We'll officially start the meeting, and I'd like to welcome a few people in the room. I also want to say we got a letter that the CBC would be here, but they're not, so that's just fine with me. We'll proceed without them, and if they do suddenly come in we'll know why they are coming in, and they are welcome.
I want to recognize a couple of people new to the table. We have Don Ruznak. We have Andy Fillmore and Geng Tan subbing in. Thank you and welcome to the committee.
We also have some U of T students shadowing MPs today, so I would like to welcome them to our committee: Sara D'Ambrogio, ShiaoShiao Chen, Katrina Van Genderen, and Lucinda Hillbert. It's nice to have you with us and, hopefully, you will find it as interesting as we will.
I'll introduce our guests. We have Paul Berg-Dick, consulting tax economist from MEKA and Associates. From MTBA Associates Inc., we have Mark Thompson Brandt. From the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation we have Ry Moran, director, from the University of Manitoba. Welcome and thank you very much for being here.
In addition, we have Shannon Prince who has come on board with us by video conference.
I thought we might start with you since we've had a little trouble in the past with video conference and we wouldn't want to lose you when we have you on line. I will signal when your time is up.
Go ahead, please. The floor is yours.
Museums are an important part of the fabric of our country, which has more than 2,600 museums, public art galleries, and related heritage institutions, the stewards of our national heritage. Museums have become innovative hubs, becoming more engaged and relevant within our communities. Many Canadian museums have developed social programs meant to engage the public in positive and innovative ways.
Museums help to foster a better understanding of Canadian life, its history, and diverse cultures.
Our community museum is located 15 minutes southwest of Chatham, Ontario, and was one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad. It began in 1849 when Reverend William King and an association known as the Elgin Association, with abolitionist principles, secured 9,000 acres, which were made available to fugitive slaves or to any free blacks who were looking for opportunities for a better life. As a sixth-generation descendant of this community, I am very honoured, privileged, and proud of the rich legacy that my ancestors paved for me so I may continue to tell that rich and amazing story.
There is a very competitive funding process and we, along with other community museums and institutions, have difficulty accessing those funds. There are limited funds in various programs such as the museums assistance program, Young Canada Works, and cost share, or insufficient funds. These programs are viable to sustain lesser known sites but equally as vital in telling Canada's story. These programs need to be reassessed with an increase of funding to assist in the sustainability of heritage and cultural institutions. If we, as Canadians, are proud of our diverse heritage and culture we need to invest for future generations.
I am also the chair of the National Historic Sites Alliance for Ontario, which is a not-for-profit organization that links over 256 national historic sites in the province. The alliance promotes the commemorative integrity and value of national historic sites through co-operative action by site owners, managers, and stakeholders. We are dedicated owners, managers, and stakeholders who work together to conserve and present the rich diversity of national historic sites in Ontario. We have a passionate and energetic board of directors.
For many years, Parks Canada viewed the alliance as a valuable asset and would provide funding for us to host conferences, workshops, and resources. These were valuable hands-on learning opportunities for our members as travel subsidies were also being offered. With budget cuts, we have not been receiving funds from Parks and have been faced with many challenges, but we are still working cohesively to tell that rich, diverse heritage that has shaped this great Canadian mosaic.
The alliance has been neglected by Parks Canada. Parks are not fulfilling their obligations under the Parks Canada Agency Act, which states:
||...the Government of Canada wishes to establish an Agency for the purpose of ensuring that Canada’s national parks, national historic sites and related heritage areas are protected and presented for this and future generations....
The alliance could assist with aligning activities with Parks by distributing information binders to newly designated national historic sites. They underestimate the value we have to promote all national historic sites.
I would like to leave you with one last story about our museum.
At the museum this summer there was a couple from north of Peterborough and their goal was to visit 150 sites, mainly museums, in honour of Canada's 150th. They chose Buxton as their first stop. They had seen Canada Over the Edge, which featured Buxton, and also Still Standing starring Jonny Harris. They were so impressed that they just had to come to visit, to ring the bell that was sent from Pittsburgh to Buxton in 1850, to visit an 1850 log cabin to touch the hand-hewn logs, and to visit one of the only schools still existing as a school that was built in 1861 by that first generation removed from slavery. That was just amazing.
This is my community; this is my home; and my hope is sustainable funding so my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will also be able to add another chapter to this marvellous book that our ancestors have started.
