Good morning, Mr. Chairman and committee members. We're also pleased to be here this morning to discuss .
As you know, it's not the first time we have been here to discuss the bill and its previous version, . Last June, my colleagues and I were here to discuss the bill. At that time, we confirmed our minister's support for the basic principles of this initiative while noting some areas of concern.
I'm happy to note that the bill you have before you this morning, certainly from our perspective, is much improved from the version we were reviewing last year. Many of the areas of concern we raised last year about administrative and financial challenges have been at least partially addressed.
From a DFO perspective, we are happy to note that the bill now contains language that supports and will facilitate our efforts to advance sales or transfers of surplus lighthouses to ensure their continued public purposes for local and community-based alternate uses. This is very much aligned with our departmental lighthouse divestiture program.
As well, the application of the bill has been clarified to apply only to lighthouses owned by the federal government and not those owned by third parties. This issue was of concern to some organizations that had previously acquired lighthouses from our department and were concerned about the possibility of increased financial obligations.
There have been administrative improvements related to the processes affecting proposed alterations.
Finally, and most importantly, the bill now provides a requirement for public meetings prior to any proposed demolition and reasonable alternatives to demolition. This was missing from the original bill, and we feel it should help ensure that local communities are informed and involved in important decisions affecting their lighthouses.
It is clear that new technologies are replacing the need for many of our fixed aids to navigation, such as lighthouses. However, Canadian lighthouses remain a point of pride for coastal communities, for our staff in DFO, and for the coast guard, who manages and maintains them for our operations, and for visitors who come to see them.
We recognize the historic and cultural value of heritage lighthouses. The principles of are most worthy, but I must restate that our department does not have the financial resources to cover the implementation costs. During the past 20 or so years, DFO has been able to recapitalize only those assets that are required for operational purposes. The majority of these funds have been invested in staff sites in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador, and only to deal with the most urgent health and safety concerns.
I believe the last time I was here discussing this bill, the annual departmental operating deficit for core real property assets was about $30 million from what should be reasonably invested to maintain those assets required to support ongoing program service delivery. If the bill is passed without the necessary funding, the resources to support heritage could only be found by diverting core program funds, which would be inappropriate in the context of our mandate and could compromise our ability to deliver program services. As custodians with new responsibilities under the bill, DFO could no longer defer structural repairs required to ensure that many of these heritage lighthouses remain standing.
Nobody wants to see surplus lighthouses that could go to local communities neglected or destroyed. For the last several years, DFO has been working to foster relationships with heritage organizations like the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, as well as local community groups that want to adopt lighthouses. We are doing everything possible to live up to our heritage obligations within the financial realities we face. Our priority is to meet community requests for continued public purposes wherever possible. No sales on the open market have happened in recent years, and I do not foresee open market sales unless there has not been an expression of community interest.
Our view is that many of our surplus lighthouses could be transferred at nominal value to communities and not-for-profit groups with tourism and heritage interest mandates that are better equipped to assume responsibility for their protection and conservation than DFO. The bill now acknowledges this important principle, and this should help us work better with heritage interests and local communities to ensure the availability of lighthouses for alternate public usage.
This concludes our opening remarks. We will be pleased to address any questions the committee may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome to our witnesses.
I've listened to my colleagues and their questions to our panel members. But from a committee perspective, we have this bill in front of us, and if we don't manage to steer it through the House, I doubt if it will ever come back in a form that could pass.
I understand the questions on the dollars, and they are important. But in this case, the process is actually more important than the dollars. If the process is in place, it doesn't matter if there are 12 heritage lighthouses or 105. If the business case is put forward for divestiture to a community group, and they show that they can look after that lighthouse, then the federal government has an obligation to divest it in good order, which includes environmental cleanup.
Am I correct in that assessment? That's one of the reasons for the discrepancy in the numbers.
Mr. Blais brought up the idea that this might somehow affect core funding from DFO, but the whole principle of this bill is that it won't affect core funding from DFO, in perpetuity.
I suppose that if there were still a couple of lighthouses under DFO with the lights on, this would be an ongoing core funding responsibility. Mr. Hegge is shaking his head, so I imagine this will be correct.
