moved that Bill C-323, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (rehabilitation of historic property), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, as one walks the streets of London, the quartiers of Paris, the piazzas of Rome, one stands in awe. The buildings speak to us, of great artists and philosophers who lived within, of revolutions staged there that changed the world, of the growth and advance of societies and cultures that those buildings mark.
We look at that built heritage in those great cities, not just for its own intrinsic beauty but because those buildings tell stories, of people, of history, of that place, and of who we are. We may be living in the here and now, but the built heritage informs us of the many twists and turns of humanity that brought us here.
Built heritage matters. It is important. It tells us who we are and why. It is no surprise then that the great places of the world are defined by their built heritage, and that is what people come to see. It informs and it inspires.
It is the same in Canada. We are debating this bill seeking to protect Canada's built heritage while we are inside Canada's most iconic building. We more than most can appreciate the meaning that the very special sense of this place gives to the tremendous honour we have in serving in the House of Commons.
Our built heritage here, all around us, reminds us of our past, our founding Fathers of Confederation, the Inuit and aboriginal peoples who first made this home, the trappers, the railway, the industries, the farmers and labourers who built the economy. All of those are literally carved into this building. The stone and the wood too speak to our lands and our forests. We have all around us a tangible example of why preserving our built heritage matters.
Bill C-323 seeks to preserve and protect our country's important historic built form by encouraging its restoration. The bill would do this through two simple devices. The first element is a 20% tax credit for spending on the restoration of historic buildings. The second element is an accelerated three year capital cost writeoff for the rest of the restoration cost.
The policy rationale behind the bill is simple. There is strong public interest in encouraging the preservation and restoration of significant historic buildings. However, the cost to individual owners is much higher than the alternative of demolition and new construction. When we ask private owners to preserve historic buildings through a heritage designation, we are asking them to deliver an important public benefit, but we are asking those private citizens to bear the full high cost of delivering this, something from which we all benefit. Through the tax credit and the accelerated writeoff, we are proposing to provide a modest measure to offset some of the privately borne costs of restoring important buildings in our communities.
Too often the economic burden creates an incentive to demolish. We just witnessed that with last month's demolition of the 110-year-old Beaux Arts Bank of Montreal building at Yonge and Roselawn in Toronto. Although plans had been designed to incorporate restoration of the heritage building into a new development, at the end of the day, the owners chose to demolish instead, resulting in much unhappiness in the surrounding community.
This bill would help to change those calculations and give property owners a reason to do what is right not just for their interests, but in the community's interest.
The bill is based upon a policy initiative that was under development under both Conservative and Liberal governments. It relies upon work done within Parks Canada in anticipation of such a tax credit proposal, including the development of the national register of historic places.
I appeal to all members of the House to consider the bill in that non-partisan spirit as a genuine effort we can all support to make our communities better places to live.
It is important to observe that the reach of this tax credit is managed. Not every old building in Canada will be eligible. Only buildings on the national register of historic sites will qualify. These are generally the most important of the buildings that receive heritage designation under provincial or territorial law.
The bill would also give the minister the power to extend the credit to all heritage designated properties in a province or territory, but that is a decision that will belong to the minister. This protection would ensure that the cost to the public purse of the credit would remain manageable and it would prevent any abuse aimed at taking inappropriate advantage of the new tax credit.
The bill would also ensure that the taxpayers' exposure is controlled in another way. Only costs directly related to restoration of the heritage features would be eligible. A professional licensed architect would have to certify both those costs and that the work is done in accordance with the “Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada”, a document prepared by Parks Canada in anticipation of exactly an initiative like this bill. The structure of how the credit works would also eliminate the need to create any new bureaucracy to manage the program, further minimizing any costs to the public purse.
In fact, the annual impact on federal finances of this program applied to historic properties all across Canada will still be but a tiny fraction of the $3-billion cost of the restoration of the Parliament buildings currently under way.
The support for the bill is strong. The National Trust for Canada, a national non-profit organization committed to working to save historic places in Canada, has urged support for the bill.
In the 30 years between 1970 and 2000, Canada lost more than 20 per cent of its historic building stock, and losses continue apace.... [Bill C-323] would transform the economic fundamentals for renewing historic places, with spin-off effects including the creation of more skilled jobs and less environmental impact and waste than new construction.
The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada supports the bill, and notes that:
Policies that promote preservation and re-use of historic properties have demonstrated huge economic returns on investment through job retention and creation, tourism, and enhanced property values.
Heritage Winnipeg notes the similarity of the bill to the heritage restoration tax credit south of the border, which they call a great U.S. success story with a 40-year track record. Bill C-323 “presents an historic opportunity”, they note.
Montreal Mosaic, a partnership of non-profit community organizations, calls for support of the bill based on its economic, environmental and historic benefits.
Heritage B.C. says this is something the heritage community has wanted for a long time:
It's consistent with our goals to preserve cultural heritage. It seeks to do that by creating an incentive to rehabilitate heritage buildings rather than to replace them.
Right here in this city, Heritage Ottawa says it strongly supports Bill C-323.
All across the country, municipal councils, the folks who are on the front lines, are balancing private property rights against the public interest in preserving built heritage, and they have to struggle with those very difficult decisions. One after another, those municipal councils are passing resolutions endorsing the bill.
