Parks Canada: appearance before the Standing Committee

Conserving federal heritage properties

Q. We see, across the country, heritage places that are not taken care of and sometimes even demolished. If this built heritage is worth designating, why is Parks Canada not doing more to protect these sites? What additional support could Parks Canada provide to strengthen protection of non-federally owned heritage places?

The Government of Canada has taken a leadership role in the protection and promotion of Canada’s invaluable and irreplaceable heritage by investing in the National Cost-Sharing Program for Heritage Places. Since the renewal of the National Cost-Sharing Program for Heritage Places in 2008-2009, the Program has awarded over $38 million in contribution funding to 294 projects across the country which has resulted in an investment of over $101 million towards the conservation of historic places in Canada.

In addition, by investing in major conservation projects such as the projects at Fortress of Louisbourg, Rideau Canal, Province House, Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Sites, the Government of Canada recognizes the inestimable value of our country’s cultural heritage.

Parks Canada takes its role to protect Canada’s cultural heritage and share it with Canadians very seriously, but we know that more can be done. Current gaps in the protective regime of the Government of Canada’s historic places mean that Canada’s most significant historic places are not necessarily adequately protected.

In addition, Parks Canada intends to work collaboratively through the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Culture and Heritage Table to seek input from other jurisdictions on how we can strengthen protection of heritage places in Canada and will continue engaging with interested partners and stakeholders on research and data collection initiatives to help inform future directions.


Q. What is Parks Canada’s role in delivering the Government of Canada’s plan to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s land and 25 per cent of Canada’s oceans by 2025, working toward 30 per cent of each by 2030?

Parks Canada’s 47 national parks, freshwater national marine conservation areas, and other protected sites contribute 3.53 per cent, or more than a quarter of Canada’s 12.1 per cent total terrestrial protected areas. Parks Canada’s national marine conservation areas and coastal national parks contribute 2.1 per cent of Canada’s 13.81 per cent total marine and coastal protected areas.

Parks Canada’s approach to creating new protected areas is grounded in science and Indigenous knowledge and founded upon collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, and with Indigenous governments and communities.

Parks Canada works closely with approximately 300 Indigenous communities and has over 30 formal collaborative arrangements with Indigenous partners in a range of formal structures, including cooperative management boards.

Parks Canada’s work to establish new protected areas is guided by the National Parks System Plan and the National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs) System Plan. The goal of these plans is to achieve representation of each of Canada’s 39 terrestrial natural regions and 29 marine natural regions through the creation of new national parks and NMCAs, thereby contributing to domestic and international biodiversity targets. The 47 national parks currently represent 31 of Canada’s 39 terrestrial natural regions, while the five established NMCAs represent six of 29 marine regions.

Parks Canada is currently working closely with British Columbia and the Syilx/Okanagan Nation on a project to establish a national park reserve in the South Okanagan–Similkameen, and with the Government of Prince Edward Island and the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI to assess the feasibility of a new national park reserve in the Hog Island Sandhills chain in northwestern Prince Edward Island.

Parks Canada is working collaboratively with provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments on feasibility assessments for national marine conservation areas in Eastern James Bay, in the Southern Strait of Georgia in British Columbia, in the Iles de la Madeleine in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in Canada’s High Arctic Basin, and off the coast of Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador.

Auditor General's Report on conserving federal heritage properties

Q. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in 2017 and the Auditor General in 2018 both pointed out that the Government of Canada is not adequately protecting and conserving its historic places. What is Parks Canada doing about it?

Historic places are important to Canada’s national identity, and to fostering a sense of connection between Canadians by telling our diverse stories. These places play significant economic, socio-cultural and environmental roles in Canada, including in urban, rural, remote and Indigenous communities. The attachment of Canadians to their cultural heritage is undeniable.

Current gaps in the protective regime of the Government of Canada’s historic places mean that Canada’s most significant historic places cannot be adequately protected.

Parks Canada is the lead organization for heritage railway stations, heritage lighthouses, federal heritage buildings, federal archaeology and programs that relate primarily to built heritage.

Parks Canada has already undertaken steps to address the concerns raised by the ENVI Committee in 2017 and the Auditor General in 2018.

