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Evidence of meeting #62 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was lighthouses.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Patricia Kell  Manager, Policy and Government Relations Branch, National Historic Sites Directorate, Parks Canada Agency
Cal Hegge  Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Doug Tapley  Manager, Cabinet Affairs, Parks Canada Agency
David Burden  Director, Real Property, Safety and Security, Divestiture, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Yes.

Do I have time left?

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gerald Keddy

You have a couple of minutes.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Would my colleague like to jump in?

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Thank you very much.

I certainly appreciate the fact that both departments don't see the possibility of getting into this thing unless there is a new envelope of money developed. I believe that with the additional pressures that have been put on both of your departments over the last number of years, there has been a continued case of underfunding going back a number of years.

We have the Fortress of Louisbourg in my riding. With the new fire codes and safety codes, the work that had to be undertaken without compromising the integrity of the site has been very expensive. So I would think this is going to have to be new money, whatever we pursue with this.

Just sort of generally speaking, do you see a significant role in this, through Parks Canada, in helping with interpretation and presentation and those aspects, or assisting community groups? I don't think we should be protecting any of these sites unless there is a significant initiative on the ground from those communities that want to protect them. Those are the groups that have to score high to protect and show willingness.

Do you see a role for Parks Canada to help with the interpretation and presentation?

11:20 a.m.

Manager, Policy and Government Relations Branch, National Historic Sites Directorate, Parks Canada Agency

Patricia Kell

The bill doesn't discuss interpretation or presentation, so it doesn't create any obligations on current or future owners with respect to that. So to be honest, your question isn't something we have contemplated.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Okay. We may look at that. As you know, a lighthouse is a focal point that we're drawn to, to experience the coastline and the crashing surf. But if we're going to look at interpretation, it has to be of a high standard, and I would think that maybe Parks Canada might be able to help us, because you do a tremendous job with the presentation.

A community group would not be able to secure funding from a regional economic development agency if they're still under the ownership, the direction, of Parks Canada. You can't move money from one federal pocket to another. Would it have to be divested before regional development moneys would be allocated?

11:25 a.m.

Doug Tapley Manager, Cabinet Affairs, Parks Canada Agency

Regional development organizations provide contributions to organizations outside of government to do various things. Because we are inside of the federal government, we do not qualify to receive any of their contributions.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gerald Keddy

I'm sorry, Mr. Cuzner. You're over a minute now, and you only had a second, so you'll have to catch him on the next round.

Monsieur Asselin, s'il vous plaît.

June 19th, 2007 / 11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The way in which Bill S-220 was drafted led a number of parliamentarians to vote in favour of it at second reading. That is exactly what the Conservatives and the New Democrats did, as well as the Liberals who overwhelmingly voted in favour of the bill. The Bloc, however, was reticent about doing so, even at second reading. Personally, I decided to vote in favour of the bill at second reading so that I would be able to hear from witnesses. Had it been defeated at second reading, we obviously would not have been here talking about it today.

This bill has already been tabled a number of times in the House of Commons in various guises and it either died on the Order Paper or was outright defeated. I hope that the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democrats will realize that it is simply a waste of time to enact legislation that makes no mention of funding; I presume that they will realize that it is not worth continuing to discuss such a bill. That being said, I believe that it is important to shed some light on this bill, a bill that was prepared by the Senate, although sponsored by our chairman.

To my mind, it is utterly nonsensical to speak of protecting heritage buildings without providing financial resources to do so. I also disagree with the idea of asking the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to use funds that have been earmarked for small craft harbours, as our small craft harbours have been suffering from underfunding for a number of years. Their upkeep has been inadequate and they need a helping hand so that fishermen can enjoy a safe and functional place to berth. Whichever way you look at it, much more money is needed.

Lighthouses are a navigational aid that belong to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. They are not used as often as they once were. The bill provides for the creation of an advisory committee that will be mandated to produce an inventory of lighthouses and to decide which ones will remain heritage lighthouses, which ones will be transferred and which ones will be sold to private sector buyers. In some instances, lighthouses may even be demolished.

I believe that the inventory will have to be prepared thoroughly. The advisory committee would be responsible and would have to consult with stakeholders. However, we must bear in mind that nothing will be done without political will and the support of the department. Where will the money come from? Canadian Heritage, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans or Parks Canada? The Mingan Islands, in my riding, are on land that belongs to Parks Canada. A lot of tourists come to visit the lighthouses on the island. A business plan for restoring and developing the lighthouses was even developed, but nothing is happening.

I would like to know where the money will come from and why we should continue studying Bill S-220. I know for certain that these lighthouses are falling apart at the seams, or to put it more bluntly, totally antiquated and dangerous.

Over the time that these bills have been tabled in the House, a number of studies have shown that several of these lighthouses are highly polluted. This is not something that can be overlooked. An in-depth environmental evaluation would have to be given priority, because these lighthouses harbour mercury and diesel fuel contaminants. Given that the surrounding land is also polluted, both building and land would need to be decontaminated, as departments well know. Nobody would want to buy these lighthouses in their current state. They are virtually moribund and there is little chance of their making a recovery.

I would like the representatives from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans or from Parks Canada to tell me whether they really believe in the idea of setting up an advisory committee and implementing lighthouse disposal and development programs. I would also like them to tell us if they know where the money to fund all of this will come from.

