Thank you very much and good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to present my ideas on built heritage in Canada.
My contribution is based on my experience as Parks Canada's director general of national historic sites from 1986 to 2005, so almost 20 years. During that time, I worked on a comprehensive heritage conservation program for historic places in Canada. Since then, I've deepened my understanding through the research I do at the University of Montreal.
I'd like to open by making two points.
The first is that heritage properties in Canada are recognized by various levels of government, and they include national historic sites, federal heritage buildings, provincial historic sites, and municipal historic sites. In other words, there are lots of levels of designation.
The second point is that the number of heritage properties needing care absolutely exceeds the possibility of governments themselves looking after them all. I would argue that stewardship for most heritage places, historic sites, is carried out by individuals, corporations, institutions, and not-for-profit organizations. That's not to say that government doesn't have a role. Indeed, collectively governments have important leadership, legal, and stewardship roles to play in protecting and conserving heritage properties in Canada.
What prompted this comprehensive heritage study in the last couple of decades was the loss and deterioration of so many heritage places. It's not new for Canada. I just remind you that in 1951 the Massey-Lévesque commission concluded that, our history is “written on the...surface of the land, but this history is threatened every day with obliteration.” That was in 1951.
An internal research report from the 1990s demonstrated the loss of 21% of the buildings that had been recorded 30 years earlier in the Canadian inventory of historic buildings, where I started my career. In other words, 21% of our heritage places were gone—not modified, but gone—in one generation. Then the Auditor General's 2003 report corroborated this by noting that 20% of all built cultural resources at national historic sites and national parks were in poor condition, and that 66% of all federal heritage buildings were in fair to poor condition. This pattern hasn't changed.
You will all have seen the Auditor General's report this year on the National Capital Commission, which reported that over 25% of their assets, many of them heritage assets, are in fair, poor, or critical condition.
What can the federal government do? To improve the preservation and protection of heritage places, government needs to support Canadians in their stewardship role, and it also needs to put its own house in order. In the first place, we need to know which properties have heritage value, how they will be conserved, and whether the conservation treatments have been effective in preserving the heritage values.
Significant achievements have been made towards these goals in the last two decades. Through a pan-Canadian collaboration, a single information source has been established to capture all historic places, all the designations, recognized for their heritage value at all the different levels. This single information source, known as the Canadian Register of Historic Places, has been unanimously adopted by all jurisdictions in Canada. It is managed by Parks Canada in collaboration with provincial and territorial partners, but I give a note of caution. It's my understanding that participation in the register has been slowing down.
To respond to the need to define appropriate conservation treatments, a team of governmental and non-governmental experts has produced something called “Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada”, now in its second edition. These standards have been adopted by Parks Canada, the National Capital Commission, the federal heritage buildings review office, as well as all provinces and territories except Ontario. They're also used by some municipalities. In order to evaluate compliance with the standards and guidelines, a national certification program has been developed, although it needs renewal.
With the register, standards and guidelines, and certification capacity in place, albeit in need of additional funding, the basic infrastructure has been created to preserve and protect historic places in Canada, but both the register and standards and guidelines need to be given a statutory foundation. But if Canadians are to be supported in their stewardship of heritage properties, and if the federal government is going to carry out its own stewardship responsibilities, a suite of legislative, financial, and fiscal tools is still needed.
The first is in terms of legislation. Federal legislation is needed for national historic sites and other properties under federal jurisdiction, as well as for federal actions affecting properties on the Canadian Register of Historic Places. Legislation could also provide a statutory base to Canada's international obligation to identify and protect world heritage sites of outstanding universal value that are in Canada.
Second is the basic heritage infrastructure. Further investment is needed to revitalize the register to ensure robust participation from all partners. Consideration should also be given to including indigenous registrars as an integral part of the register management, as this would be an important signal for reconciliation. A mechanism is needed to periodically update the standards and guidelines, and to renew the certification training program.
Third is the tool kit, which needs both reinforcement and expansion. For some types of property, grants and contributions are the most appropriate tool. For others, tax measures, including tax credit for investment in heritage places, would be more effective. The government could take specific action to improve the tools available. The national historic sites cost-sharing program could be made permanent, with sustained and adequate funding. Fiscal incentives like the highly successful American tax credit could be created for national historic sites and other properties on the register. Support could also be provided to not-for-profit institutions like the National Trust for Canada and ICOMOS, which, as you will hear, is the organization that gathers together professionals in heritage conservation. Both of those would do much to mobilize both Canadians who do stewardship activities and Canadians who are active in conservation.
My time is limited, as you've noted, Madam Chair. What I have attempted to briefly outline are what I consider to be the main components of a comprehensive heritage conservation program for Canada's historic places. The pattern of loss and neglect has not changed in decades. The Parks Canada Agency Act, I remind you, charges the minister responsible for Parks Canada, who is the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, with responsibility for national historic sites, historic canals, heritage railway stations, heritage lighthouses, federal heritage buildings, historic places in Canada—hence the register—federal archaeology, and the design and implementation of programs that relate primarily to built heritage writ large. The agency act emphasizes that it is in the national interest to protect and commemorate these special places “in view of their special role in the lives of Canadians and the fabric of the nation”, but the minister cannot accomplish this work without a more robust suite of legislative, financial, and fiscal tools.
I hope that your study will provide a vision and practical recommendations to this end, in order to protect and conserve our historic places.