In fall 2017, the ENVI Committee tabled its report, Preserving Canada’s Heritage: The Foundation for Tomorrow. The report’s 17 recommendations go beyond the protection and preservation of heritage places administered by the Government of Canada.

In November 2018, the Auditor General of Canada tabled in Parliament the report, Conserving Federal Heritage Properties. The findings of the report are that Parks Canada does not have a full picture of the number and condition of the heritage buildings under its responsibility, cannot conserve all of its designated heritage properties and sets priorities based on available resources to determine which properties will be maintained, conserved and monitored regularly. The Agency accepted the recommendations.

On December 13, 2019, the Prime Minister mandated me to “work with the Minister of Canadian Heritage to provide clearer direction on how national historic places should be designated and preserved, and to develop comprehensive legislation on federally-owned heritage places.”

Parks Canada is working on the development of legislation to protect and conserve federally owned historic places. Under the current legislative regime, designation does not equal protection nor conservation, even for federally-owned historic places. Federal designations include:

A comprehensive stand-alone legislation would bring Canada on par with other G7 countries. At this time, Canada is the only G7 country still relying on policies to protect historic places, instead of a comprehensive legislative regime supported by regulations, policies and programs.

The Agency is also working with other departments to strengthen protection and conservation of federally owned historic places. For example, as the federal lead for built heritage and archaeology, Parks Canada is contributing to the review of the Treasury Board Secretariat’s Policy on the Management of Real Property.

Indigenous involvement

Q. What is Parks Canada doing to increase Indigenous involvement?

Parks Canada is committed to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 79.

As part of the funding received through Budget 2018, Parks Canada and Indigenous partners will transform the historical narrative at select places administered by Parks Canada by co-developing new ways of understanding and experiencing these places and ensuring Indigenous perspectives are fully present and acknowledged.

With the funding received, Parks Canada has selected 25 projects from across the country to begin this important work. Engagement with Indigenous partners is critical to successful co-development and understating the objectives of ourpartners during these early stages is key.

A significant portion of the funding received from Budget 2018 is for capacity assistance so Indigenous partners have the capacity and resources they require to work collaboratively with Parks Canada. This work is currently underway.

Call to Action 79 calls upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal organizations, and the arts community, to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration. This would include, but not be limited to:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

There has been an enormous shift in historical understandings and perspectives on the past over the years and an acknowledgment that for the most part, Canada’s history has largely been viewed through a colonial lens. The Framework for History and Commemoration: National Historic Sites System Plan, approved in June 2019, provides principles, strategic priorities and key practices that will help Parks Canada transform how it presents the country’s history to Canadians.

The history of Indigenous Peoples is identified as a priority in the Framework and is supported by key practices that have been adopted by Parks Canada, including seeking opportunities for Indigenous Peoples to share and communicate their history on their own terms. The Framework is the foundation for transforming the historical narrative at Parks Canada’s heritage places and Budget 2018 will accelerate this work with respect to the incorporation of Indigenous voices, values and perspectives.

Parks Canada places with project funding include Jasper NP (AB), Cave and Basin NHS (AB), Fort Langley NHS (BC), Kluane NP, Vuntut NP, Klondike NHS, Chilkoot NHS, S.S. Klondike NHS (YK), Fort Battleford (SK), Rouge NUP (ON), Fort Chambly NHS (QC), Torngat and Mealy NPs (NL) and Skmaqn-Port LaJoye-Fort Amherst NHS (PEI).

Of the $15.2 million in new funding received to implement CTA79, $4.4 million is dedicated to transforming the historical narrative at select PCA sites across the country. Over half of this funding is targeted for capacity assistance directly to Indigenous partners.

Outreach, marketing and engagement

Q. What is Parks Canada offering to Canadians to help them connect with their natural and cultural treasures?

Promotion of Parks Canada places and experiences helps to increase awareness of Canada’s national protected places and foster a greater awareness and sense of community in Canada. It also supports tourism in some 400 communities across Canada located adjacent to Parks Canada places, contributing some $4 billion to Canada’s GDP.

Parks Canada’s outreach, community engagement, and promotions efforts have yielded positive results in terms of increasing awareness and support and reversing more than a decade of declining visitation.

