First of all, I would like to thank the members of the committee for the invitation and for giving me the opportunity to discuss the status of heritage conservation in Canada.
I am here to make a brief presentation on heritage in Quebec and to provide suggestions from our organization. The organization is called The Canadian Heritage of Quebec, or CHQ. It is a provincial non-profit and non-governmental organization at the service of heritage in Quebec for more than six decades, more than 60 years.
In those 60-plus years since 1956, the volunteers on our board have been working to preserve about 30 heritage buildings and natural sites in Quebec. In the past, we had some in Ontario. Most of our properties were bought with money from our volunteers or our founders.
The conservation work is done with the equivalent of one and a half employees, a miller, and, of course, many volunteers and artisan-caretakers. We also have partnerships with local, regional, provincial, and even national groups, like the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
The long-term conservation of the CHQ properties is made possible by various heritage protection initiatives, both tangible and intangible, implemented by municipal, provincial or federal governments. For us, that includes a national historic site and a building in Westmount. In other cases, the long-term conservation of CHQ properties is done directly by our organization, to the extent we are able. But, unfortunately, we are running up against serious limitations. In Quebec, there is no mutual servitude to protect for owners, as is the case in Ontario.
CHQ receives no ongoing grants for our annual operations, but we do take advantage of the Young Canada Works program, which allows us to hire two summer students, in two of our 16 properties. Mainly, we fund our conservation activities through donations from the public, from foundations, and from income that we generate ourselves by selling flour from our mill, and by renting out our houses during the summer season, such as Sir John A. Macdonald's summer home in Rivière-du-Loup, which we turn into tourist accommodation for two months per year. The house was officially designated a national historic site in 2015. Some of our sites are also open to the public on payment of a small entry fee.
Conserving heritage buildings is becoming more and more difficult, expensive and complicated. This is the result of requirements and constraints on the owners from government legislation and regulations involving various ministries and sometimes different levels of government.
Restoration projects are very expensive for us, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, even a million dollars. Sometimes, we receive grants for some restoration projects from the Quebec ministry of culture and communications, sometimes as a joint venture with major cities like Montreal. In theory, in some cases, those grants can cover 40% or 50% of the construction costs, but in fact, the overall cost is much higher, meaning that the percentage of the grant, at its highest, drops to more like 30% and 35%. The percentage also varies depending on the amounts available in the program.
I must mention that, in recent years, we have also obtained some grants for certain development projects, coming either from provincial or federal level, one of which was for a virtual exhibition on Sir John A. and Lady Macdonald. We appreciate that a great deal and are grateful to the Department of Canadian Heritage for it.
Nevertheless, the result is that the CHQ has to resort to fundraising in order to find the hundreds of thousands of dollars we need for our restoration and development projects. That is very difficult and requires years of work, since fundraising is a highly competitive market. This is not to mention that, in the recent past, certain actions on the part of the provincial government have caused us to lose tens of thousands of dollars in revenue, with additional losses already anticipated in the coming years.
In addition, the complexity, the work required, the short timelines and the costs needed to apply for grants has, on a number of occasions, deterred us from starting the process, since the anticipated result was less than convincing. That was the case with the John A. Macdonald House and Parks Canada's national cost-sharing program for heritage sites. In 2015, the entire envelope was $1 million for all of Canada with a maximum of $200,000 per project. Our restoration project was estimated at $200,000 and, according to the department's official, we needed a project with demonstrated urgency, in a very competitive, Canada-wide situation. We also had to ask professionals to prepare research, analyses, reports, plans and estimates, all for a grant that would probably be less than $5,000. Moreover, at that point, it seemed that very few projects would receive the 50% maximum that the program indicated. It turned out to be less than that.
By good luck, by help from a volunteer member of our board, and by virtue of our fundraising efforts, we were able to get some significant donations from some donors and, after a few years, we were able to complete a first phase of the project. Today, we still have to find more than $100,000 so that we can finish it. This is only one building from the 25 that we own.
All that fundraising activity, stretched over a number of years, threatens the proper conservation of the buildings in the medium and long term. Sometimes, it even exacerbates an existing problem and makes it more expensive to fix. So preservation, building maintenance or upkeep, is crucial in the process of conserving a building.
There is no support for that, no grants. What is more, our craftsmen, whom we call our “artisan-caretakers” can no longer do all the work required, because of new government regulations.
So the costs of preservation have doubled or sometimes tripled in the last three years. However, preservation is what prolongs the life of the building and reduces restoration costs. It all complicates our work and our mandate to conserve the built heritage. We often have to choose between investing in conservation or in development.
Faced with that complex situation, and after more than 60 years in existence, our organization began a strategic review of its properties at the beginning of 2017, in order to decide which would be kept and which would be disposed of, sold or transferred, if that is possible, to other institutions, organizations or individuals.
Let us now look at the dynamics of conservation in Quebec. In recent years, a number of heritage buildings have been demolished by property developers to make room for new housing projects, condos, or commercial buildings. There are few incentives to encourage those developers to conserve and incorporate heritage buildings into their development projects. Some financial assistance could encourage them to move towards conserving and rehabilitating heritage buildings.
For private owners, the situation is similarly difficult. A number of them want to conserve the heritage value of their property, to preserve it, to rehabilitate it and to restore it for the benefit of the community—it may be houses, mills, lighthouses, or industrial buildings. However, once more, the high costs of restoration, added to the complexity of grant applications, are deterring them.
So they must also be encouraged in their desire for conservation by financial assistance. The added market value of a restored house has not been proven; the opposite even seems to be the case, at times.
In Quebec, a number of non-profit organizations are trying to support, encourage and guide private owners in good conservation practices. Those organizations are sorely lacking in resources and basically count on volunteers, thereby limiting their mission and their activity. In the last three years, the few grants that some of them were receiving in operating assistance have been cut, making the situation even more critical.
In fact, our organization regularly receives calls from the public and, sometimes, from organizations, including municipalities, looking for support so that their heritage buildings can be conserved.
In 2012, the Cultural Heritage Act was passed in Quebec, transferring to municipalities and to the public more responsibility for safeguarding the heritage, but without the resources and the expertise required. So today, the organizations are called on more than previously to conserve the heritage.
Three years ago now, a dozen or so organizations established the Table de concertation des acteurs nationaux en patrimoine bâti du Québec, in order to discuss their challenges and their common issues, and to provide each other with mutual support. Next November 1, the first national summit on Quebec's built heritage will be held in Montreal, and you are all cordially invited.
I will now provide you with some observations and suggestions for encouraging owners, organizations and individuals. The federal government could implement a tax incentive, as in Bill C-323. That initiative should apply to all private owners by extending it to property developers. The notion of historic or heritage property should be expanded, without simply relying on the lists in the Canadian Register of Historic Places. Your department should become a leader in supporting heritage in the various communities across Canada. The amount available in the national cost-sharing program for heritage sites should be increased and stabilized in the coming years. A program should be developed to support and participate in multiplier effects—by which I mean the matching of donations—for organizers and individuals raising funds for heritage. They should be encouraged and supported by formally recognizing the efforts of, and the considerable role played by, non-profit and non-governmental organizations and private owners. Finally, recognize the preservation of built heritage with a specific horizontal status through all federal departments, perhaps also in concert with the provinces and territories. All this would ease the important work being done for Canada's heritage and would act as an anchor for the concept of Canadian identity.
Canadian heritage knows no provincial borders. That is actually the reason that our founders chose Canadian Heritage of Quebec for our organization's name.