I appreciate the opportunity to come and share some of my background with you. I'm currently a consulting tax economist, with funny letters that come from a variety of places. I've undertaken work for a number of organizations in Canada and have had international assignments. One of those organizations was the National Trust for Canada. Today, however, I'm speaking as an individual. Most of my federal public service career was with the tax policy branch in the Department of Finance. From 1995 to 2003 I was the director of the business income tax division within the department, responsible for all the business-related tax measures. From 2004 until 2009 I was the director responsible for the annual tax expenditure account. That's the account that examines each of the tax expenditures we have in our tax system. I was also the person responsible for our tax relationships with the various provincial and territorial governments.
I thought it would be useful, then, to provide a bit of background and perspective for this committee as you look at heritage preservation. One of those aspects, as I think you'll come to as part of your committee, will be looking at various incentives to encourage heritage restoration and rehabilitation. I think it's really important to take a bit of a broader approach, to think about things in a bit of a more holistic way. That's certainly how we looked at things in the department. There are various aspects in terms of the challenge of encouraging it, and it's important to identify what those challenges are. It's important to identify what those problems are before jumping too quickly to any particular approach that might solve a particular problem or scratch a particular itch.
It's also important to look at a variety of different levers and different aspects of what the government can do, and to frame the importance of heritage preservation in today's society. One of the aspects that I think is important to set out is that heritage buildings provide a real benefit to society. When we see buildings, we see a living history. The benefit to society is really over and above any benefit to the private owners of the buildings. In some sense, the overall social benefit, the benefit to society plus benefit to private owners, is more than just for the people who own the buildings. I think that's one of the challenges when those factors aren't taken into account, when that benefit to society isn't taken into account, because we'll then see less heritage preservation.
In other words, this is an area where government has a role to play, and it's important for government to see that benefit and somehow identify some of the issues relating to that. In some ways, this is similar to how we think about research and development. One of the reasons we support research and development is that any particular firm can't capture all the benefits of research. It's a broader benefit to society.
In terms of the instruments available, there's a variety of them. We're talking a little bit about regulations. There are historic registers. There are rules about what we can or cannot do with heritage buildings. There are also financial incentives, which I think you'll be coming to. I understand that people from a variety of different places will be coming here in the future. I've worked with Chris Wiebe at the National Trust. I think he may be coming to talk to you.
In terms of a framework, one of the approaches is to provide some kind of grant or incentive for building owners to encourage them to carry out preservation activities. One of the issues with grants is that you can apply that to a variety of different owners. It could be commercial, it could be non-profits, it could be municipalities. We have one example from the 2001 to 2007 era, which was the commercial heritage properties incentive fund. It provided funding to a variety of different programs. The grant programs can also be structured as cost-sharing or having a matching element to encourage provinces or municipalities. You can also match funds.
You have a variety of flexibilities in terms of how you would design a grant program. However, grant programs can be criticized because there's only a fixed amount of funds and that involves some bureaucratic discretion in terms of how that would be.
If one turns to tax incentives, there one of the key elements is exactly what kinds of costs are going to be identified as available for a tax incentive. We have a self-assessment system, and we have to carefully define those costs. They can easily balloon if they're not done properly. Therefore, that's of concern.
There are different types of incentives. For example, there's an investment tax credit where you essentially pay for part of the cost. For example, if you have $100 cost and the credit is 20%, then, obviously, you only have to pay $80 and someone else is paying the $20.
There are also measures that will accelerate the depreciation that a company can take. What this means is that instead of having a depreciation over a whole number of years, you can do that in a shorter period of time. That's, obviously, to an advantage.
One of the key issues with tax incentives, though, is that they only benefit those companies that actually have tax to pay. If you're not in that situation, or if you're a non-profit organization, or if you're some other owner of a building that doesn't fall into that particular category, then any particular tax incentive is not going to benefit.
There are some situations where you can make tax incentives refundable, which means that you're going to pay out an amount. Just like we have refundable tax credits in our personal system, you can pay out an amount to an owner. But then a refundable tax credit is very similar to a grant, there's no real difference, it's not really using the tax system other than as a delivery mechanism for a cheque. Again, you have issues about eligibility and in terms of identifying....
