Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House as the sponsor of Bill C-323, which had the potential to revitalize our heritage sector to preserve Canada's built heritage, something that has had erosion. We are very much a product of what has come before us. Our cities, the places where we live, our small communities are defined by the buildings that are there, but we have lost far too much over Canada's history.
Bill C-323 was a bipartisan effort that was worked on together with members of the Liberal Party and other parties to ensure that something that had been asked for and sought for years and years, and worked on by governments, Liberal and Conservative, behind the scenes, could finally come to fruition through a proper tax credit scheme that would allow for the preservation of our heritage buildings.
Our heritage buildings define communities. They create economic growth. They improve our quality of life. They build social capital. They give people a reason to appreciate where they are, to go to special places, and to make special places.
It is therefore very disappointing to see this report from the environment committee with regard to Bill C-323, particularly in view of the bipartisan support it had in the beginning.
Initially, I worked with members of the Liberal Party and others to develop the bill and get it supported in the House of Commons. It would have created specific tax incentives on eligible heritage restoration work done to designated heritage buildings. Specifically, there would have been a 20% tax credit for rehabilitation and restoration work done to a designated heritage building. The work would have had to be certified by a registered architect. The bill would also have created an accelerated capital cost allowance for capital costs, again finding a way to create an incentive, with minimal cost to the public purse, for people to restore and preserve buildings instead of demolishing them.
In effect, the bill would have created a heritage policy for Canada that is fair to property owners, whom we in the public sector ask to bear the cost and burden of preserving our heritage through our process of designating their buildings and telling them that we want them saved, yet we do not provide anything on the other side to compensate them for those increased costs. This legislation would have created that impact, and it would have had a positive effect on Canada's national heritage.
The National Trust for Canada, our leading organization on built heritage, estimates that we have lost over 20% of our built heritage in the past 30 years, including buildings like the Edison Hotel in Toronto and the Redpath Mansion. For that reason, the national trust was strongly supportive, and it was one of the collaborative partners we worked with to develop this bill.
In fact, what the member said is entirely, patently untrue. There was enormous consultation with stakeholders, municipalities, etc. that went into the development of the bill. Through that process of consultation, it became evident that heritage means so much to many communities. It creates value for those communities and encourages tourism. It is something all Canadians can enjoy. That is why the bill had so much support.
What support did we have though the consultation? It was across political lines. It was across the nation. It was from individual members of Parliament, from dozens of historical societies, and dozens and dozens of municipalities. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities supported it. The royal society of architects supported it. Provincial governments supported it. I could go on and on.
The suggestion that it did not provide for collaboration with partners shows that whoever wrote that speech had no comprehension of the way heritage designation works, or the way the bill was crafted. In fact, it created a partnership that did not exist up until then among provinces, which set the terms for heritage preservation; municipalities, which make the decisions on which buildings to designate; and, finally, putting into the piece the federal partnership through the support for restoration. There could be nothing better than building a collaborative partnership. That is why I was so pleased to see that partnership build and the bill pass through second reading in the House, with support, it should be noted, from members of every party. It was not all the members of every party in the House, but members from every party in the House supported the bill, including several members of the Liberal Party.
At committee, a consensus emerged that mirrored the consensus across Canada that the bill would have a tremendous positive impact on our heritage built stock, and on the communities we live in. It seemed that all members of the committee were quite supportive. This was evident in their comments and their questions for the witnesses.
The members heard a lot about tax credits elsewhere, including for example the one in the United States, which has had a huge impact in revitalizing inner cities, in creating economic activity, and in creating tourist attractions and hubs where they never were before.
The Urban Land Institute magazine showcases its best projects of the year. Every year it overwhelming shows projects that have at their heart the American version of this heritage tax credit. People saw that it was valuable.
Also in that study they learned that the costs were minimal. In fact, the likely impact on the fiscal framework federally was because of the incentive it created for restoration and the like, and the economic spinoffs and developments that happened. More than any of these other kinds of studies that give us dubious reports on economic impact, this impact would be positive and taxpayers would get far more back than they ever put out, as well as the significant public benefits that would have been derived.
Then something happened. Just before it came time for the committee to vote, the Prime Minister's Office cracked down on its MPs for speaking their minds at committee and for having the temerity to have voted as they saw fit at second reading. Many of them had personally worked on the bill at second reading and to get it through to committee. Despite all of their previous support, Liberal MPs were forced to vote down the bill at committee by the Prime Minister's Office against their will. I understand that one of them was virtually in tears.
Supporters of the bill were understandably disappointed to see the bill voted down. Bill C-323 was an opportunity to refocus our efforts on heritage preservation during the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The policy seemed ideal for the milestone year in our nation's history. Unfortunately, the committee made the decision that we are now considering today.
We heard that in the companion report there was, believe it or not, a recommendation for tax credits like this. However, the criticism was, as we just heard in the speech from the government, that it should be done through the normal budget process. This was the criticism levelled by critics, and that is what was in speeches previously.
This committee report was tabled last year. The budget process continued. The budget was this week. Anybody who suggested to we wait for the budget and the proper budget process misled supporters of the bill, supporters of heritage preservation. No such tax credit was forthcoming. No such policy was forthcoming. It simply did not exist. The story about a budget process was a mere excuse for a government being so miserly and short sighted that it would not allow the more visionary members of a caucus who saw the value in the bill to support it as they had at second reading.
It is not surprising we see this from the Liberal government. I have been fond of noting that it seems to have a bit of a war on history. We saw it in the 150th anniversary of Confederation, where the themes disallowed the observance of the actual event of Confederation or events that celebrated our history. The five themes that were selected were fine. but if we wanted to have any support or assistance or to be part of the federal government's Canada 150 festivities, history and Confederation were not allowed.
This is just one of many examples of how the Liberal government has continued and perpetuated that war on Canadian history.
There was the cancellation of the Canada 150 medals for those people in local historical societies who do so much to build their communities. All of a sudden the opportunity to recognize people like that, people who build Canada, was wiped out. Why? Because the government is committed to a war on history.
There is a American great author who said, “History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” We are losing that here.
There was a great Canadian historian and author with great influence, Canon Lionel Groulx, who said:
No, a nation cannot separate itself from its past any more than a river can separate itself from its source, or sap from the soil whence it arises. No generation is self-sufficient. It can and does happen that a generation does forget its history, or turns its back upon it; such an action is a betrayal of history.
Then of course there was the great Joseph Howe, who resisted Confederation 150 years ago. He then embraced it, and joined the cabinet of Sir. John A. Macdonald later. He noted:
A wise nation preserves its records, gathers up its muniments, decorates tombs of its illustrious dead, repairs great public structures and fosters national pride and love of country by perpetual reference to sacrifices and glories of the past.
That was Joseph Howe in 1871. That is what Bill C-323 would do, and that is why I still encourage some within the Liberal Party to have the courage and conviction to support it, and to reject this report from the committee to turn down Bill C-323.