Evidence of meeting #21 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was heritage.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Patricia Kell  Director, Policy and Government Relations Branch, National Historic Sites Directorate, Parks Canada Agency
  • Doug Tapley  Manager, Cabinet Affairs, Parks Canada Agency
  • Cal Hegge  Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • Krishna Sahay  Director General, Real Property, Safety and Security, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • Andrew Anderson  Senior Divestiture Analyst, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • Patricia Carney  P.C., Senator (retired), As an Individual

April 1st, 2008 / 9:10 a.m.

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

Cal Hegge

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and committee members. We're also pleased to be here this morning to discuss Bill S-215.

As you know, it's not the first time we have been here to discuss the bill and its previous version, Bill S-220. Last June, my colleagues and I were here to discuss the bill. At that time, we confirmed our minister's support for the basic principles of this initiative while noting some areas of concern.

I'm happy to note that the bill you have before you this morning, certainly from our perspective, is much improved from the version we were reviewing last year. Many of the areas of concern we raised last year about administrative and financial challenges have been at least partially addressed.

From a DFO perspective, we are happy to note that the bill now contains language that supports and will facilitate our efforts to advance sales or transfers of surplus lighthouses to ensure their continued public purposes for local and community-based alternate uses. This is very much aligned with our departmental lighthouse divestiture program.

As well, the application of the bill has been clarified to apply only to lighthouses owned by the federal government and not those owned by third parties. This issue was of concern to some organizations that had previously acquired lighthouses from our department and were concerned about the possibility of increased financial obligations.

There have been administrative improvements related to the processes affecting proposed alterations.

Finally, and most importantly, the bill now provides a requirement for public meetings prior to any proposed demolition and reasonable alternatives to demolition. This was missing from the original bill, and we feel it should help ensure that local communities are informed and involved in important decisions affecting their lighthouses.

It is clear that new technologies are replacing the need for many of our fixed aids to navigation, such as lighthouses. However, Canadian lighthouses remain a point of pride for coastal communities, for our staff in DFO, and for the coast guard, who manages and maintains them for our operations, and for visitors who come to see them.

We recognize the historic and cultural value of heritage lighthouses. The principles of Bill S-215 are most worthy, but I must restate that our department does not have the financial resources to cover the implementation costs. During the past 20 or so years, DFO has been able to recapitalize only those assets that are required for operational purposes. The majority of these funds have been invested in staff sites in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador, and only to deal with the most urgent health and safety concerns.

I believe the last time I was here discussing this bill, the annual departmental operating deficit for core real property assets was about $30 million from what should be reasonably invested to maintain those 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 found 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 custodians with new responsibilities under the bill, DFO could no longer defer structural repairs required to ensure that many of these heritage lighthouses remain standing.

Nobody wants to see surplus lighthouses that could go to local communities neglected or destroyed. For the last several years, DFO has been working to foster relationships with heritage organizations like the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, as well as local community groups that want to adopt lighthouses. 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 to assume responsibility for their protection and conservation than DFO. The bill now acknowledges this important principle, and this should help us work better with heritage interests and local communities to ensure the availability of lighthouses for alternate public usage.

This concludes our opening remarks. We will be pleased to address any questions the committee may have.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Fabian Manning

Thank you, Mr. Hegge.

We'll go to Mr. Matthews for the first round of questions.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Matthews Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'd like to welcome our guests. Thanks for coming.

You talk about structures and related buildings. What specifically are we talking about on site? Are they buildings related to the operation of the lighthouses or those that accommodated people?

9:15 a.m.

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

Patricia Kell

On a lighthouse site there may be a variety of different structures, including the main light tower. In many cases, there has been a lightkeeper's house associated with the site and in some cases also other support buildings, a fog alarm building or an oil shed in some cases.

We have been drawing a distinction between things that are buildings—so sort of four walls and a roof—and things that are structures, which would include things like wharves or helipads or walkways, which would not qualify as buildings but which have been the point of some of the discussion related to the bill.

So our sense is that some of the buildings may be in fact meaningfully associated with the heritage value of the light tower, something like the lightkeeper's house, which was built at the same time and was integral to the functioning of the light station, whereas these ancillary structures may in fact support the functioning of the station but in no cases have they been found to have heritage value.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Matthews Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

So are all of those structures or buildings accessible, then, in today's world, or is some of the infrastructure you talked about available to make them accessible?

9:20 a.m.

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

Patricia Kell

Clearly, in some cases, their purpose is to make the light station accessible. Presumably, once you're at the station, everything that is there is accessible to you.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Matthews Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Are any of those sites isolated?

9:20 a.m.

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

Patricia Kell

Are any of the light stations isolated?

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Matthews Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Yes.

9:20 a.m.

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

Patricia Kell

Certainly, yes.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Matthews Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

I guess, tying in to the spirit and intent of the bill, to be respected by third parties, that ownership and so on, how are we going to maintain the integrity if the situation is such in some circumstances that you've just told me?

9:20 a.m.

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

Patricia Kell

I think the important distinction from the heritage protection perspective is that at a particular light station you may have both things that are of heritage interest as well as other things, modern infrastructure that supports, for example, access to the things that are of heritage interest.

If I can just give an example, the purpose of the wharf is to allow access to the site. If you consider the wharf, which indeed may not be very old, to be a heritage structure, that then creates obligations when you care for that, and the kinds of international standards for care of heritage structures include things like not changing the materials that something is made out of, not changing the design of something.

So in the case of a wharf, if you had an opportunity to upgrade to materials that perform better under the circumstances or to a design that accommodated a new kind of vessel, if you have designated that wharf as a heritage structure, you'll be precluded from doing that.

The purpose of the distinction we're making is to say we should treat the things that have heritage value, like heritage buildings, in a way that respects that heritage value, and we should manage the things that don't meet that test in a way that enables access to the place.

I guess the other consideration for me when I look at this issue is that in the bill there's an obligation, once a lighthouse is designated, to do maintenance on that lighthouse. That means that someone, somehow, has to have access to the site. So already built into the bill is some requirement for access.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Matthews Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

But then there seems to be an obvious problem. If a community group takes ownership, it seems from Mr. Hegge's comments that there's going to be no funding, or right now there's no funding available, it seems, to keep it to a standard that you have espoused. Am I correct in that or am I wrong?

9:20 a.m.

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

Patricia Kell

My understanding of the reason the bill was proposed in the first place was that there was a concern that lighthouses of heritage interest were not being cared for appropriately by the federal government, yes.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Matthews Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Right. So if we go the route of a heritage lighthouse being taken over by a community group, then there's going to be a requirement to maintain an appropriate standard, listening to you, but listening to Mr. Hegge, it seems there's a tremendous financial shortfall to maintain that standard, it seems to me. So that seems to be the dilemma we're facing here, and I would just like to hear some comment from either one of you on that.