Another consideration you want to think about with tax incentives is provinces: do they have a role and are you encouraging them to participate? When you use a tax credit, some of that credit actually flows through the provinces in terms of increasing the provincial tax. If you look at the accelerated cost provisions, if you do anything on that front, then most provinces are forced to come along with that, because we have a series of agreements that say that the provinces follow the federal tax base.
In summary, I think it's important to look at exactly why this is important, what the issues around it are, as well as the how in terms of encouraging more heritage preservation. You can think about financial incentives coming in a variety of different forms—grants versus tax incentives. Both of them have a cost to the government; there's no real benefit going one way or the other, they all will affect the bottom line. On tax incentives, you have to consider the who. Is it just those corporations with tax that can use it, or otherwise do you want to broaden your scope? Consider the role for potential partners, whether that be provinces, municipalities, non-profit organizations, or foundations.
I look forward to your questions.
Good morning. Thank you for having me here.
This is an exceptionally important conversation that we're going to have here, and not only in regard to heritage. What I will be presenting strikes at the very heart of our national identity: what we choose to remember, what we choose to forget, and the essential requirement asked of us as Canadians to preserve and remember a history that is deeply troubling, has been deeply damaging, and will continue to affect this country for generations to come.
I come from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba. It is the mandated agency that flows directly out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself. I was with the commission from the very beginning.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission gave us 94 calls to action. These calls to action are intended to help set us on a new path, a better path, in moving forward in the aftermath of what the commission has accurately described as “cultural genocide” inflicted on indigenous peoples in the residential schools.
Central within those calls to action are a number of calls related directly to commemoration. Those commemoration calls relate directly to the creation or establishment of a “national memory” and our ongoing need as a country to make sure we continue to shine light into the darkest corners of our history.
I want to talk to you about three specific broad themes in the calls to action. One is the preservation of residential schools that were built. The second is commemorating the residential schools that were standing. The third is the missing children work.
On that missing children work, I feel obliged to acknowledge the severity of this conversation and as well to acknowledge all of those children who never returned home from the schools and who number well into the thousands.
On the first part, call to action 79 discusses the preservation of residential schools. Right now, we have about 17 residential schools that continue to stand in some form or another in the country, but when we look at the quality of those buildings, or the current status, we can see that there's a wide diversity.
Approaching this in a systemic or tiered approach, we might be able to say that there are maybe four tiers of residential schools.
A tier one school would be where the building is currently occupied and is generally in pretty good shape. Examples of that would be the Shingwauk or Algoma school up in Sault Ste. Marie, the Assiniboia residential school in Winnipeg, or the St. Eugene school out in Cranbrook. Those are locations where the residential school has been converted to other purposes. They're still largely intact, and they're occupied and in generally decent shape.
A tier two school might be a school where there is a good building that still stands and is well suited to preservation but is at risk of deterioration or loss. Examples of these schools would be the school down at Brantford, the “Mush Hole”, which was the first residential school in this country, the Muscowequan school in Saskatchewan, or the Long Plain school out in Manitoba. I think what's very important to discuss in regard to those three schools is that each one of those communities has been actively trying to preserve that school in their community, because they feel it is absolutely essential that they as a community do not lose the evidence and that we as a country do not lose the evidence. Each one of them has been frustrated in many regards in terms of being able to access resources or supports in order to preserve the schools. For the Brantford school in particular, we were very close to losing the roof on that building, and of course when you lose the roof, you largely lose the building itself.
Examples of other schools that exist would be the Birtle, Elkhorn, or Brandon schools, which are in more or less derelict shape and are quite rundown now. Then there's a remaining handful of buildings across the country where some portion of the building still remains—perhaps a gymnasium or a dormitory—but the entire site is not very intact.
As a country, we have a very, very important question to answer: what are we going to do with the remaining built residential schools? Also, how are we going to support communities? How are we going to ensure that communities are empowered to have a say and a role in preserving these locations?
It is important to note that currently there is funding offered to communities in some regards to actually destroy these schools. Some communities have taken up the government's offer to destroy the schools. The St. Michael's school at Alert Bay out in B.C. is one school that was recently destroyed at the request of the community.
The second question we need to answer then, once we address the question of the built fabric or remaining infrastructure of the residential school system, is how we properly commemorate the sites that contained residential schools.
If you travel the road between Saskatoon and Prince Albert, you pass through the community of Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. There it had a particularly notorious school. That school burned down many years ago. Now it's a simple open field, and most Canadians would have no idea that there was even a residential school there.
