Madam Speaker, it is truly a pleasure and indeed an honour to speak in support of Bill C-23. For me, Bill C-23 has really important personal connections. Part of this connection arises from the more than 30 years I spent prior to politics working with Parks Canada. I worked in and managed many well-known and well-loved national parks, such as Pacific Rim National Park Reserve; Yoho, Kootenay and Banff National Parks; Wood Buffalo National Park; and Riding Mountain National Park. I also worked in and supported national historic sites, such as the Dawson Historical Complex, the Chilkoot Trail, HMCS Haida, Fort Langley, Fort Walsh, Fort George, Fort Malden and Woodside, among others.
Along with my extensive career with Parks Canada, I also carried Bill C-374 through the House in the 42nd Parliament, where the bill, which would have advanced reconciliation through the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action 79(i), received unanimous support. Unfortunately, the bill did not make it to completion and died in the Senate with the dissolution of Parliament at the end of the 42nd Parliament. I am truly honoured to be back and now seeing my private member's bill and much-needed changes in support of protecting Canada's national treasures covered in Bill C-23 and being debated in the chamber today.
Before digging into the importance of this bill, I must respectfully acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe peoples. I also respectfully acknowledge that the lands, waters and ice where we live, work and play all across Canada are the ancestral and traditional territories and homelands of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. The Government of Canada honours their connections, stories and histories.
I am aware that such an acknowledgement is perhaps a small step along the path of reconciliation, but it is not without meaning. Acknowledgements such as this are a gesture of respect and awareness, a recognition of the original stewards of this land now known as Canada and a recognition that the history of this land did not begin with the arrival of Europeans. It is also aligned with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As my fellow members know, Canada has committed to its full and effective implementation. It is for this reason that Parliament adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in June 2021. In that sense, the bill we are debating today represents another important step along the path of reconciliation.
Let me explain. Bill C-23 has two main goals: advance reconciliation and promote inclusion through better heritage designations; and create stronger protection for federal historic places. The bill was developed with the principles of inclusion, transparency and sustainability in mind.
With respect to improving federal heritage designations, Bill C-23 would enable the government to advance its commitments to implement all the relevant calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I refer specifically to call to action 79, which calls on the Government of Canada to collaborate with survivors, indigenous organizations and the arts community to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration. The commission stated that this should include, at a minimum, the following three items:
i. Amending the Historic Sites and Monuments Act to include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and its Secretariat.
ii. Revising the policies, criteria, and practices of the National Program of Historical Commemoration to integrate Indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices into Canada’s national heritage and history.
iii. Developing and implementing a national heritage plan and strategy for commemorating residential school sites, the history and legacy of residential schools, and the contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canada’s history.
This first point was the content of my private member's bill, and I am honoured to see this item and the entirety of call to action 79 back before the House.
I am pleased to say that the government has made significant progress toward the implementation of these important actions. In budget 2018, for example, the government committed close to $24 million over five years to recognize and integrate indigenous peoples' histories, voices and perspectives at heritage places administered by Parks Canada. In budget 2022, the government committed to providing Parks Canada with $25 million over three years to support the commemoration and memorialization of former residential school sites.
In terms of policy, in 2019, Parks Canada released its new system plan, entitled “Framework for History and Commemoration”. Based on extensive public consultation, including with indigenous groups and communities, the new framework describes how the agency will address four strategic priorities, including the history of indigenous peoples and diversity.
The history of indigenous peoples includes the whole of indigenous experiences since time immemorial, such as indigenous histories, indigenous connections to the land and the complexity and diversity of indigenous cultures, as well as the legacy of colonialism and its impact on indigenous peoples. The commemoration of residential school sites, as well as the history and far-reaching legacy and impact of residential schools on generations of indigenous peoples, is integral to this effort.
By way of context, I would remind members that the designation of persons, events and places of national historic significance is based almost entirely on nominations from the public. Anyone and everyone can make a recommendation for designation.
Individuals or organizations may submit nominations to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, which in turn makes recommendations for designation to the minister. The board is supported in this work by Parks Canada, which provides professional and administrative services, including the historical and archaeological research needed to enable proper evaluation of nominations.
In September 2020, following its nomination by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the Government of Canada designated the residential school system, a tragic and defining event in Canadian history, as an event of national historic significance. Coinciding with this designation, two former residential schools were designated as national historic sites: the former Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School in Manitoba and the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Nova Scotia.
The process leading to these designations exemplifies the Government of Canada’s commitment to working with indigenous peoples and communities to share the experiences of indigenous children in these schools to ensure that this history is never forgotten.
