obviously, the Minister of Transport has forgotten his province. It is also true that all parties here are working together to find a just solution for the farmers. It is really sad and unfortunate that the Liberals do not want to cooperate with us to solve this real problem. They have elected to be totally partisan and to place their partisan interests ahead of those of Quebeckers.
I am proud to be here as a Conservative.
Let us review this situation. We have farmers who have had their property expropriated by the Liberal government to propel forward a boondoggle, a massive waste of taxpayers' money and what has turned out to be a complete failure. This of course is the result of the tradition of waste and mismanagement in this Liberal government.
Today we propose, in working with our opposition colleagues, to bring justice to this file, to redress the injustice that has been done to the farmers of Quebec around the Mirabel airport, the farmers whose land was expropriated and who now would like to restore their way of life.
But there is a broader question at work here.
The Liberal government has abandoned the interests of Quebec, and those of the farmers, too.
They are against the interests of farmers and this is a prime example: their failure to acknowledge the essential nature of property rights.
Property rights are a core principle of human liberty and that party across the way has continuously denied that right. It runs to the very core of any free and democratic society that if any man or woman works to cultivate and then enjoy the ownership of property, that right is inalienable. That right ought to be protected. It is the core of any free society that we should have property rights. The government thoughtlessly abandoned that key principle of a democratic society when it expropriated this land in the first place.
Where do we go from here? The Conservative Party has put forward a motion which would redress this egregious injustice and allow the land to be sold back to those from whom it was expropriated and those who wish to buy it back.
Of course the Liberals cannot support this motion for political reasons, because to do so they would have to admit that they were wrong in the first place by expropriating it. And of course they will not admit they are wrong. They never do.
They did not admit they were wrong when they lost a quarter of a billion dollars in the ad scam. They did not admit they were wrong when they harassed farmers and sports people with a $2 billion gun registry that cost taxpayers a thousand times more than it was supposed to. They did not admit they were wrong then. They did not admit they were wrong when a billion dollars went missing at the HRDC department. It was a massive HRDC boondoggle. They did not admit they were wrong then.
I see that some hon. members are so afraid to admit they are wrong that they would rather escape from the problem all together.
That is why I am proud of the fact that we are working with other opposition members on this motion. I do not hesitate for a second to say, “Yes, there are other opposition parties that support this motion because it reflects the interests of both farmers and Quebecers and ultimately Canadians”.
It is also interesting that the transport minister, one of the founding members of the separatist Bloc, would stand in the House and allege an unholy alliance merely because the Bloc Québécois and the Conservative Party, along with the NDP, are supporting the same motion. In fact, the only thing unholy is his party's utter disdain for property rights, for basic decency, for honesty and for redressing what has been a terrible injustice to these farmers.
This evening I will be speaking to a group of farmers in my own constituency. The Ottawa Federation of Agriculture has invited my leader, with me, to address their concerns. They are angry that the Liberal government refuses to support their aims to reopen the border to live Canadian cattle. They are angry that the government has not sufficiently defended the system of supply management that keeps their quality of life in place. They are angry that while commodity prices go up, taxes continue to go up and the Liberal government seems to have no interest and no agenda for rural communities.
That is why the Conservative Party will go to them with a real rural agenda to support the aims and goals of supply management, to fight to get our borders open through strong bilateral relationships with our most important trading partner, to scrap that billion dollar boondoggle, the gun registry, and divert those dollars into security so that we can really protect the way of life and the public safety of our people.
We are going to be fighting for farmers tonight at that meeting. I wish some Liberals would come along to fight for farmers, but unfortunately there are none across the way who have any interest in doing so.
That brings us back to this motion. Farmers who had their property expropriated now merely wish to have the right to repurchase it at a fair value to resume the way of life that was so terribly interrupted by the interference of the Liberal government and its predecessor Liberal governments.
We see that there is no sympathy for those farmers on that side of the House. Earlier today one of my colleagues asked the transport minister why he never speaks of the farmers whose land was expropriated. He speaks of all of the great things he wants to do with the property, all the grand schemes he has. Why does he never address the plight of the farmers who were displaced from their way of life? He stood in response to that question and he continued to avoid that question.
This government has never acknowledged the suffering it caused, the families that were torn apart, the businesses that shut down, even the deaths that were caused because of the immense burden of stress forced on people after they learned that their way of life would be tragically and brutally interrupted.
We have a chance to begin to right that wrong. I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, to join with all of us as we attempt to redress the wrong that was done.
We have here a motion that unites all the opposition parties to redress that problem. In fact, in one moment of non-partisanship, I ask that someone on that side of the floor stand and reveal to us that they will change their position and they will support this motion, they will admit they were wrong and they will right this injustice.
