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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

11:35 a.m.

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

Patricia Kell

Can I speak to your first question about why it would make sense not to designate the wharves?

If you treat the wharf as a heritage structure, then under the bill you're placing constraints on the kinds of changes you could make to that. You're creating obligations to treat it as if the wharf structure itself has heritage value and deserves to be protected, whereas you're talking about having a wharf there because it serves a functional requirement of the light station. So I agree that you would still need to have a wharf, but you don't need to have a heritage wharf.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Thank you for making that distinction.

When we talk about divestiture, you talk about local community groups taking them over, but within Parks Canada or...it's sort of stretching DFO's mandate, I think, to consider running an organization or some kind of a facility. But we have manned lighthouses. Many of them, because they're so remote, have facilities—houses, for example, that have been maintained. I'm sure there are lots of Europeans and others, Americans perhaps, who would pay good money to come and spend a little time there. So why not turn them into revenue-generating things that can maintain the integrity of the structures themselves and make them available?

11:40 a.m.

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

Cal Hegge

In fact, we have some examples we could give you where that's exactly what's happening, where we have divested into community interests. They in fact are doing some of this as a revenue-generating way, I guess, of being able to maintain the property for other purposes. So there's nothing to preclude that.

If you're suggesting by your question that our department, for example, could get into that business, that would complicate our lives considerably. So we don't have the mandate to do that.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

What about Parks Canada? They run campgrounds.

11:40 a.m.

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

Patricia Kell

We do run campgrounds, and we have a number of national historic sites that are leased to private operators who run them as back-country hostels and that kind of thing. So it is a model. But I would caution that Parks Canada's interest as a property holder has, until now, at least, been restricted to national historic sites, and we do indeed own five lighthouses that are national historic sites already.

The level of Parks Canada's interest would depend on the historic value of the lighthouse in question.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

I want to ask about the functional ones. It isn't the vision of DFO to eliminate all of them, or is it, as far as the manned ones are concerned? They still serve a functional purpose out there in terms of navigation, fog.

11:40 a.m.

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

Cal Hegge

We have roughly 50 or 51 manned light stations. I think it's 27 in the Pacific, 23 in Newfoundland and Labrador, and one in New Brunswick, Machias Seal Island. Of those 51, we have no immediate plans to de-staff them and to divest of those.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

I'm a little confused about something that was said earlier about the requirements for public consultation, because it implied—at least I thought I heard it implied—that you'd have to have public consultation to do repairs or renovations but not for demolition. Is that actually in the bill?

Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of the bill in front of me.

11:40 a.m.

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

Patricia Kell

That's what the bill currently says, yes.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

It seems like an oversight or something. It is clearly out of order and beyond the intention, I'm sure, of the bill. It seems strange that it would be in there.

In terms of money—like the small craft harbour issue, Mr. Hegge, we've been discussing at committee here—if we're going to deal with these structures, obviously an envelope of money has to be made available to maintain them in proper order, like any other heritage building. I was surprised to hear them in competition with the Parliament Buildings. I think Ms. Kell made that suggestion, that other heritage sites like the Parliament Buildings could be jeopardized.

As a young country, I think we're at that transition stage. We're coming up to 140 years and we're starting to become more aware of our history. Unlike many other more mature or longer-established nations that go back 1,000 years or more, we're suddenly at the point where we're starting to say, “We do have a history here”, and probably we're going to have to be a little more serious about making the investment to maintain it. It's probably going to require some budgetary allocations in order to secure those investments.

I certainly appreciate hearing the suggestion, though, that some decisions will have to be made—I think the Auditor General made that suggestion—as to where to make those investments, which are the highest-value representative of this type of building. I'm sure the public has a big interest in making sure those decisions are made to protect representations of, if not all...and where the highest value is. So maybe we're going to need a blend of solutions, where we maintain some on our own and divest ones that have community groups close by. I don't see those opportunities in some of our remote areas on the coast, that there's any community that would have the resources, unless there's a revenue-generating capacity.

Maybe the government would be missing an opportunity in some of those areas for creating a little local economy and some interest, because there's a lot of interest in tourism on the west coast now, as you know, and the remote areas are becoming less remote all the time, as the property values go up. And in divesting these properties, they may become of extremely high value if somebody with the right perspective comes along and decides to make them into revenue-generating venues because people are looking for coastal experiences.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gerald Keddy

Thank you, Mr. Lunney. We appreciate the final comments that took us 48 seconds over.

Mr. MacAulay.

June 19th, 2007 / 11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Thank you very much. Welcome.

Did I understand Mr. Lunney correctly, that the Auditor General is going to decide or indicate whether one lighthouse should be kept above the other or not? I didn't hear that correctly, did I?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

I think she simply made the guideline that rather than blanket preserving everything, some decisions would have to be made about making some strategic decisions about which ones are the highest value.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Is there any possibility this bill could put us in a situation that the Auditor General is going to decide what could be kept and what will not be kept? I would pray not, because then we're on autopilot for sure.

Mr. Hegge, on concerns about small craft harbours and the funding part of this, or whoever would answer, what requirements or what situation does the lighthouse have to be in, in order to divest it to the private sector? I do know in my area some have been divested, and there are bed and breakfasts and things taking place in them. Is there a requirement and a lot of dollars required before the move takes place?

11:45 a.m.

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

Cal Hegge

Well, it's on a case-by-case basis. First of all—

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Sure, but is there a basic requirement? You can't have it falling down, and there are requirements that would be needed, which I would expect would mean that there are dollars needed.

11:45 a.m.

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

Cal Hegge

In that regard, we're able to find the resources to address the urgent health and safety issues, because we're not going to allow a light station or part of it to fall down and be a hazard to citizens. We do maintain those that are in poor shape or could be a health and safety hazard. We'll maintain them prior to divestiture. When we have no operational requirement for our light stations, and we have probably about 150 that are in the process of divestiture now, we'll try to divest of them in accordance with the policy on divestiture that looks first to federal–provincial–municipal interests. It's noteworthy that we have as part of our long-term capital plan a fourth priority in there, which is the community interest, and we take advantage of that where we can.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Also, if I heard correctly, you don't have to have a public meeting in order to destroy the building. I agree that you shouldn't have a public meeting to repair it or other things, but if you're going to remove the building totally, do you have to have a public meeting?

11:45 a.m.

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

11:45 a.m.

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

David Burden

I think if we're talking about what the bill prescribes versus what we actually do, it's not exactly the same.

The reality is that we have a divestiture program in DFO. We do not, and have not, demolished any lighthouses in quite some time, with the exception of lighthouses that were going to fall because of mother nature. Coastal erosion, etc., in your area of the country is a critical factor that we have to consider. Despite our best efforts, there are circumstances where it's not possible to protect or save all the properties. We have not had any circumstances where we've destroyed a lighthouse for operational reasons. Our primary approach is to try to move it into the hands of a not-for-profit community group or another level of government.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Again, it comes down to dollars. I agree with Mr. Hegge. We have a number of wharves and small craft harbours that have, or have had, barriers up because we don't have the funding to repair them. That's more or less where we are with the lighthouses, if I'm reading between the lines properly. Some of them are in very poor condition for the lack of funding.

11:45 a.m.

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

Cal Hegge

That's correct.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

I'll turn it over to my esteemed colleague, Mr. Cuzner.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gerald Keddy

There's one minute. This is a five-minute round.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

I'm getting the crumbs.

On some of the agreements in place now, does DFO continue to own the land and then have a lease agreement with a community group? Is that the norm?