Madam Chair, members of the committee, thank you so much for this opportunity. Thank you for your interest in historic places and for undertaking this milestone study.
I'm here today representing the National Trust for Canada, a national membership-based, not-for-profit, non-government organization and registered charity established in 1973. As part of a global network of national trusts, we provide tools and resources to citizens to help them save places that matter, and we inspire Canadians with great places to live, work, and play. We are a proud partner with government in programs including Young Canada Works and Canada Historic Places Day.
In the 30 years between 1970 and 2000, Canada lost more than 20% of its historic buildings. Losses continue apace today. Provinces, territories, and municipal governments are doing their part. Federal leadership is urgently needed.
In this presentation I will do my best to provide an overview of historic places in Canada, review the challenges faced by those who try to save and renew them, and offer recommendations for federal leadership. We are talking about a broad range of places owned or managed by at least four different types of owners. Taken together, the places owned by NGOs and charities, private owners, provincial and municipal governments, and the federal government make up a potential universe of many thousands of historic places, perhaps half a million or more. Some of these places are already designated, usually by a municipal bylaw established under a provincial heritage act. Thirteen thousand are currently listed on the Canadian register of historic places, an important national databank and reference.
Designation often brings with it some access to financial incentives—grants, tax measures, and other sweeteners—offered as a carrot to compensate for the inconvenience or extra cost associated with heritage compliance. Indeed, the carrot and the stick are at the heart of most jurisdictions' heritage strategies. We know that incentives are rarely available in amounts sufficient to influence an unwilling owner's decision to invest or demolish, and heritage designation generally does not bring absolute protection against demolition. The protection of historic places is a challenging business.
Why would a parliamentary committee be concerned with the state of historic places in Canada? I think there are lots of great reasons. For a start, there is the potential for positive impacts on climate change. Canada's buildings are the third-largest greenhouse gas emitting sector, and the reuse and renewal of heritage buildings capitalizes on materials and energy already invested, reduces construction and demolition waste, and avoids the environmental impact associated with new development.
In addition to climate change benefits, historic places can contribute to a strong economy. Rehabilitation projects generate up to 21% more jobs than the same investment in new construction. They're a great stimulus measure, and they typically use local labour and materials, such that 75% of the economic benefits of heritage rehabilitation projects tend to remain in the communities where these buildings are located. This is a great stimulus measure. A related economic impact comes from cultural tourism. For example, U.S. travellers seeking heritage experiences in Canada are expected to reach 12 million by the year 2025.
These places also matter to our national identity, and they have a social value, often as the last bastions of affordable housing or a low-cost base for start-ups. However, there are many barriers and disincentives that make it difficult for private sector owners to save and renew historic places, including rising land values in big cities that encourage owners to demolish existing buildings in order to maximize development on the site, and an often unpredictable bottom line, which can deter developers and even lenders. There are insufficient incentives to counteract these barriers, so we lose buildings like the 1898 Etzio building in Edmonton's Old Strathcona district, the landmark Stollery's department store at Yonge and Bloor in Toronto, and Ottawa's Somerset House, where we witnessed demolition by neglect.
NGOs and charities working to maintain and renew historic places also face financial barriers. Competition for grant funding is fierce. Just last week, after decades of effort, the building rehabilitation society in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, was forced to accept the demolition of the 1888 Hazel Hill Commercial Cable Building, where the message of the sinking of the Titanic first reached land.
The only federal funding program dedicated to historic places is the cost-share program for national historic sites, federally designated railway stations, and lighthouses, as Joëlle described, but it is limited to just a few hundred places and they're not-for-profit owners. The funding available has ranged from zero dollars for many years to as little as $1 million a year, and the current $20 million over two years has been a really important boon, but we're very concerned about the notion of it returning to just $1 million next year.
What is the federal role in heritage conservation? Canada needs policies that create a strong economy, protect the environment, and avoid climate impacts. Recycling and reusing existing buildings, our largest consumer good, offers a great opportunity for the federal government to achieve these goals. Interjurisdictional collaboration is needed with the province and territories to develop pan-Canadian standards and explore the opportunity for stackable grants and incentives. Many instinctively look to the Department of Canadian Heritage to lead this charge with its many programs that fund, stimulate, and support a vast network of museums, culture, and heritage organizations, but historic places are not generally accommodated in its programs. According to its agency act, it is Parks Canada that has responsibility for historic places in Canada, reporting to the Minister of the Environment. It is confusing for the average heritage advocate, and frankly I would be very happy to see both ministries increasingly embrace the challenges and offer solutions for historic places.
In closing, I would like to offer the Government of Canada a series of priority actions that would do much to support the conservation of historic places inside and outside the federal family, and this is the framework that I think Joëlle referred to as well.
Number one, the federal government can join municipalities, provinces, and territories in offering much needed incentives to attract investment. A range of approaches may be appropriate to reflect the different ownership types and property types. For example, a predictable go-to source of federal matching funds like the cost-share program works well for heritage properties owned by charities and non-profits. Consideration might be given to a mechanism where donations by private individuals and corporations are matched by the federal government as an interesting way to encourage philanthropy. A federal rehabilitation tax incentive like measures recently proposed in Bill C-323 is a proven way to attract corporate investment to revenue-generating historic places, and gives older buildings vibrant, new uses. There's a range of mechanisms available to consider.
Number two, the government can implement two simple federal measures that would have broad benefit for historic places inside and outside the federal inventory. First, a “heritage first” policy requiring government departments to give priority to federal heritage buildings, or even those owned by others, before opting for new construction or leases to fill federal space needs. These measures could help create a new market for heritage buildings overnight. I know a local developer who says that such a measure would really transform the landscape for historic places in Canada. Second, a “do no harm” policy would be interesting to consider the impact of federal actions on all places in the Canadian register of historic places, regardless of ownership. This would help ensure that when the federal government spends infrastructure dollars, for example, they aren't used to the detriment of existing cultural resources. We know that funding for new convention centres, new roads, and infrastructure can sometimes displace important historic places.
Number three, the government can get the federal House in order and be an exemplary heritage steward. Canada is the only G8 nation without laws to protect historic places owned by its national government. As Joëlle mentioned again, in November 2003, the Auditor General of Canada assessed heritage protection practices within several federal departments and agencies and reported that built heritage under federal control will be lost to future generations unless action to protect it is taken soon. Very little has changed since that date. I refer you to the Auditor General's report and urge you to consider a range of measures including statutory protection of historic places on federal lands, national historic sites, and world heritage sites in the federal inventory, and statutory protection of archaeological resources on or under federal lands and waters.
Number four, the federal government can facilitate full participation of indigenous peoples in the identification and protection of their historic places.
Finally, the government can ensure that the Canadian register of historic places and the “Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada” are enshrined in legislation and adequately funded because they are the essential building blocks and underpinning for all of the recommendations listed above.
Thank you so much for your interest and for your action on historic places.