Broadly across the country, there are many, many locations like that. The schools have been relocated, burned down, were demolished. There is very little physical evidence that there was a school there. We have to ask ourselves what we are going to do to commemorate those schools that did exist.
I want to present the members of the committee with a small example. As I drive through the back roads of Manitoba, where I live now, nearly every single homestead school, one-room schoolhouse, has a small cairn erected to it in the countryside. If we can do that for homestead schools, I think we can certainly do that for residential schools across the country, given the severity and the nature of the conversation at hand.
Sadly, and perhaps one of the most devastating elements of the entire school system, is the fact that many children did not return from those schools. Across the country, there are literally countless cemeteries where the remains of children lay in the ground in unmarked graves. We do not know who those children are; we do not know the number of those children.
That Duck Lake school, for example, has a cemetery attached to it. We were recently visiting the Muscowequan school with the community. Horribly—to give you an example of what happens in some of these places—there have been multiple instances across the country where crews have gone in to conduct infrastructure work or dig a sewer line and have unearthed the remains of young children at these school sites.
To be very clear, many schools had multiple cemeteries. There are perhaps as many as 400 cemetery locations across this country. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was not able to get to every single one of these cemeteries. There is no broad national preservation framework to address these cemetery locations, and these are children we're talking about in these gravesites.
To put a bit of a capstone on that, and respecting the confidence of the community—I won't tell you the exact location—in some areas of the country there are human remains, or the remains of children, that are starting to come out of the ground due to the overall neglect and non-sustainability of the cemetery system across the country.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, in its calls to action, was directed to continue the work of identifying the children who never returned home from the schools. We've been asked to create a missing children register, and there was a call to action regarding some funding for that. We were very fortunate to receive an announcement regarding core funding for the centre, but some of these projects—I have to be clear—are a little bigger and broader than we're able to sustain in terms of our core operations. Not only at the centre, but more broadly as a country, we require specialized strategies to deal with a very specialized issue in this country, and a particularly troubling issue, that presents us with an opportunity to remember.
The positive thing is that we see people understanding. We see that Canadians broadly understand there is an essential social justice element to this preservation work that needs to happen. This is a history that we cannot forget. Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire, the gang from The Secret Path that many of you have seen, donated their funds to the national centre. Those funds are intended to be targeted at education and ongoing efforts to commemorate missing children.
We are working up to the point of being able to flow some of those funds out to communities. I have to be clear that it's some money, but it's not a lot of money. The positive thing is that we see Canadians broadly supporting the ongoing efforts, and we continue to receive donations on a daily basis, basically to support this.
There is one thing that I want to leave you with. What we remember, how we remember it, will tell the story about how we confront our future as Canadians. It just so happened that last night, as I was putting my head down on the pillow, I was flipping through the news and came across an example of a former politician in Europe who was convicted of the crime of Holocaust denial. Part of his sentence was to visit five concentration camps and to write a report on what he saw and experienced. We need the built infrastructure in this country to fully document the the cultural genocide that has been inflicted on indigenous families and indigenous children.
We know that we live in a society that continues to deny the harshness of what occurred in the residential schools, and it will only be through preserving some of the buildings and properly acknowledging, remembering, and commemorating those children who never returned home from the schools that we're going to have a fair shot at evolving into the country that I think we all want this country to be.
Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
Thanks for inviting me here today. It's a pleasure to share this conversation with you.
I want to talk about a couple of things, but first I would like to provide a little bit of background. I'm a conservation architect and urbanist with a small firm here in Ottawa that does architecture, urbanism, and conservation. I'm involved in a lot of professional and community volunteer activities related thereto. One that is related to today's conversation is The Association for Preservation Technology. We are partnered with the National Trust this year for our annual conference, which is just two weeks away. We have almost 1,000 delegates coming from around the world, primarily Canada and the U.S., to look at the very issues that you're studying. By all means, if you'd like to join us, the invitation is there. Chris Wiebe of the National Trust will be able to help you out. I think he's here today.
I want to start by making a simple statement. I think it's extremely important that wherever members of Parliament can, they find ways to help preserve, rejuvenate, regenerate, and rehabilitate our heritage building stock, our historic places across Canada, and I'm here today to tell you why. I don't want to focus on the socio-cultural dimension. I want to focus on the environmental dimension, but as you'll see as we go through, it's also about economics and the positive impact on economics.