I will give you two examples in Nova Scotia where DFO or Parks Canada may want to maintain the light. Sambro lighthouse would be the first one, the oldest light in North America. Another example would be Seal Island lighthouse, which is a light that was built in the early 1800s. It's just offshore of my riding, but it's a two-hour boat ride. Even though it's an old light, it's going to be very difficult to find a community group to look after it. So that might be a light we would want to have the government be responsible for, or it may be impossible to find anyone to be responsible for it.
The point I am making here is that this bill is the process. It allows community groups to come and ask for heritage designation for a light within their community. There have to be criteria in place to say that it is a heritage light.
There's a responsibility on the part of the government to make sure that it's divested in good order, that it's painted. But there also is a key responsibility here. Barry MacDonald and the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society and other societies have looked at this bill. The key is this: community groups that want to take these lights over need a business plan that says they are able to support it as a heritage light, which includes the ongoing maintenance. But it does not include the preliminary maintenance and the environmental cleanup for the divestiture.
Am I summarizing that correctly? No mistakes yet. All right. It's just a matter of time.
On the numbers, we have 746 lighthouses in Canada, but there seems to be some discussion about how many of them are actual towers, proper lighthouses that you could go up inside of. Roughly 250 is the estimate we were given.
I see Senator Carney shaking her head. And 51 of these are manned now, so they are more permanent. Twelve of them are within Parks Canada.
The reality is that we don't know how many of the lights are heritage lights. I have heard the number 60 or 65. To be honest, I think 65 would be a lot, because we have to find a municipality, a town, or a community group to take these lights over.
I hear Mr. Blais' concern about the cost of this bill. The cost is going to be shouldered originally by Parks Canada, Environment Canada, and somewhat by DFO. But this does not include the core costs.
I'm trying to implore my colleagues here that we support this bill, we make the amendments that need to be made, and we get it through the committee and back to the chamber. We can actually put this in place for a very reasonable amount of money, so that we have the process then in place to protect heritage lights. But it's not strictly DFO, not strictly the Government of Canada that's responsible for these things, but the community organizations themselves, and there will be access.
I tell you, with a few amendments, I think this is a great bill. We have it this far, and we really do need the support of everybody at the committee to be reasonable here and try to move it on.
I had carriage of this bill once myself. We never got to the committee process. We were almost there. I know from talking to the lighthouse preservation societies themselves that they're not just anxious, they're almost exhausted over the process and the number of times it has come forward. Senator Carney brought this through the Senate. I think if we look at this in reasonable, common-sense terms, we can get it through here.
That wasn't too many questions for you guys, was it?
First of all, it's a pleasure to be back here in the House of Commons, where I served two terms as the MP for Vancouver Centre from 1980 to 1988 before being called to the Senate in 1990.
It's also an honour to appear before you to present my private member's bill, Bill , an act to protect heritage lighthouses. This is, as has been noted, the seventh time this bill or its antecedents have made it this far. We hope seven is our lucky number. I'm glad the bill has so many advocates.
We have distributed to you Canada Post's folio of five heritage lights, which shows you some of the differences in the light stations.
I will be speaking for about 10 minutes; then I'll be presenting a hard-copy presentation of some of the different lights. Then I'll be available to answer your questions.
The specifics of this proposed legislation have undergone a sea change since I and the late Senator Mike Forrestall of Nova Scotia first co-wrote it in 2000. Lately the assistance of Senator Lowell Murray has brought it to its present form, but the purpose has always been on a consistent course.
I want to point out that because the coasts are so different and the light stations are so different, it has always had to have east coast and west coast input.
The purpose has been to conserve and protect federally owned heritage lights across Canada by four means. will provide a means for their selection and designation as heritage lighthouses; prevent the unauthorized alteration or disposition of heritage lighthouses; require public notice and public consultation before the transfer, alteration, sale, or demolition of a designated heritage lighthouse; and require that designated heritage lighthouses be reasonably maintained in a manner consistent with accepted conservation standards.
Lighthouses play a vital role in our marine communities. I certainly don't have to tell members of the committee that. The DFO has told the Senate committee that there are 256 light stations as defined in this bill; the other 504 are other kinds of navigation aids, light buoys, range markers, and other things that other experts can tell you about.
The 256 light stations are in eight provinces. People don't realize that only two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, don't have federal lighthouses. Most of them are fully operational and an important part of our maritime safety net. There's been a lot of talk about the divestiture of surplus lighthouses, but one of the most important points about this bill is that most of these light stations are operating light stations serving the maritime community now.