Mr. Speaker, I--
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the motion before us this afternoon. I want to thank the Conservatives for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important issue. I have the feeling they may have taken their cue from the motion we will be debating this afternoon at the Standing Committee on Transport. I would assume that they will support us, that the NDP will support us and that perhaps some members from the Liberal Party will show some openness.
It is important to go over some of the past events so that they are fresh in our minds. The chronology is simple, but the result is tragic. We must remember these events to prevent history from being repeated, although some would like to forget them because there was such incalculable loss.
There is the political debate and the economic debate, but most importantly there is the emotional debate when it comes to the saga of Mirabel airport, which my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel explained very well.
Think about the loss of some of the most fertile land in Quebec. Think about the loss of this unique heritage. The human cost was enormous. Farms were completely demolished or burned, businesses were destroyed and hopes were dashed.
More than 3,000 families were affected and more than 10,000 people expropriated, uprooted from their family farms. That is the emotional debate, the practically irreparable human tragedy that, today, the Minister of Transport still refuses to acknowledge.
What happened was this. In March 1969, the federal government announced its intention to build the new Montreal international airport, better known as Mirabel. To carry out its project, the government decided to expropriate 97,000 acres of the best crop land in Quebec. That is when the tragedy began, but it did not stop there.
This was the largest expropriation Canada has ever seen. This project was 10 times larger than any of the world's largest airports, 27 times larger than the area covered by Dorval airport. The government expropriated nearly 20 times more land than necessary—an area bigger than Laval. We call that thinking big. If I were speaking to my children, I would say that their eyes are bigger than their belly.
On October 4, 1975, the new airport opened for business. The Liberal government under Pierre-Elliott Trudeau opened Mirabel airport with great pomp and ceremony. I did not hear his speech because I was still quite young, but I have seen the black and white reruns. Today when I listened to the Minister of Transport, I thought Mr. Trudeau was back among us.
At the time, Mr. Trudeau called Mirabel the project of the century. He said that traffic would rapidly grow to 4, 6 or 10 million passengers, and be multiplied by 6 in 50 years. We are far short of this total and today we might call it the fiasco of the century instead. History confirms this.
On February 20, 1996, ADM announced the transfer of international passenger flights from Mirabel to Dorval. On October 31, 2004, the last passenger flight landed at Mirabel, in total disarray.
Why is it that we have seen the closing of the only airport of international stature, an able competitor with Pearson in Toronto? Why has the eastern door to North America been shut although it could have guaranteed Quebec a first-row place on the international stage?
History teaches us that decisions made in Ottawa, since 1970, are behind the current situation. Once again, another scandal, caused by poor management by the Liberals. October 2004 marked the sad finale to what ought to have been a hub of eastern North America's air traffic. We can call this saga a monumental fiasco, a shameless waste of public funds, decisions that made a major disservice to Quebec, especially to the people of Mirabel, to farmers and others who believed in their region's development, to business people who believed in the economic development of Quebec.
Many decisions led to this economic disaster. For example, if the federal government had been consistent with its decision to invest in Mirabel, it would not have given a systematic advantage to Toronto over Montreal, since it is the federal government that grants landing privileges to international airlines.
Passengers in eastern Canada find themselves in the deplorable position of having to change planes in Toronto to get to Europe even though Montreal is better situated, geographically, to serve this region.
The result of this situation is that everyone loses, including travellers and Quebec's economy.
If the federal government had followed up on its plan, it would have completed the Mirabel project to make it fully competitive. For example, it would have completed the infrastructures that were essential to the airport's development, namely highways 13 and 50, and the railway link with Montreal. But it did not do so. In fact, it did not do anything.
However, this year, the federal government injected over $200 million to build an air-rail link in Toronto. This does not make any sense; it is so inconsistent. On the one hand, the government invests millions of dollars in the development of a new international airport in Montreal, while on the other hand it gives to an airport in Toronto the international flights and the necessary infrastructures, in other words all the means necessary to expand its operations. The government is giving to Toronto everything that Mirabel needed to develop and protect its future.
The government will soon be put to the test, since the new Minister of Transport recently talked about the importance of having a direct link with Dorval. I hope that, this time, he will realize that a project cannot achieve its full economic development if it remains incomplete.
I just presented a sad account of past events. Let us now look to the future, because I am fundamentally a positive person and my philosophy is that we should learn from past mistakes to grow and avoid repeating those mistakes again. Let us talk about the future, about hope and about concrete measures to give back to those farmers and owners who were expropriated in Mirabel interesting and lasting future prospects.