I don't want to leave that economic point hanging. We're involved in a lot of adaptive reuse projects and a lot of other projects for which an owner, a developer, has a piece of property, maybe a block or maybe a couple of blocks of urban property. They are looking to build a 20-storey multi-use complex, and it has a heritage building on it. They say, “They don't want me to tear it down because it has heritage designation. What should I do?” A lot of what we do is to help them understand that in fact it's not an obstacle. In fact, it's a lever. It's a benefit. It's an opportunity for them.
The opportunity comes not just through community goodwill and community benefit—both of those are there—but from purely a crass dollars-and-cents point of view, which is, to be fair, often the developer's point of view. They have a lot of condominium buildings and other buildings going up. Today we are densifying our cities, which is an act of environmentalism in itself and often can be a good thing. The more dense we get, the greater the need for our historic places to be preserved and adapted and reused.
I say to them that there are all these other developments happening in this neighbourhood in this city, and I ask them what's going to distinguish them in the marketplace. It's not just about providing the soul of a place that a heritage resource can give to a new development. It's actually economic benefit through differentiation in the marketplace. We have examples of price points being put up higher simply because of the relationship of the historic resources within that development. Instead of leaving the economic argument hanging, I just wanted to go there, because now we're going to focus a little bit more on the environmental side of historic preservation.
We were asked by a collaboration of federal, provincial, and territorial governments to prepare a document titled “Building Resilience” and subtitled “Practical Guidelines for the Sustainable Rehabilitation of Buildings in Canada”. It started out as a companion to the standards and guidelines document, which is published by Parks Canada document and has become over the last decade or two a bible for Canadian conservation.
I think the standards and guidelines piece has helped galvanize the heritage conservation community, making it stronger and more consistent. It's also given this community the confidence to be a little more flexible in the adaptive reuse and revitalization of our historic places. As long as we preserve the character-defining elements and heritage value that our historic places represent, other aspects of these places can be adapted to accommodate new and different uses. After all, it takes the use of a place to keep it going.
“Building Resilience”, as I said, started out as a companion document to the standards and guidelines publication. It then evolved into a stand-alone, pan-Canadian guidance document for the regeneration of all existing buildings. It's based on the phrase, “heritage conservation contributes to creating a sustainable built environment and resilient communities”. I think that's an incredibly important policy statement. It's now endorsed by every senior level of government in the country, including the federal government. I think that's a good starting point for some of your deliberations as you move through this study.
The document tells us why this is important. I want to remind you that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the global authority on climate change, has been clear in expressing how important existing buildings are when it comes to reaching carbon targets. Heritage buildings are a subset of existing buildings, but they're an important subset.
The document also explains why traditional buildings, our heritage buildings, are naturally sustainable in many ways, and it demonstrates that they carry a lot of inherently sustainable elements within them. In the days prior to the introduction in the late 1920s of HVAC, architects were more like master builders and learned how to provide comfort for the occupants of their buildings without a lot of machinery.
There are a lot of reasons why traditional buildings are already sustainable to a certain degree. I want to highlight two of them. Energy performance is a key factor in all of our environmental standards, all of our baselining, and in everything to do with sustainability. It's important to be focused on these energy aspects, but not hyper-focused.
I should point out that there was an incredible amount of building stock constructed in the three decades after the Second World War, globally and in Canada. As these buildings come of age now, we're facing in the next decade or so a tsunami of modern-era buildings that need to be sustainably rehabilitated. This is something the conservation community has started to embrace. They're starting to find ways to lead in the rehabilitation of existing buildings through the adoption of best practices.
The document has some case studies. I thought I would show you this one; it's a little closer to home. It's just two doors down; the Sir John A. Macdonald Building. It looks a little at what some of those inherently sustainable features are, and it also looks at how careful analysis and supplementary means of updating a building's performance—its comfort performance, let's say, as is the case here—are softer and less expensive ways to rehabilitate the building, and in this case, developing hybrids. There's some sort of historic and contemporary...outside and inside. I think there are a number of sustainability features that were added to the project that ran from 2008 to late 2015. I think many of those things are straightforward but it takes people to advance it quickly. It actually achieved a very high level of sustainability at an international standard. It leads me to ask the question, why don't we do a sustainable rehabilitation of 24 Sussex, bring it to an international level of showcase for Canadian technologies and know-how in sustainable rehabilitation of buildings and preservation of historic buildings and places?
