Evidence of meeting #62 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was lighthouses.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Patricia Kell  Manager, Policy and Government Relations Branch, National Historic Sites Directorate, Parks Canada Agency
  • Cal Hegge  Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • Doug Tapley  Manager, Cabinet Affairs, Parks Canada Agency
  • David Burden  Director, Real Property, Safety and Security, Divestiture, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Gerald Keddy

I call the meeting to order. We are meeting pursuant to the order of reference on June 13, 2007, for Bill S-220, an act to protect heritage lighthouses.

We'd like to thank our witnesses for coming in today. From the Department of Fisheries and Oceans we have Cal Hegge, assistant deputy minister, human resources and corporate services, and David Burden, director for real property divestiture. From Parks Canada we have Patricia Kell, director for policy and government relations, national historic sites--now, there's a long title--and Doug Tapley, manager for cabinet affairs.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming in. We ask for your presentation.

June 19th, 2007 / 11 a.m.

Patricia Kell Manager, Policy and Government Relations Branch, National Historic Sites Directorate, Parks Canada Agency

Thank you. I'd like to thank the standing committee for the opportunity to participate in the discussion of Bill S-220.

During the last 30 years, Canada has lost over 20% of its historic buildings, and recent estimates suggest that another 14% are at risk of being lost. These are significant amounts for a country such as Canada, which has a comparatively small number of historic buildings.

Canada remains the only G-8 country without statutory protection for its federally owned heritage buildings. The purpose of the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act is to preserve and protect heritage lighthouses by providing for their designation, preventing inappropriate alteration or disposal, and requiring that they be maintained.

The Auditor General of Canada, in her report on cultural heritage in 2003 and her follow-up report on built heritage released this year, recommended that the federal government strengthen its conservation regime for built heritage. However, the Auditor General also cautioned that the government should make strategic and reasoned choices consistent with the means available to maintain designated historic places. She questioned the designation of many examples of the same building type, citing lighthouses specifically.

An approach like that taken by Bill S-220, through which a single type of building will receive its own designation and protection program, risks jeopardizing the protection of other heritage buildings such as the Parliament Buildings, which still have no legal protection. Such an approach is also expensive, in that it requires its own administrative processes and systems.

Bill S-220 recognizes that many Canadians have a strong attachment to lighthouses and that lighthouses are icons of our maritime heritage. Owing to this important role, 14 lighthouses are already designated as national historic sites, and 126 are designated as federal heritage buildings under the Treasury Board policy on management of real property.

Bill S-220 would provide statutory protection to lighthouses with significant heritage value, a principle that is deserving of support.

Given these considerations, the challenge moving forward will be to ensure that Bill S-220 is as cost-efficient as possible and that it supports other related policy objectives. With this in mind, there are three areas of concern: reducing the costs of the bill's implementation, rationalizing the requirement for public meetings, and facilitating the divestiture of lighthouses that are surplus to operational requirements.

I will address issues associated with reducing costs and rationalizing public meetings, and my colleague from Fisheries and Oceans Canada will speak to the divestiture issue.

The obligation to maintain heritage lighthouses represents the bill's most significant financial consideration, and associated costs will largely depend on how many structures are designated. Currently the bill includes the power to designate not only lighthouses but also related built structures. The reason is to ensure that beyond the light tower itself, other structures that have a function in a lighthouse's operation are conserved. This would include buildings that contribute to the heritage character of the lighthouse, such as lighthouse keepers' residences, gas houses, and fog alarm buildings. However, it would also include other kinds of infrastructure that are related to lighthouse operations but contribute little to heritage character, such as helipads, walkways, wharves, equipment sheds, and even outhouses. Some of these are very expensive to maintain.

Parks Canada therefore suggests that only related buildings be eligible to form part of the heritage lighthouse designation. This would result in fewer structures being designated, reduced costs for maintenance, and a greater focus on the lighthouses themselves.

Coastal communities are intensely interested in the future of their lighthouses. A belief that decisions were made about conservation work and sales and demolition of lighthouses without communities being informed has been translated into the bill as obligations for public notices and public meetings.

