Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure today to rise to speak at second reading to Bill C-7, an act to amend the Department of Canadian Heritage Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act and to make related amendments to other acts.
The bill would give legislative effect to the government reorganization that was announced on December 12, 2003, as it affects Parks Canada, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of the Environment.
The bill would update existing legislation to reflect two orders in council that came into effect in December 2003 and July 2004, which transferred control and supervision of the Parks Canada Agency from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the Minister of the Environment.
The bill would clarify that Parks Canada is responsible for historic places in Canada, and for the design and implementation of programs that relate to built heritage.
The legislation is primarily technical in nature. It updates the Department of Canadian Heritage Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act. As well, it amends the statutes that enable Parks Canada to deliver its mandate, notably the Canada National Parks Act, the Historic Sites and Monuments Act, the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Canada Shipping Act, and the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act.
Canada's national parks, national historic sites and the national marine conservation areas represent the soul of Canada. They are a central part of who we are and what we are. They are places of magic, wonder and heritage. Each tells its own story. Together, they connect Canadians to our roots, to our future and to each other.
Responsibilities for safeguarding and celebrating heritage will continue to be shared among departments and agencies across government. The Minister of Canadian Heritage retains a key leadership role and overall responsibility for cultural heritage, and will continue to work closely with the minister responsible for Parks Canada and with other ministers to achieve common objectives for heritage.
I would like to assure the House that Parks Canada's organizational integrity has been maintained. Parks Canada remains committed to working with Canadians to protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada's natural and cultural heritage for present and future generations.
The hon. members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development should be aware that the committee's responsibilities are now expanded to include matters related to built heritage. This is fitting given the important links between the environment, heritage and sustainable development.
Built heritage includes sites, buildings, and monuments recognized for their historic value. These include battlefields, forts and citadels, shipwrecks, archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, bridges, houses, cemeteries, railway stations, historic districts, ruins, engineering marvels, schools, canals, courthouses, theatres and markets.
Responsibility for built heritage is managed through a number of programs, including national historic sites, federal heritage buildings, heritage railway stations, federal archaeology, heritage shipwrecks, and the federal role in the historic places initiative. These activities are of interest to all parliamentarians and to Canadians in general.
Through the Parks Canada Agency, the Minister of the Environment has responsibilities in three key areas: the management of Parks Canada's built heritage; federal government leadership in programs related to built heritage, and a Canada-wide leadership role in built heritage.
Hon. members are probably most familiar with the first of these areas, Parks Canada's role as a steward of heritage sites. Parks Canada leads the national program of historical commemoration which identifies places, persons and events of national historic significance. The program aims to celebrate Canada's history and protect associated sites.
Parks Canada administers about one in six of the more than 900 national historic sites, which speaks to the diverse and rich history of Canada. Parks Canada's stewardship role with respect to these places, and their historic values and resources is similar to its stewardship role with respect to national parks. Unfortunately, many of Parks Canada's built heritage assets are under threat.
The Auditor General's report on the “Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Federal Government” indicates that two-thirds of Parks Canada's national historic sites and federal heritage buildings are in poor to fair condition. The same is true for Parks Canada's assets more generally, which need $140 million annually to be maintained but receive only $40 million. This is a major challenge for the preservation of these irreplaceable national treasures.
Despite strong management systems that put care for cultural resources at the centre of planning and reporting for national historic sites, the future of many of these places continues to be threatened. Repair of masonry and wood structures, weakened by exposure to our harsh climate, like those repairs required at Fort Henry National Historic Site of Canada, are ongoing. Coastal erosion threatens to literally wash away significant parts of the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada.
These examples are symptomatic, not exceptional, of the state of our cultural resources and of the infrastructure that supports the ability of Canadians to visit such sites. These resources, once lost, will be gone forever and with them will go their evocative testimony to Canada's dramatic past. Addressing the ongoing deterioration of resources needs to be a priority for this government.
Federal government programs relating to built heritage is the minister's second key area of responsibility. Through its leadership in the federal heritage buildings program, Parks Canada works with departments to protect the heritage character of buildings while the property is within federal jurisdiction.
