Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-315, an act to amend the Parks Canada Agency Act, conservation of national historic sites account.
I greatly commend the member who put forward the bill in the spirit of trying to get more resources to our heritage properties, particularly our national historic sites in Canada.
As we have heard, there are 171 properties owned and managed by Parks Canada. Prior to entering politics, I had the opportunity in my career to work at many of those sites, manage, and to visit them. I have visited them extensively over a 34-year period.
I will go back to the beginning of my career in 1983 at Fort Walsh National Historic Site. It was a place that had been partially developed and consisted of the remains of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police remount ranch. Many of the buildings were in need of rehabilitation. There were some investments that needed to be made in new exhibits. Therefore, financial challenges existed, and this was back in the 1980s.
I served as an interpreter and saw some of the challenges that our historic properties faced. As I moved around the country in my career, from being a front-line interpreter to holding supervisory and management positions, I had the huge privilege of going to places such as Whitehorse, where I managed all visitor programs at Parks Canada facilities, and throughout Yukon. One of the gems there is the Dawson City collection of national historic sites.
Parks Canada sites are located in many diverse places, and there are a variety of environmental challenges, such as threats of climate change, as we see in Dawson City. It is an evolving landscape and challenges often arise.
The challenge with the Parks Canada sites is that they are funded by appropriations, and so there are always competing interests. Fortunately, there are many organizations involved, and one near and dear to me is Motherwell Homestead National Historic Site in Saskatchewan. Moreover, in the last decade, I was that manager at Fort Langley National Historic Site in British Columbia. Many of these national historic sites have friends of organizations. They are generally non-profit organizations and are able to work in very close collaboration with Parks Canada to solicit funds. At the property where I was, the Fort Langley National Historic Site, the friends there were involved for many years in fundraising for rehabilitation, rebuilding, and the addition of new assets to the site. They helped build one of the bastions and a portion of the palisade. They helped get a restoration program going. This demonstrates that there are organizations out there that are willing to work in partnership with Parks Canada and who can manage some of the funds and collect donations.
My experience in more than three decades in the field was that people were often reluctant to cut a cheque to the federal government. There was always this concern, and the private member's bill is trying to address that concern by saying there should be specified purpose fund for donations.
However, the challenge with the bill is that only the interest earned will be used. Again, going back to my time as manage at Fort Langley National Historic Site, sometimes managers of these properties have small projects. It may be a $10,000 renewal of an exhibit, or a $50,000 installation of a new roof on a building, and if there is no money for that, the community will often be willing to help.
As well, there are already mechanisms in place, as mentioned by some of my colleagues on this side of the House. There are specified purpose funds. The Parks Canada Agency Act and the Financial Administration Act allow the Parks Canada Agency to retain funds and direct them.
The beauty of the existing system is that we are able to raise funds and then expend the full amount. Therefore, if a school group wants to support a project, its entire fundraising effort can go into a specific project, as opposed to going into an account that is locked up in perpetuity and only generates interest in support of these sites.
I hate to speak against any effort to try to increase investment in historic sites, but I just do not think that Bill C-315, as it stands in this format, is the way to do it.
Our environment and sustainable development committee is currently doing a study on the state of built heritage in Canada. We are looking, within the federal collective, at what is working and what is not. We are having some discussions with departments and Parks Canada about existing financial mechanisms that are in place to help protect the built heritage in Canada. We are not through that study yet. I think it is important that we conclude that study and bring forward recommendations.
There may be some interesting things we can do with properties not owned by Parks Canada and the federal government and with the family of national historic sites out there. It would also be great if the federal government committed the funds to maintain its own assets. That would allow us to do fundraising for many of the other heritage properties that exist in Canada that are also in need of investment.
In the study we are doing, we are hearing some very interesting ideas. We are going home for a constituency week now, but we will be coming back and continuing that study. We hope to have recommendations. Our committee, including my hon. colleague from Pontiac, who sits on the committee with me, will be bringing forward recommendations to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. We are hopeful that we will see a response in the coming months.
From there, the government will perhaps be able to respond through legislation and deal with some of the shortcomings, or the need for enhancement, of existing legislation to give commemorative integrity, as an example, primary consideration in the management of national historic sites. It is not currently captured under the Canada National Parks Act.
We have heard testimony that perhaps there should be specific legislation for national historic sites. I think that would be a great move to try to deal with some of the management challenges we have with 171 sites that are owned and operated by Parks Canada.
Will Bill C-315 resolve some of the issues? I do not believe that it will. That is why it is important that our government and the committee actually continue to advance this conversation and that we work together.
We also have an issue we heard about through some very compelling testimony, some very powerful testimony, from indigenous organizations in the country. There are some great opportunities to be looking at how we celebrate indigenous culture and heritage in Canada. It does not tend to fit nicely into the built heritage paradigm we have under a colonial framework. It would be great to see some money and fundraising by various parties, perhaps, go toward a renewed, celebrated indigenous commemoration program, a celebration of culture and heritage.
There are lots of questions that need to be asked, important questions about heritage and the role of the federal government in supporting heritage in Canada. Our environment and sustainable development committee is working on that. Although there are some great efforts, such as Bill C-315, to perhaps advance the cause of heritage and the chronic underfunding we see in some locations, there are many other ways we can deal with these issues. I look forward to working with my colleagues on how we can find those solutions eventually.
I want to take this last minute to talk about some of the other amazing places I have been and some of the successes. I spent some time in southern Ontario during my career with Parks Canada. The southwestern Ontario field unit has amazing national historic sites. One that really comes to mind is HMCS Haida, in Hamilton. It was a really great project the federal government was able to fund. The community was very supportive, through volunteers, in making it accessible and telling the great stories of that great warship to the people of Canada.
There are existing mechanisms, as I have said, within the Parks Canada Agency Act and the Financial Administration Act that allow those types of partnerships to allow us to capitalize on the public's interest in heritage and even to grow it.
I thank members for the opportunity to speak to the need for investments and all the ways we can do that for built heritage in Canada.