Parks Canada reaches families, new Canadians and youth using outreach, engagement and promotional programming that bring together social media, proactive relations with travel media and travel trade, promotions, a strong digital presence, partner engagement, and community-based outreach activities.

Since 2017, multi-channel outreach and promotional activities have resulted in increased participation and engagement of Canadians, a growing digital and social media following. Programs like Learn to Camp and Parks Canada’s community engagement programming has surpassed 600,000 outreach contacts per year, over 15 million web visitors per year, and a promotional newsletter reaching 2.4M people. The 2018 and 2019 advertising campaign “450 000 km2 of memories” reached an estimated 26 million people and led to record awareness levels (90%) and increased support of the work of Parks Canada (currently 84%) based on quarterly national surveys.

To encourage more Canadians to experience the outdoors and learn about Canada’s history, Parks Canada continues to innovate, expand and diversify the range of programs and experiences available at its heritage places. These include popular programs such as Learn to Camp, Club Parka, Xplorers, Youth Ambassadors, Cultural Access Pass and Campus Clubs.

A variety of targeted outreach and engagement activities are also leveraged to help influence visitor behavior by promoting less-frequented destinations and to better distribute visitation across the Parks Canada network.

Parks Canada Fees

Why did Parks Canada adjust its fees for the first time since 2008?

The 2017 Service Fees Act requires regular adjustments to service fees to reflect inflation, regular reporting to Parliament on service fees, and improvements in cost-recovery for fees that provide a private benefit to individuals or businesses.

The 2017 Service Fees Act provides for increased transparency in the setting of fees and the reporting of revenue across all Government of Canada organizations. It also requires that departments and agencies improve cost-recovery, particularly for services that largely bring a private benefit to individuals and businesses.

In January 2020, as part of the Agency’s implementation of the 2017 Service Fees Act, Parks Canada introduced a 2.2% increase on most fees. The Agency also updated admission fees at 21 sites to better reflect the enhanced level of service now offered at these locations. This was the first increase in fees at Parks Canada since 2008.

Parks Canada administers more than 3,500 individual fees, ranging from admission to accommodation, to lockage, as well as municipal services, business licenses and various permits. All of these fees fall under the scope of the 2017 Service Fees Act. Parks Canada fees had not been increased since 2008.

Parks Canada’s admission fee structure is based on the level of service offered at each location. These service levels are based on the number of hours a visitor would typically spend on-site, as well as the variety of programs, services, and facilities available to visitors.  The Agency recently assessed the service offer at each location, and reclassified 21 sites to better reflect their current level of service.

Parks Canada is a special operating agency and retains the revenues earned from service fees. These revenues are reinvested in service delivery and help provide greater opportunities for visitors across the country. The Agency depends significantly on these revenues which represent approximately 20 percent of its operating budget.


Q. Since 2015–2016, Parks Canada has received nearly $3.6 billion to rehabilitate built assets in national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas. This funding expires in 2019–2020. However, “in 2019, its annual Asset Report Card indicated that 61% of the Agency’s built assets are in good to fair condition.”

Can you explain how the $3.6 billion allocated for the rehabilitation of built assets was spent?

Using the $3.6 billion of time-limited funding provided by the Government since 2015, the Agency has reduced serious public health and safety risk throughout its network of major highways, improved water management and navigation along Canada’s historic domestic waterways, enhanced the experience of the over 25 million annual visitors to Park’s places, and protected and restored key sites that reflect Canada’s cultural and natural history.

In addition to this temporary funding, the Agency has also used its permanent capital resources that equal approximately $60 million per year (or a total of $360 million from 2014-15 through 2019-20) to make further gains in the condition of its portfolio of assets.

From 2015 to the end of this fiscal year – including all sources of funding – Parks Canada will have spent $3.14 billion of capital funding on its portfolio of built assets.

957 projects will have been delivered across virtually all 224 Parks places, in every province and territory by the end of 2022-23.

The result is a significant overall improvement in the condition of Parks Canada’s over 17,500 assets. Broadly, Parks has improved the condition of its portfolio of assets from 47% in Good-to-Fair condition in 2012 up to 61% in 2019.