As currently drafted, the bill takes an inconsistent approach to public notices and meetings. It requires public meetings for alterations; such public meetings are unnecessary, as the bill requires that alterations be done in such a way as to protect heritage values to a high standard. At the other end of the spectrum, the bill does not require a public meeting if a heritage lighthouse is to be demolished, an action that has irrevocable consequences. Furthermore, public notices and meetings are required if a heritage lighthouse is sold, even to a community group that is intent on providing for its continued public use.

Public notices and meetings should be offered when public interest would be highest and could have the greatest impact on the future of a heritage lighthouse.

This would suggest that no public meetings be required before alterations are made and no public meetings or notices be required when heritage lighthouses are sold to groups that will continue their public use, but that public meetings be mandatory when the demolition of a heritage lighthouse is proposed.

l believe that my colleague from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans would also like to address the committee.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Gerald Keddy

Go ahead.

11:05 a.m.

Cal Hegge Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Thank you.

Good morning.

Like my colleagues from Parks Canada, we are very pleased to be here today to assist in the SCOFO review of Bill S-220.

Canadian lighthouses, which date back to the 18th century, were built to ensure marine navigational safety. Many of Canada's lighthouse towers still serve their original purpose as aids to navigation, which is evidence of a continued, thriving maritime trading system.

Canadian lighthouses also remain a point of pride for this department--both the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. To be sure, lighthouses are just as important to the DFO and CCG staff who manage and maintain them for operational purposes as they are to Canadians who live near them or visitors who come to see them.

The principles of Bill S-220 are laudable, but the department does not have the financial resources to cover the implementation costs. However, we recognize the historic and cultural value of heritage lighthouses.

Nobody wants to see lighthouses that could go to local communities destroyed. For the last several years, DFO has been working to foster relationships with groups who want to adopt lighthouses, and we are doing everything possible to live up to our heritage obligations within the financial realities we face.

Our priority is to meet community requests for continued public purposes wherever possible. No sales on the open market have happened in recent years, and I do not foresee open market sales unless there has not been an expression of community interest.

Our view is that many of our surplus lighthouses could be transferred, at nominal value, to communities and not-for-profit groups with tourism and heritage interest mandates that are better equipped than our department to assume responsibility for their protection and conservation.

We do have concerns regarding the potential implementation costs and impacts on our lighthouse divestiture strategy. Our concern focuses around the maintenance requirements within the bill and concern that prospective groups might no longer follow through on the divestiture initiatives if DFO were required to maintain them to heritage standards.

While it is technically not a money bill, it is our contention that funds would be required to ensure lighthouses were brought up to an acceptable level to meet the obligations specified within the bill.

Due to the marine aids modernization initiative, AToN 21, the traditional role of lighthouses has been reduced. Consequently, during the past 20 or so years, DFO has recapitalized only those assets that are required for operational purposes. The majority of these funds have been invested at staffed sites in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador only to deal with the most urgent health and safety concerns.

Current policy requires the divestiture of surplus properties and precludes significant investments in properties that are no longer required for program purposes. For some time now, DFO has worked with community groups and non-profit organizations to transfer lighthouses of local interest for a nominal sum.

Currently, the annual departmental operating deficit for core real property assets is about $30 million--in that figure I'm talking about real property, not just restricted to lighthouses--which would be reasonably invested to maintain all assets required to support ongoing program service delivery. If the bill is passed without the necessary funding, the resources to support heritage could only be funded by diverting core program funds, which would be inappropriate in the context of our mandate and could compromise our ability to deliver program services.

As the ADM responsible for small craft harbours, I know I don't have to dwell on the unfunded nature of that particular program. It's been in front of this committee several times. It's an example of another program that we do not have any flexibility to move funds from and that we would have to look at--not just small craft harbours but throughout our capital budget--if we were going to try to come up with funds for this program.

As custodian, with new responsibilities under the bill, DFO can no longer defer structural repairs required to ensure that many of these heritage light stations remain standing. In fact, we will require access to some funds immediately, as repair work cannot be delayed further if many of these heritage lighthouses are to be protected as proposed in the bill.