The second last point is that if you were lucky enough to go to Montreal and see the exhibit last year, It's All Happening So Fast, you may have noticed a quote from Dr. David Suzuki. His view is that environmentalism is actually rooted to a deep attachment to place, so you can see that interplay between heritage conservation and environmental sustainability is right there.
Last but not least—
I just wanted to thank each of the presenters this morning.
This is one of those very difficult panels because we have some different topic areas and each one could be a session unto itself. Each of them is very important.
I'm going to start this first round of questioning with some financial discussion. Mr. Berg-Dick, related to some of what you talked about, I was reading a report last night from the City of Vancouver that was commissioned by Donald Luxton & Associates. In that report they were looking at some best practices in Canada and internationally. They talked about what would make a robust financial program to support heritage conservation. On four of their points, they indicated they should encourage historic places through tax incentives, which you touched on. They indicated special subsidies, or that a national conservation fund should be in place; that a good conservation program would include grants, subsidies and loans, and then, finally, rehabilitation loans. Those are some different ideas, and you touched a bit on this.
The report also went on to talk about some examples. They indicated that Edmonton allocates, I think, $877,000 per year for heritage conservation. The City of Victoria, in 2012, put $2.3 million into grants. The federal government, we learned, through Parks Canada's testimony last week, through its national cost share program, has $1 million available, and it's through a grants program. I'd just like to use that as a preamble to throw it back to you. As we try to make some recommendations to government about best practices, what's the right mix here that we could be looking at. On things like the magnitude of heritage that we have represented in Canada, what kind of dollar value could the federal government be looking at supporting through a number of these different mechanisms?
In brief, perhaps I could get your thoughts on what range of tools we should have, and if there's a dollar value that you could give us, that would be helpful.
One comment I have just on the Vancouver report is, did they miss anything there? They had tax incentives, subsidies, grants, and loans as well. In some ways I think it is important to look at each individual approach. As I noted in my remarks, part of it is who exactly you want to be providing an incentive to, and that will in some ways determine whether you go the grant route or the tax route. They both have a financial impact.
You have more flexibility in the context of setting up a grant program. You see that at the municipal levels. Even in Ottawa there are some small grants available for heritage. We had the federal program for a number of years that, again, went the grant route. Part of it is whether you can work with other levels of government on some of this. Can you demonstrate leadership in some of that?
When you go the tax route, then you are focusing more on commercial buildings as opposed to other sources. What is enlightening is the interest in a variety of commercial operations. People recognize that there is a benefit, that there are occupants who want heritage. Is there an education component as well, in terms of encouraging people to think outside the box and to think about new ways of using heritage buildings?
The challenge too, given that there is a large stock of potential heritage buildings that would be helpful for preservation, is that they can also give a very large bill, so again, that is a concern in terms of focus and what the priorities are. One of the challenges in the tax area is that you have to define all those things up front, and if you get it wrong, if all of a sudden you have defined a very large amount, a large base, much bigger than you expected, you can have a very large tax expenditure related to that.
With a grant program you have a sense as to how things are going. You have better management activity.
Those are some.... It would be helpful to go through them all and to list the pros and cons. The National Trust has done some of that. You may want to come back to that as well.
Thank you, and thanks to all the speakers for making time to be here today. It's much appreciated, and it's nice to see you again, Ry.
By great coincidence I'm subbing in on this committee today for Darren Fisher. My background is in city planning and architecture, including some preservation. I had the great fortune to lead the process that created downtown Halifax's first heritage conservation district several years ago. That process—where we used your guidelines and standards, by the way, to help us with that, so thank you—led to a conservation district that used matching-facade grants, some deep tax incentives for more substantial work, and alternate building code compliance to allow the reuse of heritage buildings in ways that don't meet the modern code. Therefore, I'm going to focus my questions and remarks on the built environment more than on landscapes or places.
There are plenty of heritage assets across the country, it seems, where this balance of carrots, grants or incentives, can be matched or balanced with the stick of conservation regulation in a way that can help to unlock private capital, and use the market forces to pay for the work that needs to be done, and keep those heritage resources alive and useful.
We also have a lot of other assets in Canada where there is very limited or even no likelihood of private participation. Some of your examples, Ry, I think are in that box. In my work as the MP in Halifax, trying to sort out things like proper funding for Georges Island, or the Sambro Island Lighthouse, I have come across the very instilled mindset in some of the line departments about needing to have a business case to even take on the asset to add it to the list of registered historic places.