The former Portage La Prairie residential school is located on the reserve lands of the Long Plain First Nation. It was nominated for designation by the first nation. Following the nomination, Parks Canada and the Long Plain First Nation worked collaboratively to identify the historic values of this former residential school and co-authored the report submitted to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
The designation of the site of the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School followed a similar collaborative process. The site was nominated by the Tripartite Culture and Heritage Working Committee of the Mi'kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite Forum. Parks Canada and the committee collaborated in identifying the historic values of the former school and co-authored the submission to the board.
Since these initial designations, Parks Canada has also worked with the Muskowekwan First Nation for the designation of the former Muscowequan Indian Residential School in Lestock, Saskatchewan, and with the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association for the designation of the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Parks Canada continues to collaborate with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and its network of residential school survivors, with indigenous cultural heritage advisers, with federal colleagues and with the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to consider other former schools for designation and determine the most appropriate ways to commemorate the history and legacy of the residential school system in Canada.
With these recent residential school site designations in mind, let us pause to reflect on the importance of non-federal owners of national historic sites for the overall system. Not all national historic sites are owned by the Government of Canada. In fact, the vast majority of national historic sites are owned by other governments, not-for-profit organizations and individual private property owners.
Under Bill C-23, all existing national historic site designations would be retained, no matter who owns the site. The cultural heritage conservation programming, such as the national cost-share program offered by Parks Canada to non-federal owners of national historic sites, would continue to be available.
National historic site designations reflect 100 years of work by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in collaboration with the public. Bill C-23 builds on this century of work. It would maintain the essential role played by the public in proposing new designations. It would respect the board but with expanded membership. Let me also point out that there are no plans to change the names of these iconic national historic sites, which are, I stress, located in communities across Canada.
In addition to recommending new designations, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada also has a mandate to review designations that have been made in the past. This is necessary to ensure they reflect present-day knowledge and scholarship.
We have seen a number of examples of national historic persons whose legacies are now controversial because they are known to have held racist or anti-Semitic views or to have proposed and carried out colonial policies and actions against indigenous peoples. I hope we can all recognize in today’s thinking that certain designations are outdated, such as the discovery of the Mackenzie River, the discovery of Prince Edward Island and designations of fur trade posts without acknowledging the original peoples with whom these places of commerce conducted their trade, as we see at Fort Langley National Historic Site.
As part of the implementation of its new framework for history and commemoration, Parks Canada is collaborating with the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and other partners to review designations of national historic sites, persons and events made by the Government of Canada since 1919. The review includes examining the content that appears on the bronze plaques associated with these designations and installed as part of the commemorative process.
I am certain all members will agree that indigenous voices must be an integral part of this review, as well as in consideration of future nominations for designation. Bill C-23 would address this important consideration by expanding the current membership of the board to include representation by first nations, Inuit and Métis as called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These representatives would be appointed by the Governor in Council following consultations with indigenous groups.
I would remind the House that this change is consistent with Bill C-374, my former private member's bill. Many will recall that this was passed unanimously by the House of Commons in 2018, but subsequently died in the Senate. In fact, the bill before us would strengthen that initiative by requiring that the work of the board be informed by indigenous knowledge, and that indigenous knowledge be considered on an equal footing with other sources of information.
Indigenous peoples continue to suffer the impacts of colonialism while slowly healing from the legacy of the residential schools system. The time is now to proceed with this bill. It would help to ensure nationally significant historic persons, places and events would be truly representative of Canada’s history and meaningful for all Canadians, including indigenous peoples, youth and members of diverse groups across the country.
In 2019, the Environics Institute’s “Canadian Youth Reconciliation Barometer” found that 89% of indigenous youth and 87% of non-indigenous youth thought it was important “for all non-Indigenous Canadians to understand the true history of how Indigenous Peoples have been treated by governments and society in this country.” Bill C-23 would help make this vision a reality. We are committed to presenting our history in a manner that is both representative and meaningful.
We are also committed to ensuring that the historic places that inform and inspire us today are preserved for generations to come. This is history that we can see and touch. Historic places help to tell the stories of Canada while delivering social, economic and environmental benefits to communities of all sizes in every province and territory. Indeed, national historic sites administered by Parks Canada alone contribute over $600 million a year to Canada’s GDP. Directly and indirectly, they support more than 6,000 jobs across the country, including in rural, remote and indigenous communities.
It would probably come as no surprise to many Canadians that the vast majority of the more than 300 federally owned historic places, including the Parliament buildings, have no legal protection. Canada is the only country in the G7 without comprehensive legislation for the protection of historic places. The federal government is also behind the provinces and territories in this area, all of which have heritage legislation in place to protect and conserve historic places under their respective jurisdictions.