Canada’s light stations also attract thousands of visitors every year, contributing to the economic and cultural benefits to coastal communities, particularly in Atlantic Canada, where DFO has a program of divesting non-operational lighthouses that are surplus to its requirements to local communities.
But Canada’s heritage light stations are at risk. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the department responsible for most federally owned lighthouses, has no mandate and, as you've heard, no budget for heritage protection. Parks Canada is required by statute to protect heritage sites under its jurisdiction, but often lacks the resources to carry out its mandate. As a result, many of Canada’s light stations, even operating ones, are vulnerable to decay and destruction. They've been blown up, they've been burned down, and they've been dismantled, as they were on my home island of Saturna. is designed to address these issues.
Many members of this committee have lighthouses in their ridings and are aware of their historic significance and present value. The first Canadian lighthouse, and the second-oldest lighthouse on the continent, was constructed at Louisburg on Cape Breton Island in 1734. Another historic Nova Scotia lighthouse, the Sambro lighthouse, which Mr. Keddy has referred to, was established by the very first act passed by Nova Scotia's House of Assembly in 1758. The act placed a tax on incoming vessels and alcohol imports to pay for the lighthouse. We could do that again.
It is the oldest operating lighthouse in North America and a Canadian national historic site celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, an event that makes the passage of this bill so important.
In his speech at second reading, MP Larry Miller noted that the history of lighthouses on the Great Lakes dates to 1803, when a lighthouse was constructed at Mississauga Point on Lake Ontario. Several other lighthouses were built in the next two decades.
I thought it was interesting that other lighthouses were established during the 1850s in response to the first Canada-U.S. free trade agreement in 1854, which considerably increased shipping. As the minister responsible for the last free trade agreement, lighthouses seem to be part of my own particular mandate.
Light stations were later established on Canada's rugged west coast, some before the two British colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia united in 1866. The first permanent light station was Fisgard lighthouse, constructed in 1859 near Victoria. In 1860 the British Royal Navy built the magnificent Race Rocks lighthouse on a rocky islet in Juan de Fuca Strait at the entrance to Victoria. It's still a major operating light station, but the concrete tower of this historic light is crumbling.
In comparison with Atlantic Canada, relatively few light stations were built on the Pacific Coast—it was too far from Ottawa, and they were usually built only after many ships were wrecked and people drowned. On my home island of Saturna, the famous East Point lighthouse, which serves marine traffic utilizing the international boundary waters between Canada and the U.S., was built in 1888 when the barque, John Rosenfeld, carrying the largest shipment of coal to that date, ran aground on Boiling Reef. Saturna residents heated their homes for many years with the salvaged coal. The original tower was demolished, but an automated light still operates. Our community is converting the original fog horn building as an interpretive centre on the Spanish and British explorers who first charted these historic waters. I can talk to you about it, if you want to know how we're doing that with Parks Canada, because it would answer some of the questions you have raised.
We understand that DFO will be proposing two changes to the existing bill, which, if adopted, will require that the bill be returned to the Senate for approval, hopefully before a general election. As Mr. Keddy said, I retired as of January 31, 2008, and my office closes today, so I certainly won't be here to propose it again.
The amendments represent an agreement between the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and of course the Minister of the Environment and me and supporters of on the impact of the bill. One involves adding a clause to the preamble, to the “whereas” part, to mention access. That's an interpretive clause. The second deals with changing the wording of the bill to related structures. I can answer questions on those.
My concern in these amendments is to conserve access to some sites, including wharves or helipads, so that heritage light stations can be maintained and utilized by communities. It's interesting to know that of the 256 lights, I am told that 125, or roughly half, can only be accessed by water or helicopter. Therefore, the point has been made by many of you that they wouldn't qualify for heritage sites if you couldn't get to them.
In correspondence that is filed with the clerk, Mr. Hearn has made it clear that since many of these light stations are operating light stations—which addresses some of your points, Mr. Manning—DFO has to maintain them and to maintain access to them now. Every light station in British Columbia is an operating light; there are no surplus lights, as there are in Mr. Miller's riding, or on the east coast. So DFO is committed to maintaining that access. The access, as I say, would be dealt with in the preamble, according to the proposed amendment .