If, at the end of the day, neither DFO nor Canadian Heritage is prepared to invest a cent in this project, and if Parks Canada has no money to restore and develop these lighthouses, surely you would agree with me that the idea of setting up a commission, carrying out studies and evaluations, and spending more money is simply pointless. And if such is the case, why bother continuing with Bill S-220?

11:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Cal Hegge

I am not quite sure how to answer your question, Mr. Asselin. As I stated earlier, our department will support the objective of the bill. The problem is simply that we do not have enough resources to implement the measures that this legislation will require.

If Parliament adopts the bill, we will have no choice but to ask for additional funding to implement it.

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

You said that you would request additional funding. Why would you request additional funding? Would it be for restoration, renovation and upkeep? Would you require the funding immediately? Have you prepared an inventory? How much money would be required straightaway? How many hundreds of thousands of dollars would the government have to invest? Are hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to make these lighthouses viable?

11:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Cal Hegge

I am unable to give you an answer at the moment because we do not yet know exactly what the enacted legislation would entail. I provided two examples of the type of funding we would require, but it will depend on the exact content of the final version, as if I am not mistaken, Parliament and this committee are currently considering a number of amendments to the bill.

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Did you know that some of your land, buildings and lighthouses were contaminated?

11:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Cal Hegge

If we have contaminated lighthouses, we will be eligible to benefit from the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan. It provides funding to address matters such as, for example, contaminated lighthouses. I do not know exactly how many lighthouses are affected.

11:30 a.m.

David Burden Director, Real Property, Safety and Security, Divestiture, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

The majority of our lighthouses are affected to some degree, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a program to assess the environmental status of all of our properties.

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Could you send us a list of the contaminated lighthouses so that it can be tabled with the committee?

11:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Cal Hegge

Yes, that would be no problem.

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Please note that carefully, Madam Clerk, because promised documents seem to have a habit of getting lost in the mail.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gerald Keddy

Thank you, Mr. Asselin. Your time is up.

Mr. Lunney.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Thank you for coming. It's an interesting subject that we're talking about here. It seems as though for some time there have been attempts to bring a bill forward to address this issue, and we've never been successful in finding a solution.

I am a little confused by the number of sites that we've referred to here. I hear reference to some 750 sites. Another place I see 450 sites. Can somebody give me an idea of how many actual sites we have out there that potentially might be affected by this bill? How many lighthouses is DFO responsible for now?

11:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Cal Hegge

As you have alluded to, it's a bit of a challenge in terms of definition, but we use the figure generally of about 750 lighthouse-like structures, and within that there are about 250--give or take--that are what we would call major lights, and then another 500 or so smaller structures, which many in the public lexicon, for example, would refer to as lighthouses. That's where we get the number.

As you saw in one of our scenarios, we talked about using the same approach that the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act uses, under which about 60% of the available railways are actually designated. That is not to say the same process would be followed here, but if it were, 60% of our 750 would be roughly 450, and that was the premise that allowed us to come up with a higher estimate. Our figure for DFO is roughly 750, and then there is another discussion around what is actually going to be included as a lighthouse in the context of this bill. My colleague from Parks spoke to the additional equipment or buildings that--depending upon how the bill is interpreted--could be included as light stations or lighthouses.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Do you have a rough idea of the breakdown of the locations? On the west coast, I heard, there are about 50 structures under this consideration. Is it possible that there would be that few on the west coast compared to the numbers for the east coast?

11:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Cal Hegge

We can provide that breakdown by province or region of the country, if you like. I don't think we have the information readily available right at this time. I don't know whether 50 sounds right for Pacific or not.

11:35 a.m.

Director, Real Property, Safety and Security, Divestiture, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

David Burden

Actually, we have something here, and 50 sounds about right for the Pacific. There are 27 staffed. Then there is probably about an equal number on the other end of the scale. The challenge we have is that there is no definition of a lighthouse in law. In Canadian law it doesn't exist. We've gone out to the other G-8 countries. We have gone to the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities, of which Canada is a member, and many of the proponents of this legislation would not be satisfied with the definitions that are out there because their community lighthouse would probably be excluded. Getting a number is a bit more of an art than a science.

We have some numbers that we use within DFO, broken out by our regions, and we could provide those to the committee.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

As I understand it, a lot of the lighthouses or structures on the east coast are on the mainland, or what we would call mainland, and perhaps close to settlements or communities. On the west coast, many of them that are very substantial structures are on remote islands, with no substantial population base nearby, which creates a little bit of a challenge for a local group taking them over.

But when you talk about other structures, some of the bigger ones, I don't want to underestimate, but I know there are at least two on the west coast trail in my riding--Pachena Point and Cape Beale, adjacent to the trail. They're very substantial structures. They're on Vancouver Island, but there are a number of them that are just offshore on islands that are only accessible by boat or by helipad.

So when you talk about maintaining structures for access, it would be great to have a building maintained out there, but if you don't have a dock or structures to access it, or a helipad or some way to get there safely, it's not going to last long.

I think the inclusion of the other structures is something that does need to be considered for those remote areas. But I brought this up before, and I wonder, has anybody has talked about the possibility of these things becoming revenue generating in terms of having somebody there to maintain a light, but run them as a B and B or something to generate some income?