18 December 2006
Ottawa, OntarioGood afternoon.
Before I begin, I would like to recognize some very special guests who are here with us today:
I would like to thank all of you for being with us here today for this very important announcement.
In particular, I would like to thank Minister Cannon for all of his hard work on this file.
Since becoming the minister responsible for Quebec, Lawrence has taken a keen interest in this issue.
The fact that we’re here today is in no small part due to his efforts.
I would also like to thank the Member for Lotbinière--Chutes-de-la-Chaudière for taking time from his busy schedule to be here today.
Ever since he was elected, Jacques has done an excellent job as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture.
And finally, I of course want to thank the chair of the 11,000 Acres Committee, Marcel Denis.
Marcel’s passionate advocacy on behalf of Mirabel farmers over the years is truly remarkable.
I would also like to thank the President of the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec, Laurent Pellerin, the President of the Fédération UPA Outaouais–Laurentides, Richard Maheu, and finally, the Mayor of Mirabel, Hubert Meilleur.
Today Canada’s New Government will correct an historic injustice.
On March 27, 1969, the federal government did a horrible thing to the population of Sainte-Scholastique.
Ottawa announced that their land would be expropriated to allow the world’s largest airport to be built.
Nearly a hundred thousand acres of the province’s best farm land would be rendered unproductive.
No consultations. No consideration. No choice.
It was done in what they called “the national interest”.
That was back in the days of big, centralist government.
And they had some big ideas.
And big plans.
That cost big bucks.
And led to big taxes.
And a big debt.
But no big deal. Back then, Ottawa took what it wanted.
This decision affected thousands of people.
Entire families lost their homes.
Farmers lost their livelihood.
And a Quebec community that had worked hard for generations was simply brushed aside.
And for what?
In the space of a few short years, it became clear that Montreal did not need an airport of that size.
The Dorval airport was already there and, ironically enough, has since been renamed after the Prime Minister who initiated the Mirabel project.
I’m not saying that the Mirabel project was a complete mistake.
An airport was needed for cargo, and Bombardier needed a place where it could build its aircraft.
But 6 000 acres was all that was required.
And when the region’s farmers asked why they couldn’t buy back the rest of their land, the government replied: “Forget it, we may need that land some day.”
But that never came to pass, and the land was never returned to the farmers.
Until Prime Minister Brian Mulroney took office, that is.
Within one year, he returned 80% of their land.
Later, the Conservatives allowed the farmers to lease the bulk of the remaining land.
This certainly demonstrated good faith on the part of the government, but it wasn’t what the farmers really wanted.
That’s what I realized when I visited the region in November 2004.
I met men and women who are still suffering from the decision made by Ottawa 35 years ago.
And they said: Give us a chance to get back what was taken from us.
From that day on, I have made it a point to fight for the farmers of Mirabel.
To finish what my Conservative predecessor had started.
Later that month, we tabled a motion calling on the Liberal government of the day to do the right thing and sell the needlessly expropriated lands.
On November 25 I introduced the following motion: “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.”
The federal Liberals – including Quebec MPs and ministers – all said "No."
But that is in the past
There’s a new government in Ottawa.
A government that believes in change – genuine change – with people like Minister Cannon, who is with us today.
Lawrence has led the charge – and delivered the goods
And so I am pleased to announce today that our new government is going to let Mirabel farmers buy back the land they are currently leasing.
In allowing the farmers of Mirabel to reacquire their land, we are correcting an error of history and looking toward the future.
We keep our word, and we deliver the goods.
A transition committee will be formed to ensure an acceptable consensus regarding the land sale program.
Today’s announcement finally gives Mirabel farmers the chance to own the land they have worked for so many years.
For some, this means a chance to reclaim land that has been in their family for generations.
And the chance to close one chapter and open a new one.