Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'm sure members of the committee are used to getting a tremendous amount of information in a short period of time, but information overload, I know, is always a problem on these occasions.
Just to identify myself more completely, I'm actually president of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies at the University of Toronto. It was sort of my retirement project when I retired as president of the University of St. Michael's College after almost 20 years, which is federated in and with the University of Toronto. I was asked to do the research institute as a retirement project, but after nine years, I think it's more of a second career.
From your point of view, my role as chair of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada is the relevant one. The board advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, who is the minister responsible for Parks Canada, and the Government of Canada, therefore, on the commemoration of places, persons, and events of national historic significance. It has done this since 1919, when it was founded by an order in council.
I also, at the moment, serve as vice-chair of the advisory committee on the official residences of Canada at the National Capital Commission, and previously I had two terms as CEO and chair of the Ontario Heritage Foundation, now the Ontario Heritage Trust, which is that province's lead agency for the protection, preservation, and promotion of cultural and natural resources of significance.
First of all, I want to congratulate the committee on undertaking this work. It's a great opportunity. I think a report that is broad, comprehensive, yet practical, and that might even have recommendations that would need to be phased, is really what is called for if one can hope for such an outcome. I think it's important to recognize that it was—and it's been mentioned twice already this morning—the 2003 report of the Auditor General that gained the attention of Canadians and focused it on heritage and the threat to Canada's built heritage that existed. It indicated very strongly that two-thirds of Canada's national historic sites in federal ownership were in fair-to-poor condition, many in poor condition. It was very critical of the federal government's described neglect in the area, and it advocated very strongly for a reinforced legal framework for protection, in other words, for legislation.
When the report came out, you may recall, it got a lot of attention. There was a flurry of interest. It didn't last terribly long because there was a lack of a coordinated, coherent response on the part of individuals across the country. Indeed, surveys taken more recently indicate that there is still broad support among Canadians for built heritage generally, but that when it's placed against competing interests from time to time, that's where it loses out.
I think this committee has a chance to be able to promote and analyze the role of heritage within the general cultural framework of the country.
What was the Auditor General's report really based on, and what is the narrative for historic heritage protection in Canada?
Beginning in 1908, the national battlefields of Quebec act was a piece of legislation dealing basically with the Plains of Abraham. In 1919, there was an order in council that founded the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, which started the program of federal commemoration of nationally significant persons, places, and events. In 1953, the Historic Sites and Monuments Act provided a statutory basis for the federal government to commemorate with plaques and occasional acquisitions—that hasn't happened very often recently—places, persons, and events of national significance.
In 1973, Natalie's organization, Heritage Canada—its original name—was founded by a federal government order in council. In 1982, the federal heritage buildings policy was founded, which does deal with federally owned structures. It asks for a heritage evaluation for all buildings 40 years old and older and for the production of a statement of heritage significance for each building, but there are two things here: one is a sort of registration of buildings and one is classification. For registration, there is basically no significant protection involved, and nothing of significance regarding conservation of the resource. If the building is classified, there is some degree of protection, in that demolition is made fairly difficult, but it's very incomplete.
In 1985 to 1988, as we've heard, the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act came in, and then the lighthouses in 2008. Both were private members' bills, which is very interesting, but I would note for the interest of the committee that neither involved significant a federal outlay of money, and none involved diverting federal revenue in any way. The finance department is always interested in this. Both those pieces of private member's legislation went through.
Bill C-323, which is very current, of course does involve a tax incentive. It will be interesting to see what happens with that. I certainly would advocate that kind of approach, but I think it's much more difficult to do, particularly as more or less a first step.
What would make great sense today?
First of all, I would say that the legislation to protect federally owned national historic sites, 171 owned by Parks Canada and 65 by other federal departments, should include protections for UNESCO world heritage sites. We go to a great extent to try to add to the Canadian list in this area, as it's thought to be a very good thing, but we offer no guaranteed protection once they're on the list. We're really the only G8 country that doesn't have federal legislation protecting nationally significant places. I think this is a huge gap that could be filled fairly easily, and I suspect the government would be open to that type of recommendation.
It also should ensure any legislation measures to prevent adverse federal action on the over 730 national historic sites that are owned by somebody other than the federal government, some by provinces and most by private individuals. There is only so much one can do, as property rights in Canada, through the BNA Act and the Canadian Constitution, are assigned to provinces and territories. There's a limit here to what the federal government can easily accomplish. I think it is important to have protection for archaeological resources on federal lands and under waters as well.
I think cost-sharing has been mentioned before. The federal provision here was as much as $6 million or $7 million going back to maybe 15 years ago. It declined to $1 million for several years just a few years ago. Now we've had two years at $10 million, but that's about to expire. I think it's important to recommend an extension of cost-sharing, and let's say for five years at a $10-million level. That's as close as one gets to making a program permanent, and I think it's well merited.
Tax incentives would complete the picture of tools here, but I think it's harder to achieve that and I think we need to be practical. I would hope that the committee would sketch out broad recommendations that could carry this area forward into the future in a comprehensive manner, recognizing that some of the recommendations might have to be phased in their execution.
I wish the committee well. You have an important task. I thank you for the opportunity to say my piece.