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National Historic Sites

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Statement made on 03 February 2009 by Senator Lorna Milne (retired)

Hon. Lorna Milne:

Honourable senators, I bring to your attention the recent findings of an Environics survey of National Historic Sites in Canada.

The survey was commissioned by Parks Canada and found that 69 per cent of our 689 National Historic Sites managed by owners other than the federal government are deteriorating and will need major rehabilitation within the next two years.

In Ontario, the situation is just as bleak. The survey reveals that only 37 per cent of owners in Ontario report that their site is in good condition.

Canada's National Historic Sites range from sacred spaces and battlefields to buildings and archaeological sites. Parks Canada calls them places of profound importance to Canada, bearing witness to the nation's defining moments.

National historic sites encompass such national icons as the Parliament Buildings and the Fortress of Louisbourg, as well as lesser known sites such as the former post office in Almonte, Ontario.

Despite the national significance of the sites, the federal government is largely absent as a funding partner. According to the Canadian Heritage Foundation, the National Historic Sites Cost-Share Program — NHSCSP — provided bricks-and-mortar funding to 57 non-federal sites between 1988 and 2000.

That funding benefited sites like the Inglis Grain Elevators in Dauphin, Manitoba. and the Saint John City Market in New Brunswick. Projects of this cost share program leveraged two to three times the $27 million invested by the federal government. However, since 2000, the program has been dormant and without funding. In 2003, the Auditor General reported that at least 118 requests for funding had gone unanswered.

The current government has proposed a "national trust" managed by the private sector to attract private donations for the restoration of heritage buildings. To that end, a two-day stakeholder meeting was held last February to develop a model largely based on a similar program in the United Kingdom.

In Budget 2007, $5 million was allocated over two years for the establishment of this trust. This national trust will be able to receive donations and contributions to ensure its long-term sustainability. Apparently, it will be managed and directed by private-sector individuals and will be held at arm's length from the government. However, it is my understanding that this "national trust" has yet to be established, even though hundreds of our historic sites need restoration work now.

Why should Canadians not invest directly in the restoration of their own living history? I am not suggesting that taxpayers foot the entire bill for these projects, but I would argue that additional funding is necessary to help leverage some of the most needy sites get the requisite repairs to prevent them from collapsing.

Unfortunately, this is a situation that cannot afford to wait because once a historic site is gone, it is gone forever. No amount of money can ever bring it back.

Honourable senators, I did not hear a word about this subject in the recent Speech from the Throne or the budget. What is happening to that $5 million?

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