moved that Bill C-315, An Act to amend the Parks Canada Agency Act (Conservation of National Historic Sites Account), be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak in support of Bill C-315, which is an act to amend the Parks Canada Agency Act with regard to the conservation of national historic sites account.
I would like to spend my time today discussing the purpose of this bill and its value in terms of promoting Canada's history, culture, and beautiful scenery, not only to our own citizens but to the entire world.
Bill C-315 proposes the establishment of an account to which all donated funds will be attributed when the donor indicates they want the funds to be used for the conservation of a given site. The interest of this account would be spent only on the preservation, restoration, and rehabilitation of the specified heritage site, thus assuring the donor that their money would be put to good use in protecting the site they know and love.
Canada is very fortunate not only to be the home of many federally, provincially, and locally recognized national historic sites, but also to have a number of internationally recognized UNESCO world heritage sites, including the world-famous Rideau Canal. Although those who reside in Ottawa probably know the Rideau Canal as the home of Winterlude and the world's longest outdoor skating rink, its history is much richer than that. That history is often lost on those who have never truly visited the site.
Construction on the canal began in 1828. Its purpose was to create an alternative military supply route from Montreal to the Great Lakes. The canal officially opened in 1832, stretching from Lake Ontario to Ottawa through the wilderness of eastern Ontario. In fact, almost the entire northern boundary of my riding of Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes is the Rideau Canal. At the time, the Rideau Canal consisted of 47 locks, fortified lockmasters' houses, and blockhouses, representing an incredible feat of engineering for the time that employed countless people.
Among the contractors who worked on the canal and built some its most impressive sites was John Redpath, the founder of Redpath Sugar, a proud Canadian corporation that recently announced its support for Bill C-315 as a means of promoting donations from its organization and others like it.
Following the canal's completion, many small settlements developed into thriving communities along its banks. Bytown, which was later renamed Ottawa, was set up as the construction headquarters. Clearly it continued to grow long after construction was completed, to become the Ottawa we know today.
Following World War I, the canal lost its industrial and commercial purpose and became a waterway for recreational vessels, an extremely popular pastime among both Canadian and American pleasure craft operators today. In 2000, the Rideau Canal obtained a heritage river designation. Then, in 2007, the canal was designated a UNESCO world heritage site, demonstrating its importance on the international stage.
That is the kind of story Canada should be promoting, a story that showcases the hard work and ingenuity that led to the great country we have become.
Parks Canada currently administers 171 federally recognized national historic sites and defines over 970 more as being historically significant. With such a large responsibility resting on this organization, it is crucial that Canadians be able help in any way possible. In fact, in my own riding of Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, we are fortunate to have many sites that have helped define the development of the area and continue to attract people to reflect on our history and achievements, which in turn is a great boost to our local economies.
Our many national historic sites across Canada provide us and visitors with leisure, education, beauty, and a unique experience that can never be recreated. Like many precious things, they are a rare wonder and deserve to be promoted and protected with the utmost care. Unlike natural attractions, our historic structures at these heritage sites are made of bricks and mortar and timber, and will crumble and rot with time. They require a great amount of care in reflection of the hard work and historic struggles that led to their construction. Once they are gone, no amount of money or goodwill could possibly bring them back.
Therefore, we are tasked with ensuring they remain in good repair so that future generations can look back on Canada's great history just as we do today. Many of our citizens have fond memories attached to these locations—days out with family, getting back to their roots, and in some cases, personal stories—that will forever be tied to the important historic moments that took place there.
Along the Rideau waterway, for example, are many families who can trace their origins to the construction of the canal. With happy thoughts and generous hearts, these kind individuals are often eager to give donations, with the hope that their money will keep the place that they love in pristine shape for years to come. That type of generosity should be encouraged, as Canadians have so few opportunities to step forward and take stewardship of their own history.
Although visiting a national historic site might allow an individual to learn and experience the history that took place there, encouraging donations helps Canadians to understand the site as part of their personal history and national identity. While any donation made to Parks Canada is put to good use, donors should be assured that their donations will maintain the national historic site that bears personal significance to them. The creation of a legacy fund for the conservation of such sites would not only provide that assurance but also encourage further donations from Canadians and international visitors alike. This extra funding would aid Parks Canada in paying for the restoration, rehabilitation, and preservation of buildings, forts, and other historic structures that our country has to offer.
