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HERITAGE AT RISK
The greatest single issue facing the Rideau Canal is the negative impact on the natural and cultural heritage of the canal by the disproportionate budget cuts, lack of support by the Government of Canada, and innatention to heritage by Parks Canada. The Rideau Canal is National Historic Site of Canada, a Canadian Heritage River, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The requirements that come with these designations are not being met by Parks Canada or the Government of Canada. In addition to putting a valuable part of our Canadian heritage at risk, the cuts and mismananagement by Parks Canada are putting the economies of communities in the Rideau Corridor at risk since they depend to a large degree on heritage tourism.
The Rideau Canal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 in part because "it is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early 19th century that remains operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact." Issues surrounding lack of maintenance, lack of heritage presentation, the length of the season and even lockage fees all impact on that part of the World Heritage designation. The main heritage presentation of the Rideau Canal is boats moving through locks. The recent debacles by Parks Canada regarding the operating season and the lockage fees will only serve to drive away boaters. Parks Canada's characterization of the Rideau Canal as simply a recreational waterway, with no mention of its heritage value, is a shameful position to take. Unfortunately that position is supported by the Government of Canada who, from their actions regarding the Rideau Canal, apparently do not care about Canadian heritage.
Heritage is a complex issue and there are several pages on this website dealing with various aspects of this issue.
World Heritage At Risk - this section looks at the World Heritage obligations of the Rideau Canal, several which are not now being met. Parks Canada has chosen to make the deepest cuts to its National Historic Sites - not only making disproportionaly deep cuts to the Rideau Canal, but also to heritage support staff throughout Parks Canada. The expertise and funding to support the Rideau Canal as a World Heritage Site are being removed.
Heritage Issues List - Rideau Canal heritage is much more than just the recent World Heritage designation - the canal has been a vibrant part of Eastern Ontario since 1832. Communities along the canal have grown up with it and its residents have deep ties to the canal. There are many ways in which Parks Canada and the Government of Canada should be supporting the heritage of the Rideau Canal. The list I compiled in 2010 outlines a few of these.
Heritage Management - there is no Heritage Manager or equivalent within the management structure of the Rideau Canal. That gap is evident with the numerous heritage issues currently facing the canal. With the loss of heritage expertise within the corporate structure of Parks Canada, there is more need than ever to have that kind of skill set on the Rideau Canal.
Heritage Awareness - heritage awareness is something that has to be worked at. It is a responsibility of Parks Canada to foster heritage awareness of the Rideau Canal - something that has been poorly done over the last few years and now, with the cuts, will almost cease.
Dumbing Down of Parks Canada - in the recent cuts, Parks Canada has done little to reduce the number of paper pushers in HQ. It has however targeted heritage and scientific staff and other highly skilled personnel, most have been "surplused" (fired). This is having the effect of creating an even more bloated bureaucracy, one that does not have the skills to understand or manage the complex heritage issues within its mandate.
LACK OF GOVERNMENT SUPPORT
Most disappointing in this whole sordid affair is how the Government of Canada is supporting the disproportionate cuts to our heritage canals. I wrote to Minister Peter Kent in early July 2012 expressing my worry about how Parks Canada was managing heritage on the Rideau Canal and how it was applying the federally mandated budget cuts (you can see the letter and Minister Kent's pathetic non-reply on the communications page). During the summer, press releases from the Minister of Environment mirrored those of Parks Canada, characterizing the Rideau Canal as simply a recreational waterway, with no mention of heritage, and supporting the disproportionate cuts to the Rideau.
The federal government has supported the lopsided cuts not only to the Rideau Canal but to the whole National Historic Sites side of Parks Canada, which has borne the brunt of the budget cuts. The saying that "money speaks louder than words" is absolutely true - the government actions of slashing financial support of our heritage sites is in contrast to the words they are speaking. The removal of funding from many of our heritage sites clearly states that the Government of Canada does not support Canadian heritage.
An example of government words being in contrast to their financial support of heritage is Minister Kent lying to the public in a February 11, 2013 press release regarding a small cost-sharing grant:
"One of our Government's major objectives is to inspire Canadians to develop strong and meaningful connections with Canada's heritage places, like Claybank Brick Plant," said Minister Kent. "Our national historic sites are vital to our history, our identity as Canadians, and our tourism industry. By investing in them and by building lasting relationships with the community groups that operate them, we ensure that they will continue to help support local economies and encourage more Canadians to explore and discover our national heritage."
Clearly, inspiring Canadians to connect with heritage and investing in heritage is NOT a major objective of the Government of Canada. Otherwise we wouldn't be seeing the massive cuts to the Rideau Canal and the loss of heritage presentation and maintenance of the canal.
There is another saying that applies, "talk is cheap" and that appears to be the Government of Canada's mantra when it comes to supporting Canadian Heritage. To talk about supporting heritage while at the same time removing financial support for that heritage.
It's a double shame on the part of the government, to lie to the public about supporting heritage while at the same time removing heritage financial support for many of our National Historic sites, including the Rideau Canal.