Manager, Policy and Government Relations Branch, National Historic Sites Directorate, Parks Canada Agency
Thank you. I'd like to thank the standing committee for the opportunity to participate in the discussion of Bill S-220.
During the last 30 years, Canada has lost over 20% of its historic buildings, and recent estimates suggest that another 14% are at risk of being lost. These are significant amounts for a country such as Canada, which has a comparatively small number of historic buildings.
Canada remains the only G-8 country without statutory protection for its federally owned heritage buildings. The purpose of the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act is to preserve and protect heritage lighthouses by providing for their designation, preventing inappropriate alteration or disposal, and requiring that they be maintained.
The Auditor General of Canada, in her report on cultural heritage in 2003 and her follow-up report on built heritage released this year, recommended that the federal government strengthen its conservation regime for built heritage. However, the Auditor General also cautioned that the government should make strategic and reasoned choices consistent with the means available to maintain designated historic places. She questioned the designation of many examples of the same building type, citing lighthouses specifically.
An approach like that taken by Bill S-220, through which a single type of building will receive its own designation and protection program, risks jeopardizing the protection of other heritage buildings such as the Parliament Buildings, which still have no legal protection. Such an approach is also expensive, in that it requires its own administrative processes and systems.
Bill S-220 recognizes that many Canadians have a strong attachment to lighthouses and that lighthouses are icons of our maritime heritage. Owing to this important role, 14 lighthouses are already designated as national historic sites, and 126 are designated as federal heritage buildings under the Treasury Board policy on management of real property.
Bill S-220 would provide statutory protection to lighthouses with significant heritage value, a principle that is deserving of support.
Given these considerations, the challenge moving forward will be to ensure that Bill S-220 is as cost-efficient as possible and that it supports other related policy objectives. With this in mind, there are three areas of concern: reducing the costs of the bill's implementation, rationalizing the requirement for public meetings, and facilitating the divestiture of lighthouses that are surplus to operational requirements.
I will address issues associated with reducing costs and rationalizing public meetings, and my colleague from Fisheries and Oceans Canada will speak to the divestiture issue.
The obligation to maintain heritage lighthouses represents the bill's most significant financial consideration, and associated costs will largely depend on how many structures are designated. Currently the bill includes the power to designate not only lighthouses but also related built structures. The reason is to ensure that beyond the light tower itself, other structures that have a function in a lighthouse's operation are conserved. This would include buildings that contribute to the heritage character of the lighthouse, such as lighthouse keepers' residences, gas houses, and fog alarm buildings. However, it would also include other kinds of infrastructure that are related to lighthouse operations but contribute little to heritage character, such as helipads, walkways, wharves, equipment sheds, and even outhouses. Some of these are very expensive to maintain.
Parks Canada therefore suggests that only related buildings be eligible to form part of the heritage lighthouse designation. This would result in fewer structures being designated, reduced costs for maintenance, and a greater focus on the lighthouses themselves.
Coastal communities are intensely interested in the future of their lighthouses. A belief that decisions were made about conservation work and sales and demolition of lighthouses without communities being informed has been translated into the bill as obligations for public notices and public meetings.
As currently drafted, the bill takes an inconsistent approach to public notices and meetings. It requires public meetings for alterations; such public meetings are unnecessary, as the bill requires that alterations be done in such a way as to protect heritage values to a high standard. At the other end of the spectrum, the bill does not require a public meeting if a heritage lighthouse is to be demolished, an action that has irrevocable consequences. Furthermore, public notices and meetings are required if a heritage lighthouse is sold, even to a community group that is intent on providing for its continued public use.
Public notices and meetings should be offered when public interest would be highest and could have the greatest impact on the future of a heritage lighthouse.
This would suggest that no public meetings be required before alterations are made and no public meetings or notices be required when heritage lighthouses are sold to groups that will continue their public use, but that public meetings be mandatory when the demolition of a heritage lighthouse is proposed.
l believe that my colleague from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans would also like to address the committee.