Parks Canada has done an exemplary job of fulfilling its mandate of protecting and presenting nationally significant natural and cultural heritage while fostering public understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment in ways that ensure that the site's ecological and commemorative integrity remain intact for present and future generations.
Although Parks Canada already has protections in place covering the expenditure of donated funds, these regulations are not easily found and are not well known to the public at large. This is troubling, especially given that studies indicate people are more willing to donate to a given cause when they view its organization as being transparent and easily held accountable. They do not want to watch their donation disappear into a void of bureaucracy and want to know that their money will be used for the protection and preservation of the site they have come to love, and not for wages, groundskeeping, and other matters unrelated to the historical significance of the site itself.
Bill C-315 would help Parks Canada create a system that would not only manage donations but also promote further donations in the future. Its current donation management system, while effective in ensuring that money is spent in an ethical manner, does nothing to encourage donations and lacks the easy, well-documented transparency donors desire and deserve. That is what Bill C-315 has to offer.
Despite the number of people who visit our national historic sites each year, Parks Canada receives surprisingly few donations. On a national scale, it received only $28,000 in 2013 and between 2014 and 2016, the cumulative total annual donations fell by $30,000. While each of these donations is undoubtedly appreciated, we can do much more, especially given the cost of maintaining, restoring, and rehabilitating our national historic sites. In fact, in 2013, $10,451,000 was spent on restoration. In 2014, $9 million was spent, and in 2015, $7million was spent.
Surprisingly, these numbers are kept artificially low by the fact that Parks Canada cannot accurately calculate salary and wage expenditures related specifically to the repair and maintenance of national historic sites. With numbers like those, we should be doing everything we can possibly do to raise money and keep our sites in pristine condition. They are priceless to our nation and deserve only the best.
Beyond these direct benefits to the national historic sites and to Canada's national identity, increasing donations and improving the overall appearance of our sites could serve as a significant boost to both national and international tourism. When travelling in Canada, whether from another province or another country, our visitors come for our history and hospitality, not for our famously good weather. In fact, most travellers perceive Canada's strength as a tourist attraction to be our beautiful yet affordable destinations, such as the national historic sites we aim to protect.
If we want Canada to be seen as a valuable destination rather than simply an affordable one, we must ensure that these sites remain in good repair, which can be helped through the creation of the legacy fund outlined in this bill. This would allow us to teach our history, while sharing the diverse culture that makes Canada so unique in the world.
Encouraging tourism would not only further benefit the funding of Parks Canada through gate fees and product sales, but also provide support for the approximately 1.7 million jobs supported by the tourism industry each year. What is more, these positions tend to be held by demographics that have had historic troubles in obtaining and maintaining employment. Immigrants, women, and youth are provided with jobs in a diverse range of fields, such as hospitality, food, and entertainment, often making significantly more than the minimum wage.
In fact, many of these individuals are employed by Parks Canada itself. In its peak season, that department employs approximately 2,100 year-round indeterminate employees, 1,900 indeterminate seasonal employees, and approximately 1,100 students.
What is more, the increasing tourism created through the maintenance of our national historic sites would promote the growth of their surrounding communities by supporting the small businesses that make up the backbone of our tourism industry in Canada. Around 98% of the industry is run by small and medium-size businesses that rely on the patronage of international travellers to keep their doors open. These businesses often work hand in hand with destination marketing organizations that promote international visitors not only to the businesses but also to the national historic sites that make Canada a valuable destination no matter where people are from.
In Canada's 150th anniversary year, we should be more focused than ever on the protection and preservation of the history that makes us who we are today. We should be preserving, rehabilitating, and maintaining our sites as well as we possibly can to ensure that they will continue to stand for another 150 years and far beyond.
By encouraging donations from international visitors and Canadian citizens alike, we not only promote taking stewardship of our own history and national identity but also ensure that the sites will maintain their beauty and integrity for generations to come. At the same time, we are promoting the tourism industry, which employs so many Canadians.
For these reasons, I hope that all members will join me in supporting Bill C-315 for the creation of a national historic sites account.