To note, while the temporary capital funds provided by the Government since 2015 were originally expected to expire in 2019-20, they were approved to be extended out to 2021-22 to better align with the delivery schedules of the Agency’s projects.

Finally, the Government has provided a further $317 million in capital through Budget 2019. These funds will be used to sustain the Agency’s investment program and to broaden the positive impacts it is making through the delivery of important priority projects across the country.

Q. Until 2018–2019, the Agency planned to improve 100% of heritage structures in poor condition by March 2020, a target that was revised to 60% for 2019–2020.

Can you explain why the rehabilitation target was reduced?

The reality is that a confluence of factors have meant that meeting the 100% target originally set in 2015 was not going to be achievable by 2020.

Cost estimation; the size and value of the Agency’s asset portfolio and the condition of individual assets are better understood today than when the 100% target was set in 2014-15.

External factors that impact both costs and asset condition that were not fully integrated in 2015 are now key consideration of the investments that the Agency is making: cultural heritage conservation, ecological restoration, and climate change adaptation and resilience.

Rouge National Urban Park

Q. Can you provide an update on the Rouge National Urban Park?

Rouge National Urban Park’s first ever management plan was tabled in Parliament in January 2019 and the park’s land assembly is now substantially (nearly 95%) complete. In August 2019, Minister McKenna and Toronto Mayor John Tory announced the location of the park’s future visitor centre on lands the Toronto Zoo has agreed to relinquish to Parks Canada. Parks Canada is working closely with Indigenous partners, Friends of Rouge National Urban Park and other stakeholders on design options for the visitor centre. With the park’s land assembly substantially completed, a Minister-appointed park advisory committee is expected to be named in the coming mandate.

The establishment of RNUP is now at an advanced stage, with the park’s first new trails and day use areas opening in 2019, and Parks Canada now manages 94.7 per cent of lands identified for Rouge National Urban Park.

In 2017 the Rouge National Urban Park Act was amended by the Government of Canada to ensure that ecological integrity is first priority when managing the park, and also to provide greater certainty for farmers. To this end, I committed to providing park farmers with leases of up to 30 years to provide them with long-term stability. Longer term leases give farmers an opportunity to make investments in sustainable agricultural practices and continue providing an important source of locally-grown food to the Greater Toronto Area.

Parks Canada will continue working collaboratively with farmers to encourage the development and implementation of best farming practices, which will assist in achieving desired ecological conditions across the landscape.

The RNUP Management Plan was tabled Jan. 16, 2019. In completing the plan, Parks Canada engaged with over 20,000 Canadians and worked closely with Indigenous Peoples, all levels of government, conservationists, farmers, residents, and volunteers in one of the Agency’s most significant and largest ever public engagement processes.

On Aug. 27, 2019, the Government of Canada, Parks Canada and the Toronto Zoo announced an agreement regarding the location of the future RNUP visitor centre, which will be built on the lands formerly part of the Toronto’s Zoo’s naturalized overflow parking. The facility will be a learning, orientation and community centre where students, visitors and residents learn about the Rouge’s as well as about Parks Canada’s places across the country.

On Sept. 23, 2019, the first Parks Canada-built trail and day-use areas in RNUP opened to the public. The 5 km multi-use trail weaves through fields of crops, marshland and shaded woodlots where visitors can observe farming in action, from planting to harvest. The new trail connects the two newly built and opened welcome areas in the Markham area of the park.

With ecological integrity enshrined as RNUP’s first priority, Parks Canada has put into place a very ambitious ecological restoration and species-at-risk recovery program. To this end, since 2014, Parks Canada, the Toronto Zoo and other partners have reintroduced 339 threatened Blanding’s turtles into the park.

As described in the Rouge National Urban Park Act, an advisory committee for the Park may be appointed by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. During Minister McKenna’s mandate, she committed to establishing the advisory committee once the park’s land assembly was substantially complete and the management plan released.

The first of its kind in Canada, Rouge National Urban Park protects Canada’s natural, cultural and agricultural heritage and is situated within one hour’s drive of 20 per cent of Canada’s population. Once fully established, the park will be 23 times larger than Central Park in New York and one of the largest urban protected areas in the world.

