Conserving Federal Heritage Properties

Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Conserving Federal Heritage Properties

(Report 2—2018 Fall Reports of the Auditor General of Canada)

2 May 2019

Jerome Berthelette
Assistant Auditor General

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to present the results of our report on conserving federal heritage properties. We looked at physical assets that the government safeguards on behalf of Canadians—in this case, the country’s national historic sites and heritage buildings. Joining me at the table is Susan Gomez, who was the director responsible for the audit.

There are long-standing problems in the conservation of Canada’s federal heritage properties, and we saw few improvements since we last audited this area in 2003 and 2007.

We found that Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and National Defence either did not know how many heritage buildings they had or did not know what condition the buildings were in. For example, Parks Canada’s database identified that the Agency had only 186 heritage buildings. That information was inaccurate, so we asked the Agency to review that number. The Agency took over four weeks to provide us with what it said was a complete list of 504 heritage buildings.

Regarding the condition of heritage buildings, we found that National Defence’s data was based on assessments completed in the 2009–10 fiscal year, even though assessments for most of their heritage buildings had recently been updated. In 2017, Fisheries and Oceans Canada had updated assessments for only 7 of its 267 heritage buildings.

As a result, the information that the organizations provided to the public and to Parliament about these properties was either incorrect or incomplete.

We also found that conservation decisions were based on available resources and operational requirements, rather than heritage considerations. The money that was needed to maintain federal heritage properties was not always available.

For example, Parks Canada told us that it invested $50.5 million between 2015 and 2018 to maintain and conserve the Agency’s heritage properties. However, its deferred maintenance backlog on federal heritage properties was $1.2 billion in 2017.

We also noted that there was no link between the designation of new heritage buildings and their conservation. Needs have outpaced efforts when it comes to the conservation of federal heritage properties, yet the number of properties continues to grow. Because there has been no additional funding to conserve these properties, there is a risk that more may fall into disrepair and eventually be erased from the country’s history.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the Committee may have. Thank you.