Today's motion is critical for farmers and for those who were expropriated and who want to get back the 11,000 acres of land that were expropriated in excess of what was needed. This land is currently being leased until the year 2023, but its development is jeopardized by the temporary nature of the rights of the farmers who are using it. It is difficult for them to convince financial institutions to lend them money to invest in their facilities. Moreover, these farmers are reluctant to undertake expensive projects to improve the land, since they do not know how long they will be able to use it.
If the government wants to take an initial concrete measure for its new chapter, as the Minister of Transport so aptly put it, I already have a title to suggest to him: “Correcting Past Mistakes and Returning the Land to Mirabel Farmers”. The minister has an opportunity to make history, to do things differently from his predecessors. I am anxious to see what he will do.
The Bloc Québécois has asked a lot of questions in the House on this very subject and, every time, the Minister of Transport and his parliamentary secretary mentioned a lease between the Government of Canada and ADM. Again today in the House, the Minister of Transport mentioned the lease. However my colleague for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel explained very well all the facts regarding these leases. As he said, it is totally irresponsible on the part of the government to hide behind these leases and claim it is impossible to agree on new terms and conditions.
It is important to note that 17,000 acres still belong to the federal government. The expropriates are demanding the return of 11,000 of these acres for agriculture. So, that leaves 6,000 acres for Mirabel to use and for any future development. Just to reassure the Minister of Transport, 6,000 acres, that is twice the size of Dorval. So, the return of that land would not affect potential industrial and aeronautical development at Mirabel and would not jeopardize the future of Mirabel as an industrial park.
The government should recognize that, in its delusion of grandeur, it expropriated far too much land and it still has a lot of room to manoeuvre in the future. It can commit to returning the 11,000 acres of agricultural land farmers are asking for without affecting the potential development of Mirabel since, even if the airport was operating at full capacity, which is not the case, these 6,000 acres would be enough to meet its needs.
The Minister of Transport did not convince me with his long speech. Returning the land to farmers does not mean closing Mirabel for ever. On the contrary. It will not prevent development nor will it prevent Bombardier from developing.
If the minister wants to talk about Bombardier, let us talk about Bombardier. However, we should also talk about aerospace policy. As a matter of fact, the Bloc Québécois put forward a motion in this House asking the government to develop an aerospace policy. And what has the Minister of Transport done? We are still waiting for it. The whole industry is still waiting for it. The minister missed yet another opportunity. When the minister talks about development, he must look at the bigger picture and not be shortsighted as in the case of Mirabel.
Over and above today's motion, I would also like to remind hon. members of the importance of preserving what has been achieved as well as keeping all options open, among other things by keeping the present Mirabel facilities in proper condition. This time, the government needs to keep its promises. We remember the promise about keeping charter flights at MIrabel, yet now they are flying out of Dorval. That is why we need a formal commitment to keep the Mirabel facilities in proper condition, and also to keep cargo flights there, not transferred to Dorval.
My final point is the importance of having an international trade zone. If the Minister of Transport really wants to contribute to the development of Mirabel Airport—and we will be needing some proof of that—he ought to convince his government of the importance of putting in place some simplified regulations on customs duty and sales tax exemption or deferment for companies using Mirabel in order to develop its full potential in an industrial and cargo-only context.
Hon. members will recall that, in 2000, the Government of Quebec implemented an international trade zone at Mirabel in order to take advantage of the airport's presence and step up the economic development of the Lower Laurentians region. The federal government has never supported this initiative, despite its effectiveness and its job-generating potential.
The cargo-only vocation of Mirabel must be supported by reinforcing the Mirabel international trade zone, making it an international-calibre industrial park with special regulatory zones.
A significant federal indication in favour of the international trade zone will be one way of reducing the negative impact of the transfer and the fundamental errors committed by the federal government in the past. Moreover, on March 5 this year, the Prime Minister made a statement in my riding, in Longueuil, that he was in favour of tax-free zones. I invite him to put his money where his mouth is.
To conclude, it is very important to keep in mind that returning the 11,000 acres to their owners will not in any way affect the development of Mirabel's aerospace potential. These are two completely different things. I hope that, at the end of the day, the minister will at least have moved in that direction and understood at least that part of the debate.
For the Bloc Québécois, the future of Mirabel is just as important as showing respect to the farmers and former expropriated property owners of Mirabel. That is why we are in favour of an approach that will be a response to the imperatives and interests of all parties.
First and foremost, however, the federal government must, if not make apologies, at least remedy its past errors and sell back the surplus expropriated land. As far as the future is concerned, the federal government now needs to ensure that Mirabel develops fully and to contribute to that development. It has a duty to do so.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand to address what is a very important issue. I believe this is a great injustice, one that is old in a sense but one that is renewed because the government is refusing to step in now and right an old wrong.
I should mention, Mr. Speaker, that I am splitting my time with the member for Carleton—Mississippi Mills.
