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Save Our Rideau
Public Engagement

Graded D

January 2023 - public engagement upgraded from F to D since there is now some movement on the part of senior management to at least talk with people like myself and Friends of the Rideau. However, nothing concrete has yet to result from that and there is still no formal public engagement mechanism - so until I see tangible results, rather than just talk, it's going to stay at D.

I considered leaving it at F, given the lack of incorporation of informed public input into the new management plan, but I'm giving Parks the benefit of the doubt with its current senior management for the Rideau, understanding the contraints (ie. no heritage resourcing for the Rideau Canal) that the bureaucrats in Parks HQ have placed on them.

Engagement however hit and miss since there is no formal process. I characterize the management of the Rideau Canal as "Management by Crisis" - and there is always a crisis, now made worse by the fact that the Director and Association Director positions are for both the Trent-Severn and Rideau Canal (and the Director is based on the Trent-Severn), meaning they often pay more attention to the Trent-Severn, than to the Rideau. Without a formal engagement process, engagement simply takes lower priority to whatever crisis they are dealing with (and, as noted, there is ALWAYS a crisis).

There is an active public heritage community along the Rideau Canal - people who care about the Rideau's heritage and are very knowledgeable about various heritage issues. But in recent years Parks Canada has shut out that community, opting instead for the paternal approach (we know best, we don't have to talk to you). As one heritage person put it (a former employee of Parks Canada), this hearkens back to the "bad old days of Parks Canada." This paternal approach is more expensive than working with the public and results in poorer quality programs.

It's not a new issue, Parks Canada has recognized in the past that public engagement is important in the proper management of the Rideau Canal.

The 1999 State of Protected Heritage Areas quite clearly pointed out this issue for the Rideau Canal: "Management at such sites [Dawson & Rideau] must rely on education and cooperative work with stakeholders in the larger community to ensure the commemorative integrity of the site."

In 2010, Larry Ostola, Vice-President of Heritage Conservation and Commemoration at Parks Canada expanded on this, writing:
Greater efforts will also have to be made to engage both local communities as well as communities of interest to make national historic sites focal points for community activity and community life and, ultimately, accessible community resources. Traditionally, staff at many sites have chosen both how and when to engage and involve these communities. At times, they have been largely excluded from site operations and activities and called upon only to participate in a given site initiative on the basis of meeting a particular requirement of Parks Canada’s, such as consultation related to management planning. For meaningful engagement of these communities to take place, this must change, and the agency must be willing to engage citizens both on their terms and on the basis of their needs and interests, as well as our own.
The George Wrights Forum, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2010, p. 167

The above makes a very good case for why Parks Canada should be doing meaningful public engagement on a regular basis. In the past, Parks Canada used several mechanisms for doing this on the Rideau Canal.

The Rideau Canal Advisory Committee (RCAC) - an ad-hoc committee of Rideau experts serving the Superintendent of the Rideau Canal. These were members of the public with a deep knowledge base of three main aspects of Parks Canada's administration of the Rideau Canal: recreation/tourism, ecology, and cultural heritage. They also represented the geographic regions of the canal (Kingston to Ottawa). This was set up in the mid-1990s based on a recommendation from the Corridors of Change report. It met several times a year and allowed for detailed public input and discussion of issues affecting the Rideau Canal. This committee was dissolved by Parks Canada in 2011.

Participation with NGOs - in some cases, such as with Friends of the Rideau, there was a formal MOU that defined Parks Canada representation on the board and the PC rep attended every board meeting. At times it was senior management (i.e. Manager of Operations or the Superintendent) that attended the meetings. That close co-operation started to fall apart in the late 2000s with Parks Canada moving away from closely working with NGOs. It improved slightly in 2016 with a new Associate Director who made an effort to attend FoR meetings. It ended when that person left the Rideau in February 2018.

Rideau Canal Symposiums - the first symposium was done in 2001 - a joint effort of the Rideau Canal Advisory Committee and Parks Canada. It brought together members of the public as well as government (municipal, county, province, federal) in a one day event to discuss issues affecting the Rideau Canal. It raised awareness of the canal among decision makers and showed how the main values (tourism, ecology, heritage) interacted to make the Rideau a better place. The symposiums were successful in part because they were designed with both public and government input. The last such symposium was done in 2006.

Superintendent boat tours - the superintendent used to do a yearly tour of the Rideau Canal - to see the entire Rideau from the water and to visit and talk to operating staff. On many occasions, members of the public were invited to join the Superintendent on sections of this tour - a valuable way of getting public input in the field.

Management Plan Consultations - this is the only mandated public input mechanism, public input is a requirement of the management plan process. The management plan itself is tabled in parliament as a public document. Despite an initial requirement to do a management plan every 5 years, the Rideau has only seen two management plans (1996 and 2005). In both cases a great deal of effort was made by Parks Canada (by the Superintendents of the Rideau Canal) to get meaningful public input. The new management planning process has been a roller coaster. There was actually a very good attempt by the Associate Director in February 2018 at bringing together focus groups whose main message was to restore heritage focus to the Rideau Canal. Will the input received from those focus sessions show up in the draft plan? See the Management Plan page.

Management Visits - once in a while, management would visit with NGOs (on their turf) and individual members of the public to discuss various issues.  That has not happened in the post-2012 era.

Most public engagement was abandoned in the late 2000s. The last Rideau Canal Advisory Committee meeting was in 2011. The last symposium was in 2006. No more boat tours. Management Plan consultations started in 2010 (when a requirement for an updated plan was that year) but then was quickly abandoned (for reasons unknown at the time but now known to be the secret plan to restructure Parks Canada's management of the Rideau Canal). In 2012 the Government of Canada changed the Parks Canada Agency Act to extend the time between plans from 5 year to 10 years. New management (after the 2012 restructuring) has exhibited very little interest in public input.

The grade up until 2016 for meaningful public engagement was a F (a clear fail). It was elevated to a C in 2016 on the strength of one new individual in Parks Canada's management of the Rideau Canal who was trying to do meaningful public engagement (all on his own). Downgraded to D in 2017 as that engagement started to slip and then down to F in 2018 after that individual left the canal (in February 2018).

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