Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to explain why I do not support Bill C-315, an act to amend the Parks Canada Agency Act, Conservation of National Historic Sites Account. Although I respect the apparent goal of Bill C-315, the mechanism it proposes is duplicative of what the government is already able to achieve.
Bill C-315 aims to support the conservation of national historic sites. Without question, this is an honourable goal. I suspect that everyone in the House supports efforts to preserve, rehabilitate, and restore national historic sites. Canada's network of national historic sites reflects the rich and varied heritage of our nation, and provides opportunities for Canadians and other visitors to learn more about our diverse history.
The legislation now before us would create a new mechanism to help fund the conservation of national historic sites. However, the mechanism is redundant, even though the intention is sound. This government welcomes all donations to heritage sites as a way to further support the conservation of national historic sites. Doing so helps to protect and celebrate our heritage. We should not support a mechanism that would limit the existing framework.
The legislation now before us would establish the conservation of a national historic sites account. Individual members of the public and organizations could donate money to the account, which would be managed by Parks Canada. So far, so good. However, it is the interest earned in the account that would be spent on conservation projects. The principal would remain untouched. Over time, the donations would accumulate and the account would grow. While this approach might look good at first glance, it loses its appeal upon closer scrutiny.
The primary reason that the government does not support Bill C-315 is because the bill's objectives are presently being met by existing donation management practices at Parks Canada.
Parks Canada accepts, manages, and spends donations as per the authorities granted to it by the Parks Canada Agency Act and the Financial Administration Act. Under the act, whenever an individual makes a donation to a national historic site, the funds are deposited into a specified purpose account. At the time the donation is made, the donor may specify what he or she wishes the funds to be spent on, such as conservation activities, trail construction, cultural interpretation, asset restoration, etc. Individuals are also able to request that the donation generate interest over time, with the principal held in perpetuity.
Members of the public have shown that they are interested in supporting activities at particular national historic sites through donations. During the fiscal year of 2015-16, the total amount of donations received and deposited into the account was just over $56,000, directed toward seven national historic sites. None of these donations were made with the added stipulation that the funds generate interest over time. This may be because it is better to spend the entire donation in order to address high priority areas of improvement. If the bill passes and the level of annual donations remains consistent, the interest available will be too small to adequately support conservation activities. This is where our problem lies.
For the sake of argument, let us imagine that Bill C-315 becomes law and that the proposed account attracts 10 times this amount in donations; that is $560,000. Given that even the most lucrative of secured investment funds yields less than 2% interest these days, each year the account would generate about $10,000. While this is not an insignificant sum, sadly, it would not make a meaningful contribution to the conservation of national historic sites.
In addition, the restrictions imposed by Bill C-315 may actually discourage donations, because only the interest generated would be used for conservation activities. For example, if the restoration of a canon at the York Redoubt National Historic Site in Nova Scotia is to cost $1,000, an individual who wishes to donate $1,000 to support the immediate restoration of the canon might be shocked to learn that he or she would have to wait 35 years until the donation generates enough interest to cover the restoration cost. Ultimately, Bill C-315 would hamper the ability of Parks Canada to invest public donations in conservation projects at national historic sites.
Parks Canada is a recognized leader of heritage conservation. The agency is responsible for protecting and presenting nationally significant examples of Canada's natural and cultural heritage. Along with national parks and national marine conservation areas, Parks Canada manages 171 national historic sites. These include an amazing array of places and stories to discover, from lighthouses to battlefields, and cultural landscapes to historic neighbourhoods. Parks Canada employees and contractors have the expertise, experience, and dedication needed to ensure that these places and stories endure, and that they are safe, accessible, and compelling for all Canadians.
The Government of Canada is investing over $3 billion over five years to improve, restore and recapitalize Parks Canada's built assets, including national historic sites. This represents the largest infrastructure plan in the 105-year history of Parks Canada. Many of these projects foster the conservation of heritage buildings and structures. Through these historic investments in heritage places, Parks Canada is protecting and preserving Canada's national historic sites while supporting local economies and contributing to the growth of tourism in their areas. One of the projects funded by this investment is only a short walk from here, along the Rideau Canal.
Parks Canada recognizes the importance of this country's built heritage. Places such as the Rideau Canal, Province House in P.E.I., and many others, express our national identity and connect us to Canada's past, present, and future. Due to many factors, such as neglect, urban development, and climate change, many of Canada's heritage places are at risk. I take comfort in knowing that Parks Canada is committed to maintaining the commemorative integrity of Canada's cultural heritage and conservation activities at the 171 national historic sites that it administers.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the member of Parliament for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes for raising this important issue through his proposal. The conservation of national historic sites is necessarily a co-operative exercise. The Government of Canada works in collaboration with provincial, territorial, and municipal authorities to administer a range of programs. These programs complement one another as they pursue a common goal.
We must do our best to protect Canada's national heritage sites, because these treasured places define and inspire us. They are inherently valuable and have taken on even greater significance this year with the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Bill C-315 would not only duplicate existing legislative provisions, it would also limit Parks Canada's ability to manage and direct available funds to meet conservation priorities. As such, it does not merit the support of this House.