This is an issue that goes back 35 years, and it deals with Mirabel Airport. At that time, 97,000 acres of land was expropriated. When this was done originally, it was rammed through, it affected approximately 12,000 people and it was completely unnecessary. The government of the day completely miscalculated the amount of land it would need to set up Mirabel Airport, which was a disaster anyway. It was a huge white elephant, and to this very day, we are still finding out how much of a white elephant it really was. It got smaller and smaller, and now it only takes cargo.
The point that I am trying to make is the government expropriated a tremendous amount of land unnecessarily. Cabinet documents, which were revealed in the last little while, show that the government recognized a couple of years after the expropriation had taken place that it had made a huge mistake, but it decided to plough on anyway.
A number of issues flow from this. One of them is the complete disrespect for the thousands of people who the government threw off the land. It is a story of an abuse of the power to expropriate because the government did not take the time to think it through. The government of the day was completely ham-fisted in its approach to this. It did not use its powers carefully. People who did not have to leave the land were thrown off it anyway.
It is also a story of a complete lack of respect for the issue of property rights. This is an important part of our fundamental freedoms. Unfortunately, the government does not understand that. We see that reflected all the time in legislation. We saw that with the species at risk legislation where the government again took a very ham-fisted approach that would allow people to be forced off their own land, if somebody noticed some kind of endangered species on it. They would not be allowed to have access to that land and would receive no compensation for losing the enjoyment of it. We see this consistent pattern when it comes to the government and the issue of property rights.
Today this injustice continues. It was an injustice 35 years ago when the government threw thousands of people off the land. These people today are still in situations where there has been tremendous human suffering. These are ancestral lands, which people had owned for generations. They were thrown off them and in some cases were provided some very small compensation at the time.
Hon. Jean Lapierre: What did you do when you were in government?
Mr. Monte Solberg: My friend across the way, the transport minister, asked what did we do when we were in government. First, I was not in government, but tens of thousands of acres were returned to these people. What did the Liberal government do? Nothing. It has done absolutely nothing and it displays the contempt it has for people on the land. We see it all the time. It is an attitude that is so prevalent. On the issue of BSE and on the farm crisis in generally, the government will be pushed eventually to do things, but it is always dragged kicking and screaming. It just does not get it. It has a complete lack of respect for people on the land.
I argue that this is even more fundamental than that. It goes to an arrogance that accompanies Liberal governments wherever they go. It goes beyond that. It goes to a lack of respect, again, for the issue of private property, something that is so fundamental to not only this country, but western civilization. It is important as a fundamental freedom. We cannot have freedom unless we can have the right to own property, to use and enjoy it. Unfortunately, the government routinely shows a complete disrespect for that fundamental right.
In this case, I know my leader was out talking with these farmers not very long ago. People have been protesting at Mirabel airport. I have to admit I was not very aware of this issue. However, when we dig into it we find out how fundamentally wrong it is. These people are now asking for their land back. They are not asking for it to be just handed back to them by the way. They want to buy the land back. This is land that the government will never use because the airport has continued to shrink. Now it is mostly a cargo airport.
However, that is not the point. The point is these people are willing to buy it back at fair market value. The government is refusing to listen to them. It is refusing to give them a fair hearing. This is where I think the government is perpetuating that injustice of 35 years ago. We have two injustices: what happened 35 years ago and what is happening today because the government will not listen and will not do what is right to help these people.
Farmers across the country need a break in a whole bunch of different ways. We have problems with getting beef and cattle across the border because of BSE. We have problems with trade disputes with durum wheat. We have all kinds of markets being shut down to us or we cannot get into because of unfair subsidization from other countries around the world and we are being pushed out of those markets. Commodity prices are falling.
In this one instance, where the government has a way to directly help farmers, it just turns a blind eye. That is unforgiveable. Liberals have a moral obligation to listen to what these people are saying, to hear them out and right a wrong. They have an obligation to say to them, when it comes to the use of the government's powers of expropriation in the future, that they will be much more careful, that there will be full compensation and that they will not use the ham-fisted approach that governments too often use when it comes to the power of expropriation. This is an issue that the government has an obligation to address today.
I am very happy to work with other parties in this House, whether it is the Bloc or the NDP who support us. In fact, the government transport minister is heckling me about being in bed with the Bloc. That member over there was a founding member of the Bloc Québécois. This is unbelievable hypocrisy.
Let me say that we are united, not only with other parties, but we are united with the farmers of the country to do what is right. I cannot believe the government across the way sits there and laughs this off. It is a serious issue. Natural justice decrees that the government has to address this issue. It has to do it right away. These people need to have the opportunity to purchase their land back at fair market value. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is what should be done. It is what is right.