Belliveau: Election's over. Now, who will stand up for Canada’s national heritage?

24 Sussex Drive

Saturday, November 30, 2019

OTTAWA CITIZEN, By Richard Belliveau

A new federal cabinet has been named. Now, who will stand up for our national heritage in the capital?

Canadians are shocked that there is no legislative protection for national historic sites or other federally designated heritage properties. We are the only G7 country with no legislative protection for its national treasures. The federal government has been AWOL on this issue.

We’ve seen the results: 24 Sussex Drive is STILL a vacant shell. Heritage properties protection legislation proposed during the last term of government went nowhere. The financial incentives to restore heritage properties are laughable. The Rideau Canal World Heritage Site is menaced on several fronts. And let’s not get started on the Château Laurier National Historic Site.

We were heartened that the Liberal Party platform for the recent election noted that:

“Preserving Canada’s heritage is essential to understanding the history of our communities, and to fostering a sense of connection between people, yet current legislation offers little direction on how Canada’s heritage places are designated and protected, putting the preservation and care of these important places at risk.”

The Liberals also said: “To provide clearer direction on how national heritage places should be designated and preserved, we will move forward with new comprehensive heritage legislation on federally owned heritage places.”

Heritage Ottawa encourages the new government, with the support of all parties, to do better. And here’s how to get moving.

1). The government of Canada should get its house in order.

There should be legislative protection for national historic sites, heritage properties designated by the Federal Heritage Review Office (FHBRO), and Canada’s World Heritage Sites, with management plans signed by the ministers of owner-departments and tabled in Parliament, with reporting and accountability. Let’s strike a multi-party committee to examine both prime ministerial accommodation and the future of 24 Sussex and not continue with demolition by neglect. The National Capital Commission and Parks Canada need to exert some muscle in protecting heritage in the national capital.

2). Financial incentives.

Federal funding over the years has been very hit-and-miss, which is a shame given the tremendous achievements that can be made with relatively small amounts of money. Other countries and other levels of government have had great success with grants programs or tax incentives. In an era of infrastructure funding, heritage conservation just makes sense. Remember, the greenest building is the one that is already there. Let’s see some commitments in the next federal budget.

3). Recognition of Indigenous heritage.

Let’s stand up for truth and reconciliation by supporting First Nations, Métis and Inuit heritage. Add their representation to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Commemorate the contributions of Indigenous peoples to Canada’s history. Ottawa is, after all, on unceded Algonquin territory.

As Canada’s national capital, Ottawa has an abundance of nationally significant structures. To protect them, the government of Canada must get its house in order. The citizens of Ottawa are proud stewards of our national heritage, but we shouldn’t have to battle the government to protect heritage places that are significant to the entire nation.

Heritage Ottawa is appealing to Parliament to stand up for our nation’s heritage in our national capital. Give the NCC and Parks Canada some authority and clear instructions to act promptly. Identify support for heritage in the new budget along the lines of the Liberal campaign platform. The Trudeau government and the opposition parties can all get behind this. Heritage is central to who we are as a country.

Richard Belliveau is the President of Heritage Ottawa.