Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise today to speak to Bill S-220.
Let me begin by thanking the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's for sponsoring the bill in the House and also the hon. Senator Pat Carney from British Columbia who brought the bill forward to this chamber. She carries on the work of the late Senator Forrestall of Nova Scotia. He cared deeply about Canada's lighthouses as an indelible symbol of our shared heritage, as do I and many members in this place.
Bill S-220 seeks to protect and preserve heritage lighthouses by requiring their maintenance as heritage monuments. Currently there are about 750 “lighthouse like” aids to navigation in Canada and the bill would provide statutory protection to many of them.
As a proud Canadian from the west coast and a strong supporter of communities along the Pacific coast, lighthouses have a special place in the hearts of many British Columbians. For many communities, lighthouses stand as an important part of their cultural identity.
Like the railway tracks that stretch across our landscape, like the grain elevators that rise from the Prairies, lighthouses are a part of the fabric that is Canada. They are woven into our songs, poetry, stories and even our art. We will even find them from time to time on our postage stamps. Not only that, they are a prime tourist destination for thousands of visitors from across Canada and around the world.
Lighthouses have helped to shape the history of my province. Like many, I recognize and appreciate the role they have played in opening the west coast to development, trade and commerce. In fact, nine west coast lighthouses are already designated as federal heritage buildings. Let me speak for a moment or two about just a few of those.
To begin where it all began, the white tower and red brick lightkeeper's house of Fisgard have stood faithfully at the mouth of Esquimalt Harbour since about 1860. Fisgard is Canada's first manned light station. For almost a century and a half, this lighthouse, and the one at nearby Race Rocks, has shone the way through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and on to Victoria Harbour for countless mariners.
Today it is still a welcome guide for many sailing these waters, including those heading to the Royal Roads anchorage and Esquimalt naval base. The lighthouse and the Fort Rodd Hill artillery base are designated national historic sites and successful destinations for tourists and history buffs alike.
Point Atkinson lighthouse in west Vancouver may well be the Pacific coast's most famous. The original structure was built around 1874. In about 1912 a hexagonal concrete tower was built to take its place. This lighthouse, with its powerful beam and strategic location at the outer approach to Burrard Inlet, has provided safe passage to many a mariner sailing into Vancouver. For decades, it has helped protect the city's bustling international shipping fleets.
Vancouverites care deeply about this lighthouse and they care about the surrounding 75 hectare park, which, incidentally, contains the last stand of old growth forest in the Lower Mainland, mostly Douglas fir. This dense forest provided a fittingly dark background for the lighthouses' bright beams, and I and many others are pleased that they are both still there today.
Estevan Point is another example of B.C.'s historic lighthouses. It was built in 1909 and is said to be one of only two Canadian lighthouses to be attacked by hostile forces. Historians today debate whether the shells that missed their mark and drew no casualties in 1942 were, indeed, from an enemy submarine off Vancouver Island. The other theory is that the attack was staged by an allied ship to provide political cover for the Canadian government's controversial move to implement conscription, but we will not get into that debate today.
Either way, the Estevan lighthouse stands as a beacon of our past and a true piece of Canadiana. It is one of the most distinctive lighthouses in all of British Columbia. The spectacular flying butresses of the Estevan light station soar almost 46 metres into the sky. It is one of only six remaining lighthouses in Canada to feature this unique architectural style.
It is clear that lighthouses shine brightly in the history of my home province and other parts of Canada. Before the advent of the automobile, our waterways were the highways of choice for travellers and their cargo and lighthouses were their road signs. The value of lighthouses as icons of the past is undeniable.
However, the 21st century has been marked by rapid technological change and with that change the operational role of lighthouses is diminishing. New marine safety and navigational technology are replacing the need for lighthouses in guiding marine traffic. As a result, many have become operationally redundant and many have fallen into poor condition.
Should we care? I feel strongly that we should. Lighthouses often define the very culture and spirit of the Canadian community marking its rightful place in the history of our country.
However, just as technology has changed with time, so too have communities across Canada. To succeed, communities are seeking new opportunities and adapting themselves to the economic, cultural and social realities of today. Similarly, we can be innovative in defining new roles for lighthouses within these communities.
For some time now, DFO has worked with other federal departments and levels of government, as well as community groups and non-profit organizations, to transfer surplus lighthouses for alternate public uses. In fact, communities can purchase surplus lighthouses, for continued public use, for the nominal fee of $1.00.
Would we like to maintain every lighthouse of historical significance in the country? We certainly would. However, this is beyond DFO's mandate and resources. Our job is to provide Canadians with basically three things: one, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture; two, healthy and productive aquatic ecosystems; and, three, safe and accessible waterways. These duties cannot be undermined because they, too, are important to Canadians.
Canada exports about $4.1 billion in fish and seafood a year. Every year, more than 100,000 transport vessels make their way through our waters. They carry 360 million tonnes of goods, with an import or export value of $85 billion.
That is why our government, on behalf of Canadians, invests in things like fisheries science and management, enforcement and habitat protection, oceans stewardship, renewing the Coast Guard fleet and modernizing aids to navigation. We work with the local community in keeping Canada's small craft harbours safe and functional. World events have expanded DFO's role, through the Canadian Coast Guard, in maintaining maritime security along our shores, in conjunction with other agencies.
I must agree with my colleague from South Shore—St. Margaret's, who is championing this bill in the House. While the goals of the bill are entirely supportable, its methods need some refining. In fact, just finding a clear definition of “lighthouse” is itself challenging. As I mentioned, there are 750 structures that the public perceives as lighthouses, which could come under our heritage protection if the bill passes as it stands now.
Under Bill S-220, Parks Canada would be responsible for designating heritage status and DFO, as the primary custodian of lighthouses, would have to fund almost all the costs associated with preserving them. Clearly, a sober and pragmatic approach is required.
Under our current operating budget, DFO would be forced to make some tough choices to deliver our newly assumed heritage responsibility. However, at what cost? The resources to maintain lighthouses have to come from somewhere.
What would we take back from a fishing industry that can ill afford further pressures? Would we choose to impact the renewal of our fisheries, the management of our oceans or the protection of our aquatic ecosystems? Could we continue improving our small craft harbour infrastructure, which Canadian fishers dearly need to earn a living? Perhaps most important, what about the safety of persons and property travelling on our waters?
These are choices that none of us at DFO would wish to make and that Canadians should not have to face, and I hope we will not have to.
Historian Desmond Morton once wrote:
Canadians, like their historians, have spent too much time remembering conflicts, crises, and failures. They forgot the great, quiet continuity of life in a vast and generous land. A cautious people learns from its past; a sensible people can face its future. Canadians, on the whole, are both.
I think that speaks volumes to the debate we are having today.
I believe in honouring our maritime heritage and I believe this is a shared responsibility, including but not limited to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
We fully support the principles of Bill S-220. We are willing to work with other levels of government and community members, who care about preserving these vital links to our past and can make the most of these opportunities to honour our maritime heritage.
Canadians do have a strong attachment to lighthouses. However, we also need to move from an emotionally based argument to a practical one. Simply put, true heritage lighthouses need to be protected and preserved for the education and enjoyment of current and future generations. They need to have new life breathed into them. They need to be rejuvenated so they can play a new role in community life.
Lighthouses are a symbol of survival and hope in hundreds of Canadian communities. In fact, with the exception of only two, every province in Canada has lighthouses. As Canadians, we all have a responsibility to protect these important symbols because it is through our history that we come to know ourselves as a people. I believe we all have a role to play in that regard.