As for access in British Columbia, only one of the 52 light stations in British Columbia is on the mainland. Think of that whole coast. Only one is on the mainland. That's Point Atkinson in west Vancouver, and it's already a national historic site. All of the rest of them are on islands; that's why they're there. So access is important.
Minister Hearn successfully argues that since DFO must provide access to operational light sites for operational security and maintenance purposes—and all B.C. light stations and many others are operational—conserving them as heritage resources is unnecessary.
In recognition of our concern about access, he suggests the committee should be encouraged to adopt language in the preamble that acknowledges the importance of providing access to heritage lighthouses in order to recognize and promote their contribution to Canada's maritime heritage. As I said, I believe that will be presented.
Minister Hearn's concern, as you heard earlier, was that the existing wording of the bill implies that the means of access—i.e., wharves and helipads—would require being maintained to heritage standards, which of course is not our intention. I prefer Saturna's new contemporary government dock to the old dock, with its creosoted pilings, that burned down.
Therefore, the minister suggests that the government's proposed related buildings amendment, which would replace the clause now existing in Bill , would be the greatest public benefit in terms of cost-effective heritage conservation.
On the assumption that these proposals are made in good faith, we agree with the proposed changes and seek the committee's support for them.
The heritage lighthouse bills, all of them, were designed to involve the public in the designation, conservation, and maintenance of these important assets. If Bill is passed, the fate of these marine assets will require the public to take the initiative. We can pass the legislation, but somebody out there has to take the initiative to form the petitions, so it will be in the hands of Canadians.
I would like to take my remaining time to review a few examples of Canada's light stations to show their great diversity. So I am directing you to this—
First of all, I would like to thank you very much for suggesting an important change to the present bill, which is to restrict it to federal jurisdiction. In earlier versions of the bill, you opposed the wording on the grounds that it should be restricted, and I thank you for that. This bill applies only to federal jurisdictions.
In terms of the cost, I don't think it's irresponsible to turn a derelict or heritage building that is in danger of being demolished into an economic opportunity for the community involved, if that's what's happening, as is the case on my island. Many of the witnesses have told you that there are funds in other departments that can go towards supporting this bill.
Decontamination of sites is a federal responsibility under Environment. The idea that you leave a building contaminating a park--which would be the case in Saturna--and not address it would be irresponsible. Decontaminating that building is responsible. And doing it in a way that allows a community to utilize that building I consider responsible.
Each case will be decided on its merit, and that's why we've left the criteria at the minister's discretion, because what is going to work on the west coast won't work, necessarily, on the east coast. I do not think that over time.... I know this is going to cost a lot of money. The money that has to be spent on the lighthouses is either DFO's responsibility now, under their operating light mandate--and does not have to do with heritage--or money that can be diverted from other departments, or raised by the community.
In the case of our foghorn project, we have estimated that it will cost $50,000. Half of that is to put power on site, because there's no power to the foghorn. That's not a big amount of money for us to raise, and the maintenance costs are considered to be $2,000 a year. On two other Parks Canada properties, one of which involves a lighthouse, the operating costs, the maintenance costs, are about $2,000, which the community raises without difficulty. So I don't think the cost implications are part of....
I appreciate your comments to Mr. MacAulay when you talked about how you're not really enamoured of putting x
number of dollars in the bill and telling the government, “You must allocate x
number of dollars”.
I fear we're in the chicken-and-egg syndrome. If we don't have this bill, then basically the status quo remains and not much will happen. We advocate all the time on various issues and never really say.... Even government backbenchers advocate all the time on specific issues for their constituents, for various groups, or they're critical without telling the government, “You must, by the way, have x number of dollars”, because those analyses are done after legislation is put forward. Then you could say, “Okay, for this particular year we're able to do so much in this regard according to the bill, and next year we could do more and more”.
You're absolutely correct. There is more than one department that will allocate funds to this, let alone community groups, other groups, and other people who will offer their resources as well. I would advise my colleagues, as Mr. Keddy has done, to get the process of this procedure and this bill through, and then the access, the resources, will come later. Without this, you're guaranteed nothing will happen, and then we'll have further deterioration of these lighthouses and more bills--except for Mr. Miller, Mr. Keddy, and others.
I've had similar legislation. I had this similar sort of parallel tracking, and I'm hoping this committee can agree to get it through fairly quickly and then back to the Senate for approval.
In your experience in the Senate, if the bill went back to the Senate amended, how quickly can it go through the Senate?