Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill S-14, an act to protect heritage lighthouses, put forward by my colleague, the member for South Shore--St. Margaret's. I also want to commend those in this House and in the Senate who have supported this bill previously in Parliament.
Lighthouses are an integral part of Canada's heritage and history. There are countless stories of crises in our past in which Canada's lighthouses have played a critical role. Whether it is off the coast of Newfoundland or in the gales of the north Pacific, they have saved the lives of many Canadians and foreigners. Now for many, lighthouses not only provide an essential service but lighthouses have become a special part of what Canada means to them and others around the world.
They have become part of our artistic cultural works in songs, paintings and even tapestry. The picturesque images of Peggy's Cove, and the lighthouse on the northern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands on Langara Island: these pictures say this is Canada.
These structures identify an integral part of our heritage and draw thousands of international travellers each year. In Ontario, one can take the Bruce Coast lighthouse tour. Each of the 500 lighthouses in Canada has a special meaning in our lives, our history and to the communities in which they are situated. I support this bill as it is urgently needed.
For many of our historic lighthouses, we must offer recognition of their part in our heritage and maintain them for future generations. Without protection, neglect is destroying many of these historic structures. The impact of wind, water and deterioration are destroying these treasures each year. Without Bill S-14, we will lose a precious part of our natural history and marine culture.
This bill's purpose is to preserve and protect our heritage lighthouses in three ways: first, by providing for the selection and the designation of heritage lighthouses; second, by preventing their unauthorized alteration or disposition through a process that allows for public consultation; and third, by requiring that heritage lighthouses be reasonably maintained.
Current legislation gives two federal government bodies the power to select and designate heritage lighthouses, the Federal Heritage Building Review Office and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board. However, under the current legislation, more lighthouses are being rejected than are being protected. Only 19, or 3%, of our lighthouses across Canada have genuine heritage protection. Only 101, or 12%, have partial protection. In the U.S.A., 70% of lighthouses that are over 50 years of age have heritage protection.
Also, in the current system the public has no right to participate in the process of selecting or designating heritage lighthouses.
Currently there are no provisions to ensure that these structures are adequately protected. In fact those who maintain our operating lighthouses do not have a mandate to protect culturally significant lighthouses.
Bill S-14 addresses all of these issues. The appropriate minister will have the authority to recommend to the governor in council that a lighthouse be designated as a heritage lighthouse. In its deliberations the governor in council must give the public an opportunity to make representations about the heritage designation of that lighthouse. The bill also ensures public participation in this process by allowing the public to submit petitions on its own to propose heritage designation for any lighthouse.
Finally, the bill prohibits anyone from altering or disposing of a heritage lighthouse without the authorization from the minister and without giving the public notice of his or her intentions. The owner of a heritage lighthouse must also maintain it in a reasonable state of repair in a manner in keeping with its heritage character.
This bill not only ensures that lighthouses will continue to be an integral part of our Canadian heritage, it has the potential to create opportunities and partnerships with local communities.
By having the ability to participate in a lighthouse's designation and future, the local communities have the opportunity to incorporate lighthouses into their lives as potential interpretive centres or tourist destinations. Thus, this bill will allow lighthouses to become part of the larger social fabric. It is important for Canadians to be able to take part in determining what they believe is important to our country's history and cultural heritage.
I am encouraged by the provisions in Bill S-14 that allow for such full public involvement. It is Canadians who should determine what is important as monuments to our country's history. Without this bill we will lose too many lighthouses to natural deterioration, wilful destruction and neglect. We must take this step to preserve and protect our heritage for future generations. If we do not, we will lose the structures that have become icons in our history, such as the lighthouses, railway properties and grain elevators.
As the hon. Senator Pat Carney stated in 2002, this bill was modelled after Canada's Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act and it will strengthen our heritage archival asset base for generations to come. Senator Carney also pointed out that there is nothing currently in place to ensure that heritage status will also cover the historic dwellings or equipment that are integral to the heritage value of the lighthouse site. This legislation does so.
This legislation also has other benefits. The bill works within the existing system so it does not create any new bureaucracy or programs. There will also be a uniform set of standards and criteria within which the assessment of the significance of a heritage site will be determined.
As I have said, Canada has roughly 500 lighthouses across the country. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has indicated that over time about 200 lighthouses may become surplus to its operational requirements. This shows that this bill is truly important to Canada and its historical heritage. We must act now to ensure that a significant part of our country's past is saved and preserved.
I ask all members of the House to support Bill S-14, an act to protect heritage lighthouses.