The Auditor General has indicated that problems similar to those for national historic sites administered by Parks Canada exist for national historic sites and federal heritage buildings administered by other federal departments. The government is considering ways to respond to the Auditor General's concerns over weak conservation standards and accountability requirements, as well as the recommendation to strengthen the legal framework to protect built heritage.
For many years Canada has lagged behind other G-8 nations, and its own provincial and territorial governments, in the protection of historic places.
The minister's third area of responsibility is to provide Canada-wide leadership in built heritage. Only a small portion of historic places in Canada are owned by the federal government, so cooperation with others is key. Government alone cannot save Canada's built heritage. This requires participation by individuals, corporations and other governments across Canada.
Year after year, decade after decade, more and more historic places are being lost. The remaining historic heritage buildings and structures, cultural landscapes and archeological sites continue to be threatened.
Recognizing the need to deepen its resolve to protect built heritage, the Government of Canada has responded with the launch of the historic places initiative, the most significant conservation effort related to historic sites in our national history.
The historic places initiative is based on the acknowledgement that government alone cannot save all historic buildings and other historic places. The keystone of the initiative is a broad national coalition with provinces, territories, and municipal governments, coupled with equally valuable contributions involving aboriginal peoples, heritage experts, and a comprehensive number of institutions, organizations, communities and individuals.
In the field of heritage we are truly in an era of policy interdependence. The goals of the initiative are to create a culture of heritage conservation in the country by providing Canadians with basic tools to preserve and celebrate the historic places and by protecting historic places under federal jurisdiction. Strategies focus on helping Canadians build a culture of conservation.
The protection of Canada's built heritage is not only about saving what is meaningful from the past. It is also about sustaining strong communities for today and tomorrow, the rehabilitating of existing buildings, capitalizing on the energies invested in the original structures and preventing unnecessary use of new materials and energy.
Less demolition means reduced pressure on landfill sites. Revitalization of historic downtown areas decreases the need for new civil infrastructure, such as roads, sewers and public transit. By contributing to such sustainable communities, public policy truly makes a difference in people's lives.
Consensus has emerged on the role that Canada and Canadians want historic places to play in our lives and communities. Among the common goals is the need to provide all Canadians with the practical information and tools they need to protect historic places.
The launch in 2004 of the Canadian register of historic places is a product of this collaboration. For the first time Canadians will have in one place a register of buildings and sites that are recognized as historic by any order of government. It is anticipated that the registry will contain approximately 20,000 historic places when it is fully populated.
The registry will be an important tool for policy-makers, community organizations, teachers, students and families who want to learn about and help preserve the past.
Another important accomplishment is the development of the standards and guidelines for the conservation of historic places in Canada. The standards and guidelines provide clear, accessible guidance on good conservative practice. This document was developed in consultation with federal, provincial, municipal and non-governmental stakeholders so there would be a common benchmark for conservation principles and practices in Canada. It has been adopted by Parks Canada and by several provincial and municipal jurisdictions.
The standards and guidelines are a model of promoting a new approach to the science and the technology of building conservation and promoting and circulating this information broadly for the benefit of all Canadians.
Parks Canada is also implementing the commercial heritage properties initiative fund. It is a new program announced in 2003 to engage the private sector in the conservation of historic buildings. The fund is a four year, $30 million plan designed to tip the balance in favour of conservation over demolition. It provides financial incentives to eligible commercial historic places listed on the registry to encourage a broad range of commercial uses for historic properties within our communities.
Fiscal measures such as this program are central to helping to engage others to achieve the government's goal for built heritage. Historic places connect us to our past, to our future and to each other. They provide places of learning for our children and places of understanding for both new citizens and Canadians of long-standing.
What we cherish as part of our national identity, we also recognize as part of our national responsibility. All Canadians share the obligation to preserve and protect Canada's unique cultural and natural heritage. Together we hold our national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas in trust for the benefit of this and future generations.
With the new reporting arrangement through the Minister of the Environment and clearly defined responsibilities for built heritage programs, Parks Canada will continue to work to safeguard Canada's built heritage, support protection of historic places within federal jurisdiction, and engage Canadians broadly in preserving an celebrating our country's historic places. It will continue to play a seminal role in the protection of Canada's heritage sites for which it is so well respected by Canadians and admired internationally.
I respectfully encourage all of my colleagues from both sides of the House to join me in passing Bill C-7.