After years of advocating for federal legislation to protect Canada's designated heritage places, Heritage Ottawa eagerly welcomed the first reading on June 7 of Bill C-23: An Act respecting places, persons and events of national historic significance or national interest, archaeological resources and cultural and natural heritage called the Historic Places of Canada Act. The federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change will be responsible for the Act and Parks Canada Agency will administer it.
An important first step
Canada is the only G-7 country without legislation to protect its designated heritage places. This fact leaves hundreds of places of cultural heritage value without legal protection. And that includes Canada's Parliament Buildings.
The draft bill is an important first step and Heritage Ottawa was pleased to see that it addresses recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Report with concrete actions to support recognition of the history and culture of Indigenous, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Strengthening the Draft Bill
Other protective measures in the draft bill, however, need strengthening if the legislation is to be truly effective. Heritage Ottawa recommends that the government consider the following additions to the draft bill:
Accountability: include a mechanism for reporting on the state of federally-owned heritage properties, such as a tabled Annual Report;
Dispute Mechanism: where departments that own federally designated heritage assets disagree with Parks Canada Agency on appropriate heritage conservation measures, an independent third party (such as the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada) could be empowered to mediate;
Disposal: from time to time, the federal government disposes of heritage designated properties; the continued protection of these properties should be ensured under new ownership with the implementation of such measures as conservation easements;
Coverage: the draft bill only applies to heritage designated properties owned by federal departments; to strengthen its effectiveness the bill should apply to all regulated entities, as is the case with the Accessible Canada Act; and
Provision of implementing Regulations.
These practical measures would serve to make Bill C-23 a more robust effective piece of legislation.
Heritage Ottawa will convey our concerns on the draft legislation to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, and to Parliament in the fall, when the bill moves to second reading in the House of Commons. Stay tuned.