moved that Bill S-220, An Act to protect heritage lighthouses, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill S-220, seconded by the member for St. John's East.
I would be remiss in my introduction if I did not recognize the hard work done in the other place by Senator Carney to get the bill into the House of Commons. I certainly want to recognize her work.
I also recognize that the bill will occupy a fair amount of time not just from the government side, but from the opposition members, because there is a fair amount of work to do on Bill S-220 in its present form.
In any coastal community lighthouses are an integral part of the landscape. They are part of our culture, our history as a nation, our folklore, our songs and our stories.
The close association of our country to our oceans and our lighthouses is a fundamental part of our Canadian identity. Whether it is the east coast, the west coast, the Arctic, the Great Lakes, the inland waterways, Canadians from all parts of Canada understand the critical role that lighthouses have played in the very development of this nation. Without these majestic towers and the brave and selfless people who ensured that their lights kept burning, our status as a beacon of hope and safety would never have been possible.
In fact, our very role as a trading nation would not have come to be if lighthouses did not mark the way for safe passage for people, commerce and opportunity. Lighthouses have for centuries offered mariners from around the world safe passage and hope. They are part of the core technologies that supported expanded trade and commerce within and between nations.
Increasingly today they are playing a new and important role in the development of our coastal economies. The historic significance of these light towers to the communities of which they are so much a part is irreplaceable, and steps must be taken to preserve and protect Canadian heritage for present and future generations.
Lighthouses are monuments to the Canadian way of life and to the fact that as a country, we depend upon maritime transportation. It would be a great loss if heritage lighthouses were not saved. They are invaluable heritage resources and once gone, so too are the opportunities they represent.
I am truly honoured today to rise in support of this bill that was brought forward originally by my colleague, the late hon. Michael Forrestall, a senator from my province of Nova Scotia who first championed this initiative back in April 2000 and tirelessly worked to ensure its passage. Senator Forrestall said it well several years ago when he stated:
I ask all honourable senators familiar with Nova Scotia and the beautiful tourist trails throughout my home province to imagine the Lighthouse Trail without one lighthouse or its outlying structures. Imagine no more Peggy's Cove; imagine no more Grand Manan Island; imagine no more Gannet Rock Lighthouse. Forget about West Point Lighthouse in P.E.I. or Cape Spear Lighthouse in Newfoundland; forget about Langara Point Lighthouse in British Columbia, probably one of the most beautiful, remote and historically important lighthouses in our structure.
Lighthouses have been sources of salvation to sailors in littoral waters for hundreds of years and have served as the centres of our coastal communities....They are symbols of man's conquests of the high seas and oceans, and in the past have captured the hearts and souls of people world round, as they were the first sight of land upon return to the homeland. No question exists of their place in the human heart or of their simplistic beauty set against the rugged, dark seas. One does not have to hail from the shores of the Atlantic or the Pacific to be attracted to lighthouses.
As sponsor of this bill to protect heritage lighthouses and also as a native of the Lighthouse Route, I am glad to have this opportunity to talk about a subject that is so dear to my heart.
The bill is aligned with the Fisheries and Oceans lighthouse divestiture program which strives to transfer surplus lighthouses to local communities for continued public purposes.
There is no denying that lighthouses have played a key role in the development of Canada as a nation. Indeed, the establishment of many coastal communities across the country was intrinsically linked to the building of their lighthouses and to the harbours to which they guided travellers.
Lighthouses are great symbols of Canadian heritage. There are more than 20 lighthouses along the Lighthouse Route in my riding of South Shore--St. Margaret's.
I am not alone in my love of this symbol of marine heritage. Canadians and people around the world are familiar with the beauty of one of our country's most famous lighthouses at Peggy's Cove, which again is situated in my own riding of South Shore--St. Margaret's, and whose pictures have graced calendars and tourism posters for many years. It is as Canadian as the sight of a grain elevator in a prairie field of golden wheat, or polar bears on a northern ice floe.
Such Canadian symbolism is enshrined in Bill S-220. It is based on the recognition of the cultural and historic significance of lighthouses as part of our maritime and national heritage. Because of their importance as community sentinels, the bill seeks to provide national protection and processes for disposal to communities for public purposes and alternate use.
Specifically, the bill would protect heritage lighthouses in three ways: by providing for their designation as a heritage lighthouse; by providing for public consultation in this designation process and before the removal, alteration, destruction, sale or other disposition of a designated lighthouse; and by providing that designated heritage lighthouses be reasonably maintained.
Such provisions, indeed the key objectives of Bill S-220, are definitely in keeping with the federal government's efforts to build a culture of heritage conservation in Canada. However, one also has to recognize that there are competing demands for resources from the Government of Canada. The objectives of this bill are not at issue. There are, however, challenges which relate to implementation and particularly in eventual funding requirements.
