Like my colleagues from Parks Canada, we are very pleased to be here today to assist in the SCOFO review of Bill S-220.
Canadian lighthouses, which date back to the 18th century, were built to ensure marine navigational safety. Many of Canada's lighthouse towers still serve their original purpose as aids to navigation, which is evidence of a continued, thriving maritime trading system.
Canadian lighthouses also remain a point of pride for this department--both the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. To be sure, lighthouses are just as important to the DFO and CCG staff who manage and maintain them for operational purposes as they are to Canadians who live near them or visitors who come to see them.
The principles of Bill S-220 are laudable, but the department does not have the financial resources to cover the implementation costs. However, we recognize the historic and cultural value of heritage lighthouses.
Nobody wants to see lighthouses that could go to local communities destroyed. For the last several years, DFO has been working to foster relationships with groups who want to adopt lighthouses, and we are doing everything possible to live up to our heritage obligations within the financial realities we face.
Our priority is to meet community requests for continued public purposes wherever possible. No sales on the open market have happened in recent years, and I do not foresee open market sales unless there has not been an expression of community interest.
Our view is that many of our surplus lighthouses could be transferred, at nominal value, to communities and not-for-profit groups with tourism and heritage interest mandates that are better equipped than our department to assume responsibility for their protection and conservation.
We do have concerns regarding the potential implementation costs and impacts on our lighthouse divestiture strategy. Our concern focuses around the maintenance requirements within the bill and concern that prospective groups might no longer follow through on the divestiture initiatives if DFO were required to maintain them to heritage standards.
While it is technically not a money bill, it is our contention that funds would be required to ensure lighthouses were brought up to an acceptable level to meet the obligations specified within the bill.
Due to the marine aids modernization initiative, AToN 21, the traditional role of lighthouses has been reduced. Consequently, during the past 20 or so years, DFO has recapitalized only those assets that are required for operational purposes. The majority of these funds have been invested at staffed sites in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador only to deal with the most urgent health and safety concerns.
Current policy requires the divestiture of surplus properties and precludes significant investments in properties that are no longer required for program purposes. For some time now, DFO has worked with community groups and non-profit organizations to transfer lighthouses of local interest for a nominal sum.
Currently, the annual departmental operating deficit for core real property assets is about $30 million--in that figure I'm talking about real property, not just restricted to lighthouses--which would be reasonably invested to maintain all assets required to support ongoing program service delivery. If the bill is passed without the necessary funding, the resources to support heritage could only be funded by diverting core program funds, which would be inappropriate in the context of our mandate and could compromise our ability to deliver program services.
As the ADM responsible for small craft harbours, I know I don't have to dwell on the unfunded nature of that particular program. It's been in front of this committee several times. It's an example of another program that we do not have any flexibility to move funds from and that we would have to look at--not just small craft harbours but throughout our capital budget--if we were going to try to come up with funds for this program.
As custodian, with new responsibilities under the bill, DFO can no longer defer structural repairs required to ensure that many of these heritage light stations remain standing. In fact, we will require access to some funds immediately, as repair work cannot be delayed further if many of these heritage lighthouses are to be protected as proposed in the bill.
For the bill as written, it is estimated that our department would require $461 million of a total estimated cost of $481 million over the first 10 years for recapitalization costs and $24 million of a total estimated cost of $26 million annually thereafter for maintenance costs, in order to respect their statutory obligations for those lighthouses under our custodial control, if 450 sites were to be designated. The estimate is based on the assumption of a 60% designation rate, as per the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act, on a maximum of 750 DFO lighthouses.
At the other end of the spectrum, if only those lighthouses that are part of national historic sites and our highest FHBRO, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office, designated lighthouses were afforded the statutory protections proposed in the bill, the estimated financial impact for DFO would be $105 million of a total estimated $118 million for recapitalization. There would be an additional $5 million out of a total estimated $6 million annually thereafter, for maintenance and addressing the administrative barriers required for effective implementation. Even at this level, the department would need to seek additional new funding.
Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening remarks. We'd be pleased to do our best to answer any questions the committee might have.