When we think of the places we love to visit around the world, built heritage figures prominently. From the French Quarter in New Orleans to the Great Wall of China, from the Taj Mahal in India to the castles of Prague. The same is true in Canada. From the Grande Allée in Quebec City to Stephen Avenue in Calgary, from Peake's Wharf in Charlottetown to the distillery district in Toronto, we are drawn to these beautiful, story-filled places, and it is their historic buildings that define them. They become the places people go to visit, to learn, to shop, and to dine.
This demonstrates that we value and enjoy the historic buildings and the environment they create. It is where we want to be, and of course, the bill has the potential to aid the restoration of our historic buildings, not just in our big cities. It can lead to the rescue and restoration of important elements of Canada's built heritage in all parts of our country, in rural hamlets and small towns, and occasionally even places in our wilderness. Our history can come to life everywhere.
In Canada, however, we have been the victim of twin arguments that lead people to undervalue our history and our built heritage. First is the traditional student's lament, that Canadian history is boring. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. Certainly, our body count falls far short of that of the old world, and we lack the marketing hype of the history of our American neighbours, but Canada's stories are more intriguing than most, drawing in strands from the European and the U.S. experience as input into the history we have made in building this unique and wonderful country, more near to perfect than any other, I would argue.
Indeed, most of those who have grown to know and love our country's history have travelled that path guided by heritage buildings that were the gateways to the stories of the past.
Think of them: the tower on Signal Hill looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, the place where so many explorers came as they opened up this continent; Province House in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, the cradle of our Confederation. We think of the Citadelle in Quebec and the old walls of Quebec City that stood witness to the battle on the Plains of Abraham, which changed our destiny here in the North American continent; and, of course, in Halifax Pier 21, which welcomed so many who came to build this country. There is the Old Port of Montreal, which spoke to the burgeoning growth of a Canadian economy. There is Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake that bore witness to the battles of the War of 1812, which determined our destiny as a separate people here on the North American continent, different from our neighbours to the south.
One can go to the railway station in Winnipeg, and others across the country, to learn and understand the tremendous role that railways played in the binding together and the building of this country, and the growth of our economies, both rural and urban. When one goes to the Palliser Hotel in Calgary, one sees the dynamism of that city and the promise it held for the future; and, of course, the old Hotel Vancouver, and so many other buildings there, speaks to the tremendous other side of Canada's history.
Again, built form is the core of it all. Indeed, built form tells us who we are and where we came from, and that is what inspires those who love history.
The other argument is that we are a young country and thus lack history and any built heritage worthy of preservation. Never mind the list I gave, that certainly is not true. With four centuries of history comes 400 years of built heritage, and we have had none of it wiped out in the carpet bombing of a world war, as has happened in other places.
Canada is filled with built heritage treasures, but we keep losing them. For example, Toronto has seen other losses recently, including the demolition of the iconic Stollerys building frontage at Yonge and Bloor; incidentally, once the men's wear business owned by a former member of this House for a Spadina riding. The beautiful Empress Hotel at the corner of Yonge and Gould was also recently lost.
The great architect and author, Eric Arthur, in his 1964 book, Toronto, No Mean City, lamented, “In the march of progress, we have ruthlessly destroyed almost all our older architecture..”. His books documented beautiful treasures of buildings that were lost to the wrecker's ball. One can only wistfully dream of what character that city would exude had some of those jewels survived. As he said, “surely no city in the world with a background of three hundred years does so little to make that background known”.
While the generations that preceded us have allowed much of our story to be lost, with this bill we have the opportunity to bestow a gift to future generations. That is the gift of seeing, knowing, and understanding where they came from, the roots of their communities as reflected in a preserved and restored built heritage.
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Bill C-323 presents us with an opportunity to make Canada's history, in the form of its built heritage, an enduring legacy to benefit Canadians for years to come. It is a fitting year to adopt this policy, which is perhaps long overdue, but which would deliver lasting benefits for generations to come. The 150th anniversary of Confederation is indeed an opportunity for us to focus, both on that past, but on how we can tie that past to the future for the generations to come, how we can make that meaning of all that Canada is meaningful forever. Preserving our built heritage is a big part of that.
I have several other private member's bills. I selected to proceed with this one. I have two others that dealt specifically with Canada's built heritage, other important historical buildings that are at some risk. One is the birthplace of John Diefenbaker, a place in Neustadt, Ontario, which I thought would be most appropriate to have purchased and acquired and run as a museum for the benefit of all Canadians. Indeed, former Prime Minister Harper made that commitment under the previous government. Sadly, that appears not to be happening. That building is at risk and may forever be lost.
Another that I believe should be a museum is the summer home of John A. Macdonald in Rivière-du-Loup, a place that hosted cabinet meetings. People talk about the “winter White House” in Mar-a-Lago right now. The home in Rivière-du-Loup was the “summer 24 Sussex” before there even was a 24 Sussex. That is where the government operated for some time during the summers.
Fortunately, that has been saved by a group of benevolent citizens through something called Canadian Heritage of Quebec. By contract, it runs it as a bed and breakfast, but its existence is precarious. It is not only something that could benefit from a tax credit such as this but something that is worthy of even greater support.
I chose to proceed with this bill, because it has the potential to benefit properties all across Canada. To help protect that built heritage for our future generations, to help us know ourselves and our history much better, I urge all members of the House to support it.