If struck by the Minister, the park’s advisory committee would be comprised of local municipalities and Ontario, as well as representatives from the RNUP First Nations Advisory Circle. Appointment of members from various stakeholder sectors would be made through an open public nomination process.

Since 2012, Parks Canada has worked closely with the RNUP First Nations Advisory Circle on all aspects of the park’s establishment and programming, including co-designing park trails and infrastructure, and working together on park restoration, archaeology and educational programming.

Parks Canada is working closely with key stakeholders and Indigenous partners in designing the park’s flagship learning, visitor and community centre in the Toronto area of the park, with public engagement on the centre’s concept expected to take place in late 2020, and a targeted opening date of fall 2023.

Over the next three years, a significant amount of new trails, visitor amenities and conservation projects are expected to open or be completed, including the addition of approximately 40 kilometres of new trails and planting of over 100,000 trees and shrubs.

Visitation and visitor experiences

Q. What are Parks Canada visitation rates?

Heritage places attract millions of visitors annually and are important economic engines in communities across Canada. Visitation in 2018-19, the most recent figures available, was 25.1 million. National parks received 15.9 million visitors, while visitation to national historic sites (including canals) was 9.2 million.

Visitation in 2018-19 was the second highest in almost two decades, second only to 2017 which had free admission as part of Canada 150 celebrations.

Visitation in 2018-19 was on par (1% higher) with 2016-17. Parks Canada maintained previous gains in visitation achieved prior to free admission, providing continued economic benefits to local communities and businesses.

Visitation in 2019-20 is projected to be approximately 25 million, on par with last year (2018-19). Final figures are not yet available.

When people visit heritage places, they experience a stronger connection to Canada’s nature and history.

Maintaining ecological and commemorative integrity is a prerequisite to all programs and activities supporting the enjoyment of heritage places.

Visitor programming helps bring Canadians closer together. Citizenship ceremonies held at Parks Canada places celebrate Canada’s diversity as does the Agency’s program for free admission for one year for all new citizens. Parks Canada’s Learn to Camp program introduces families to outdoor recreation who may not have previously experienced camping or had opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

Families can enjoy heritage places more cost effectively. Youth aged 17 and under can experience heritage places for free.

Parks Canada is committed to protecting the ecological and commemorative integrity of the heritage places administered by the Agency and implements a variety of tools to limit development and manage visitation. These tools are rooted in public consultation and engagement and include tools like management plans, zoning, environmental assessment, and demand management.

Parks Canada delivers meaningful experiences to 25 million visitors each year while also ensuring that the enjoyment of heritage places does not negatively impact their ecological or commemorative integrity.

Wood Buffalo National Park

Q. In 2017, the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee requested that Canada develop an Action Plan for the Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site to address threats to the site’s Outstanding Universal Value as a result of climate change and pressures from the increasing pace and scale of development (hydro-electric and oil sands) outside its boundaries. What has Parks Canada done so far?

The Government of Canada recognizes the Outstanding Universal Value of Canada’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and is committed to their ongoing protection.

Through Budget 2018, the Government of Canada has demonstrated its commitment to the protection of the Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site by investing $27.5 million to support the development of the Action Plan and its early implementation.

The Action Plan was submitted to the World Heritage Committee on February 1, 2019 and tabled in Parliament in March 2019.

The Action Plan is a comprehensive response to the World Heritage Committee concerns and includes 142 actions that are focused on:

In July 2019, the World Heritage Committee welcomed the Action Plan and urged Canada to make additional investments in support of the Plan’s implementation due to the complexity of the conservation challenges the park is facing.

Canada will submit a report on progress with the Action Plan’s implementation to the World Heritage Committee by December 1, 2020.

Through the measures outlined in the Action Plan, through ongoing collaboration with partners, and by making use of the best available science and Indigenous knowledge, the Outstanding Universal Value of Wood Buffalo National Park will be preserved and the important issues identified by the World Heritage Committee will be addressed.

Canada is leading the implementation of the Action Plan in collaboration with the Government of Alberta, Government of British Columbia, Government of Northwest Territories, Indigenous partners of Wood Buffalo National Park and stakeholders.

Under Budget 2018, Parks Canada Agency received $27.5 million to develop the Action Plan and support implementation of limited early actions.

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