The bill as currently worded would see Parks Canada, under the direction of the Minister of the Environment, managing the heritage designation process. It would have to task or to establish a new organization to administer the provisions of the bill, including development of criteria for designating, maintaining or altering heritage lighthouses, or carry out research or consult with the public in response to petitions to designate, and applications to alter or demolish heritage lighthouses. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as custodian for most of Canada's lighthouses, would then be tasked with ensuring compliance with these provisions and securing the funding to support these new obligations.
The reality is that new marine technologies, such as satellite based navigation, offer today's mariner modern efficiencies that lighthouses never could, and these new systems are steadily replacing the need for lights. It is true that many lighthouses are starting to deteriorate, and after allocating resources based on program priorities, DFO does not have the financial resources to invest in assets that are or will no longer be required for program purposes.
However, the bill would create statutory maintenance obligations that could not be met through current operational budgets. The bill raises difficult issues that require choices among competing public priorities. The safety and security of mariners remain primary requirements for DFO. The application of any heritage considerations must respect the department's financial reality and its ability to make operational decisions related to current and future uses of lighthouse properties and facilities.
We must ask ourselves if it is a higher priority for taxpayers to invest in replacing the Coast Guard's aging fleet, or carrying out ocean and aquatic research, or the impacts of climate change. These are difficult challenges and we need to make reasonable, responsible choices that balance the interests of all Canadians. The passage of this bill would leave both Parks Canada and DFO at a loss to carry out the new responsibilities under the new act without considerable investment.
At present, there are as many as 750 lighthouse light structures in Canada. Bill S-220 would provide statutory protection to many of them. This would in fact provide even greater protection than most of Canada's historic landmarks have, including the parliamentary precinct where we meet today.
About 95% of the cost to preserve these lighthouses would come under the responsibility of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Without additional funding Fisheries and Oceans Canada would be forced to reallocate funds from existing programs and services. From search and rescue missions provided on a 24-7 basis, to development and investments in small craft harbours, to promoting the sustainable development of our oceans, to supporting a $4 billion seafood export industry, what gets cut when a country's security, environment and the economy are at stake?
Let us take a look at the scope of what Fisheries and Oceans Canada has to deal with on an ongoing basis by painting the big picture of Canada as a maritime nation.
Three of the world's oceans border on our coastline, the longest in the world at about 244,000 kilometres. Our oceans regions total almost six million square kilometres. Eight out of 10 provinces border oceans, as do the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon. The oceans provide recreational, environmental, employment, income and cultural staples to more than seven million Canadians who live in coastal communities.
Specifically, the Atlantic fishing industry employs more than 84,000 people and the Pacific fisheries provide jobs for some 14,000 people and plant workers. Canadian sport fishing injects about $7 billion each year into local economies throughout the country.
In 2006 the export of fish and seafood products to 128 countries totalled $4.1 billion as its contribution to the Canadian economy. British Columbia is our largest exporting province at $987 million, with Nova Scotia coming in second at $974 million, then Newfoundland with $798 million, followed by New Brunswick at $795 million, Quebec at $203 million, and Prince Edward Island is sixth with $194 million.
In addition, Canada boasts the largest freshwater system in the world with our two million lakes and rivers covering 7.6% of our land mass and the world's longest inland waterway at 3,700 kilometres from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Lake Superior.
To support the many and varied users of our coasts and inland waterways, the department is also responsible for maintaining and operating a national network of small craft harbours. We have to take a long, hard, very serious and reasonable look at our ability to maintain the lights the way Bill S-220 would have us do it.
Unfortunately, I am running short of time. This is a bill that is important to Canadians. It is certainly important to Senator Carney. Again, I recognize her hard work in the other place.
I would like to again recognize my former colleague, the late Michael Forrestall, for his work in bringing this issue forward starting in 2000, and also the contributions made by many of the interested groups, including the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, that are eager to take over many of these lights.
I think that members get the picture. This is a challenge. In order to keep these magnificent heritage structures and be able to afford to do it and to be able to run daily operations at DFO, we are finding ourselves in a very unusual situation. We have to find a way to allow the public process to take place, to allow divestiture to take place, to give priority to communities, especially adjacent communities, to give priority to the lights that have a larger and greater heritage component versus ones that may be newer. We have to find a way to do this within the budget before us.
At the fisheries and oceans committee we have a good group. We are all very interested in trying to find a solution to this very difficult problem. I expect that when the bill gets to the committee, with some reasonable amendments we will be able to find that way to preserve these lights for Canadians for perpetuity.