In the federal realm, this has been pointed out by sources ranging from the Auditor General to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, which is a committee that I was part of in the 42nd Parliament and that studied this issue for the first time. There is no coherent framework for the protection of heritage assets entrusted to the care of the Government of Canada. Instead, they are protected or not protected through a range of legal and policy obligations adopted over the years.
As a result, current federal heritage designations do not necessarily lead to protection nor conservation unless the site is also designated as a heritage railway station or a heritage lighthouse. Both of these have specific protection under separate legislation arising from private members' bills. Heritage railway stations and heritage lighthouses are the only federal designations that automatically include legal protection. Rectifying this situation is essential and urgent.
In its 2017 report, “Preserving Canada’s Heritage”, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development noted that many of our heritage places are disappearing or are under threat. It issued a stark warning: Once the heritage value of a historic place is lost, the damage cannot be undone. It is lost forever.
The Auditor General echoed these concerns. In the fall 2018 report, “Conserving Federal Heritage Properties”, the Auditor General noted the deterioration of a number of federal heritage buildings. Just as concerning is that it found the custodians of these historic places, which were the federal authorities that own these buildings, had incomplete and inaccurate information about their holdings.
Complete and current information matters. It allows Canadians and parliamentarians to fully appreciate, understand and discuss the condition of heritage properties, as well as the potential consequences of not conserving them.
While the organizations that were audited, including Parks Canada, have undertaken to address the issues identified by the Auditor General, it is clear that a more comprehensive legislative approach to protect and conserve these irreplaceable places is needed. That is what Bill C-23 would provide transparently and sustainably. In direct response to the recommendations of the Auditor General, it would introduce a legal obligation for Parks Canada to establish and maintain a public register listing all previous and new designations made by the minister.
To further enhance transparency, departments would be required to report the condition of historic places for which they are responsible. This type of disclosure would provide an incentive for departments to be proactive in maintaining the heritage value of historic places under their care. There would be clear direction to departments on how to carry out modifications to historic places properly and in a financially responsible manner while respecting greening and accessibility requirements.
The bill would provide a common and mandatory benchmark of respected, flexible and sustainable guidance on these matters. There would also be a requirement for departments to consult with Parks Canada specialists prior to making any changes to a historic place that could impact its heritage value.
This would be Canada’s first act dedicated to the designation and protection of federally owned historic places. It would result in transparent decision-making, the sharing of accurate and meaningful information with Canadians and parliamentarians, and the sustainable protection of federally owned historic places.
Bill C-23 would be inclusive. In addition to the new representatives for indigenous peoples, Bill C-23 would provide clear authority and direction to revise and, when needed, to revoke designations that no longer reflect current understandings of the complexity of Canadian history.
Bill C-23 is the product of extensive engagement and input from indigenous partners and groups; federal departments; representatives of the provinces, territories and municipalities; and other key stakeholders, including national heritage organizations.
The bill would represent concrete action for reconciliation. It would reflect the Government of Canada’s commitment to identify, protect and conserve historic places in Canada through collaboration and engagement with indigenous partners; provincial, territorial and municipal governments; and heritage stakeholders.
If adopted, it would replace the current incomplete legislation and policies with a strong legislative framework to help guide the management of treasured places across Canada, and it would ensure they can be enjoyed for generations to come.
I can personally speak to the operational and management challenges of overseeing contiguous national historic sites, such as Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse, which were designated under different federal acts. Both sites occasionally experience vandalism.
In the case of Fort Rodd Hill, Parks Canada’s law enforcement service could enforce the legislation, while at the adjacent Fisgard Lighthouse, the local police of jurisdiction needed to be called. Imagine the challenges and frustrations I and my colleagues experienced while awaiting the arrival of the local police to deal with pot diggers who were ruining ancient indigenous resources.
These local law enforcement agencies were often dealing with other municipal policing priorities. This left me, as a manager, knowing that I was entrusted by Canadians to ensure the protection of these resources, but powerless and without the tools to offer these protections. These types of legal and administrative roadblocks would be addressed through Bill C-23.
I offer that Bill C-23 would not address the issues faced by national historic sites not owned by the federal government, but this legislation would be an important step and a significant step forward in ensuring that federally owned national historic sites are protected. This would be an important first step to ensure that Canada could meet its international obligations to safeguard our heritage.
Future work must consider whether the current national cost-share program is the primary level of support for privately owned and federally designated sites and if this enough. However, that is a debate for another day. Together, we can give our past a future and ensure the stewardship of historic places in Canada, inclusively, transparently and sustainably. I urge all members to join me today in supporting this bill.