For the bill as written, it is estimated that our department would require $461 million of a total estimated cost of $481 million over the first 10 years for recapitalization costs and $24 million of a total estimated cost of $26 million annually thereafter for maintenance costs, in order to respect their statutory obligations for those lighthouses under our custodial control, if 450 sites were to be designated. The estimate is based on the assumption of a 60% designation rate, as per the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act, on a maximum of 750 DFO lighthouses.

At the other end of the spectrum, if only those lighthouses that are part of national historic sites and our highest FHBRO, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office, designated lighthouses were afforded the statutory protections proposed in the bill, the estimated financial impact for DFO would be $105 million of a total estimated $118 million for recapitalization. There would be an additional $5 million out of a total estimated $6 million annually thereafter, for maintenance and addressing the administrative barriers required for effective implementation. Even at this level, the department would need to seek additional new funding.

Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening remarks. We'd be pleased to do our best to answer any questions the committee might have.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Gerald Keddy

I thank our witnesses for appearing.

For the benefit of our committee, you've outlined some of the issues that we've been struggling with on this particular piece of private member's business and some of the challenges that are obviously going to have to be met before we can make this work in any responsible way.

Mr. Simms, I know you have some words of wisdom.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Good Lord, I'm looking for another Mr. Simms in the House.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First, I would like to say thank you for introducing this in the House and bringing it forward. It was an initiative from the Senate, and a long one at that. I'm sure this will be a pretty productive period, nonetheless.

As you know, we support this bill and look forward to amendments to make sure this works out. So congratulations to you, sir.

Ms. Kell, what I have noticed in my three years in this job is that in instances where we have an incredible amount of heritage wrapped up in a lighthouse that in many cases was the centrepiece of the community 100 years ago—it wasn't just a safety thing, but there was a community aspect with the lighthouse and related buildings—any investment to help these places survive has come either from DFO or our local economic development agency, ACOA.

I find that—I would say Heritage Canada, but I understand it's really Environment Canada, as you've now found a new home—Parks Canada has been glaringly absent from the support aspect of this.

I appreciate where Mr. Hegge is coming from. He talked about a $105 million recapitalization, and he notes there isn't enough money available, if I can paraphrase you correctly, to sustain most of these historic places.

Do you feel you've been absent in your part?

11:15 a.m.

A voice

Just be direct.

11:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

11:15 a.m.

Manager, Policy and Government Relations Branch, National Historic Sites Directorate, Parks Canada Agency

Patricia Kell

Parks Canada administers two heritage designation programs that affect lighthouses. On behalf of the Treasury Board, it administers the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office and the national historic sites program.

Under the Treasury Board program, departments are responsible for caring for heritage buildings in their portfolios on their own. FHBRO provides advice, but it does not provide financial support.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

I apologize at the beginning. I realize I may have put blame on you, and I don't do that. I think Heritage funds have been absent for quite some time, even beyond a year or so.

So I would have to say that when it comes to the designation of a certain place—I was involved in one near Twillingate, Newfoundland—there are no funds surrounding that to help them get started as a heritage site.

11:15 a.m.

Manager, Policy and Government Relations Branch, National Historic Sites Directorate, Parks Canada Agency

Patricia Kell

That's correct.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

It seems to me that what they're doing now is struggling with a local economic development agency to find funds to do this as a tourist attraction.

If I'm not mistaken, places around the world provide money for heritage sites simply to be, as opposed to what you are to become as a tourist attraction. I mean, they can sell so many trinkets.

In the past, were funds available when you received that distinction?

11:15 a.m.

Manager, Policy and Government Relations Branch, National Historic Sites Directorate, Parks Canada Agency

Patricia Kell

There has never been a program that automatically provided funds on designation. Canada's national historic sites program has always been a program where some sites are owned by the federal government and some sites are owned by other bodies--provincial governments, municipal governments, private individuals, and corporations.

There has been a cost-sharing program for probably the last 20 years where sites not owned by government could apply to do specific conservation projects and have the government make a contribution.

That program still exists in theory, but it is not well funded.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

What is that program?

11:15 a.m.

Manager, Policy and Government Relations Branch, National Historic Sites Directorate, Parks Canada Agency

Patricia Kell

It's called the national historic sites cost-sharing program.