Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore talked about the history of lighthouses and how important they were as a beacon of hope. There is no question that is absolutely correct.
The bill before us is Bill S-14, an act to protect heritage lighthouses. We must ask ourselves, can we, or do we even want to, save every single lighthouse, or is there a way to save heritage sites that could be more fiscally responsible than Bill S-14 sets out?
The intention of Bill S-14 is to protect heritage lighthouses within the legislative authority of Parliament by, first, providing a means for their designation as heritage lighthouses; second, providing an opportunity for public consultation before authorization is given for the removal, alteration, destruction, sale, assignment, transfer or other disposition of a designated heritage lighthouse; third, requiring that the designated heritage lighthouses be reasonably maintained.
More specifically, Bill S-14 calls for the designation of heritage lighthouses by the governor-in-council on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment and provides for public petitions to trigger the designation process.
At the minister's request, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada would be responsible for considering such lighthouses for recommendation to the minister. With the board involved, it would be obligated to give all interested persons a reasonable opportunity to make representations concerning the designation.
Bill S-14 also provides for a system in which any person can object to proposed alterations or to disposal of a designated lighthouse. If this were to occur, the Minister of the Environment, with the advice of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, would have to decide whether or not to authorize this action.
The principles on which the bill is based, that is to protect significant examples of Canada's built heritage and to encourage a culture of conservation in this country, are important. I salute the hon. member for South Shore—St. Margaret's for engaging the House in debate on this matter and for bringing it forward from the Senate.
However, the bill requires amendments in order to make it more fiscally responsible and to bring the processes and the policy foundation more closely into line with existing designation programs. There are currently three heritage designation programs which, like Bill S-14, relate to built heritage. These are the national historic sites program, the federal heritage buildings program and the heritage railway stations program.
The national program of historic commemoration identifies places, persons and events of national historical significance. This is done through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, which advises the Minister of the Environment on the designation of these subjects.
The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada was established in 1919 to evaluate and provide advice regarding subjects of national historic significance. It continues its important work to this day, receiving more than 2,200 inquiries each year from Canadians about possible designations. Over 80% of the subjects considered by the board are brought forward through submissions from the public.
I can vouch for that because a number of sites from my home province of Prince Edward Island have been considered by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and been designated as historic sites. They are definitely an important part of our heritage.
The Parks Canada agency supplies the research support for the program and also the board's secretariat. It installs commemorate plaques and monuments, and Parks Canada administers about one in six of the more than 900 national historic sites.
Some 13 lighthouses have been designated as national historic sites. Of these, eight are administered by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and five by the Parks Canada agency. Those which are administered by Parks Canada are protected for all time in accordance with the Historic Sites and Monuments Act and the Parks Canada Act, and are among Canada's most important and treasured lighthouses.
Examples of these crown jewels include the Cape Spear National Historic Site of Canada, which is located along Newfoundland's coastline at the most easterly point of land in North America. A second example would be British Columbia's Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site of Canada, the first lighthouse on Canada's west coast. These are true national treasures and deserve the highest level of protection and care.
If the national historic sites program and that which is proposed for heritage lighthouses are compared, several important differences emerge. National historic sites represent the very best of what Canada has to offer. They are national treasures. The designation process is selective and sets a high standard for inclusion. By contract, Bill S-14 does not specify designation criteria. The intention is clearly to include more lighthouses than the 13 which have been designated as national historic sites thus far.
Bill S-14 would provide statutory protection for designated lighthouses. For national historic sites, currently only those which are administered by Parks Canada enjoy that level of protection. There is a strong legislative basis for that level of protection, not only for the lighthouses that are there now but for all historic sites. This was identified by the Auditor General in her 2004 report on the protection of cultural heritage in the federal government.
Parks Canada is working toward legislation that would address this problem. If Bill S-14 were passed in the absence of this historic places legislation, then Canada would be in the peculiar position of protecting many lighthouses while not protecting its most precious built heritage sites, the national historic sites.
The Historic Sites and Monuments Act sets the legislative framework under which sites are designated and establishes the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Bill S-14 proposes that this body, composed of experts on Canadian history, would be pressed into service in administering the heritage lighthouse system. This would distract their efforts from their primary task which is to make recommendations to the minister on matters of national historic significance. I do not disagree that the lighthouse issue is extremely important, but is each and every one of national historic significance?
The second existing built heritage program addresses the protection of federal heritage buildings. It comprises a two level designation process carried out under the Treasury Board's heritage buildings policy. Under the policy, buildings owned by the federal government which are more than 40 years old are evaluated and can be designated at the highest level as classified or recognized, which is the next level.
The Parks Canada agency is responsible for providing the research and for administering the policy through a secretariat known as the federal heritage buildings review office. Its purpose and mandate is to protect the heritage character of buildings while a property is within federal jurisdiction and to ensure appropriate measures are taken to protect heritage when such buildings are sold outside the federal inventory. There are currently 266 classified and 1,048 recognized federal heritage buildings. When the federal heritage buildings program is compared with Bill S-14, several important differences are evident.
The federal heritage buildings program is based on the premise that the department which administers a building is responsible for decisions about its care. For many lighthouses, for example, Fisheries and Oceans Canada makes judgments about how to best use and maintain them. When they have come to the end of their useful lives, it then sells or transfers the buildings in its care.
Bill S-14, by contrast, endows the minister responsible for the bill with the power to make decisions about work to be done on a heritage lighthouse and when it can be sold.
The bottom line is we need to do this in a fiscally responsible way. Yes, keep our most important treasures, but it has to be done without abusing the taxpayers of the nation as well.