What advice can you give the committee or the line departments or the government about understanding that there are both kinds in Canada, and helping to find the appropriate balance of where much higher levels of public participation are required versus more subtle financial taxes or other incentives? You see what I'm getting at. I want to help this committee to make an impression on people who are making decisions in departments that there needs to be that balance and understanding that there are some cases where there's a higher public requirement.
Maybe we could have an open discussion about that.
I appreciate the question, Andy. It's not really a question. As you say, we need to have some discussion. I see that there are already some mechanisms in place, which I'll discuss in a second, and which I think we need to build on. For example, Parks and other organizations will make some determinations about historic places that have national significance, that have national resonance, and Ry has talked about a few of those.
Also, each province has people working in its public sector, as you know being from Nova Scotia, who look at what places have provincial significance and resonance for the people and for the whole province.
Other very useful and excellent and meaningful heritage places are very much more community-oriented. Often, they get a lot of the effort, if you will, by individuals within a community to save them. It could be an old bridge. It could be anything. It's an opportunity locally to express something that you want to do.
Your question, the way I took it, is how do we divide it between the different levels of government, and how do we divide it between business and individuals, communities, and the public sector? I think at the end of the day it's always going to be about partnerships. Partnerships have proven to be engines of advancement. We need more people who can pull partnerships together, who can orchestrate partnerships. I think there is a growing industry within the heritage community of the realization of that. I think some of the national conferences we've had recently have focused on that. I've been asked to speak at Newfoundland's heritage conference at the end of next month. When I look at the program, a lot of what they're doing there is talking about business cases for preservation.
I don't think there's any one answer, with the possible exception that there will always be different types, levels, and aspects to historic places that need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, and that always the strongest approach is through partnerships of the various stakeholders.
It's a very important question.
The commission was many things, but at its heart what it did was give a microphone to survivors of the residential schools. We gave the microphone to 7,000 survivors across the country. That's how many statements we recorded. It was the largest engagement with residential school survivors in the history of this country.
The calls to action are the roll-up of all the hopes and aspirations of the survivor community and indigenous peoples across the country. That is the authority on which the TRC issued those calls to action. The commission talked to many people and reflected at length on what needs to happen. Those calls to action are directed at all of us as individuals, organizations, and parliamentarians, and of course, as a country.
We know there's broad support for implementing those calls to action. That said, they are not a one-size-fits-all answer. Throughout the calls to action around heritage preservation or around cemeteries, the conversation with communities, with survivors, has to continue. We can't just impose a one-size-fits-all solution on it, but we have to work very closely with communities to make sure that the ceremonies are properly respected, that the distance between that residential school and the community narrative is properly respected, and that communities are fully empowered to tell the story in the way they wish.
In the case of St. Michael's, that might be the destruction of the school. In other cases, that might be the preservation of the school. We have to enable that conversation to occur. That's one of our great national opportunities at the federal level, to enable that conversation to occur.
That's the sixty-four-million dollar question. Our firm is involved with the East Block rehabilitation, so I know exactly what you're talking about.
That's the centre of the debate. The first things that happen are comprehensive evaluations to ensure we understand what are the character-defining elements that give an historic place its historic and heritage value. Those are then in a sort of do-not-touch zone: preserve, enhance, do not destroy, and do not make unmitigated changes.
The whole process of rehabilitation is often a change management exercise. Things have to change because it has to be modernized for contemporary use or because there is a problem with integrity and it needs to be restored. Change has to happen, so it's a question of how to manage that change.
There are unbelievable levels of nuance in order to achieve that, but in the case of a place such as the Centre Block, you could be very sure that all of the character-defining elements, all of those aspects that you know and love and wouldn't want to see changed, will be highly respected. It would be quite surprising if new interventions were at a level that did fundamental change to the building.
The Sir John A. Macdonald Building is an example. We had to take the teller counters out of the old banking hall. My gosh, they were a character-defining element, but the new use called for a big ballroom, so there was no way we could keep the teller counters. In that case, they were sacrificed for the good of the overall project.
In a case like that of Centre Block.... Of course, it remains to be seen. They've just given the consultants their working papers to get going on it, but I would expect that it will be largely intact, and wholly intact when it comes to the character-defining elements.