Mamidosewin (meeting place, walking together)

Second reading of Bill S-203, An Act to amend the National Capital Act (buildings or works of national significance)

Second reading of Bill S-203, An Act to amend the National Capital Act (buildings or works of national significance)

Hon. Serge Joyal moved second reading of Bill S-203, An Act to amend the National Capital Act (buildings or works of national significance).

He said: Honourable senators, I am looking at the clock.


I don’t want to try your patience, but I would like to talk about the issue addressed in Bill S-203, which amends the National Capital Act.


That question is directly linked to the question that my colleague Senator Mercer asked of the Government Representative, which is essentially to protect Parliament Hill, its archeological resources and its heritage character.

I had the privilege to sit on the subcommittee of Internal Economy that was overseeing the renovation of Parliament Hill, and singularly the Centre Block and this very building. I have also been witness, as have all of you, to the expansion project of Château Laurier at the end of the tunnel. I would not even say “across the street,” because we have an organic link to the Château Laurier building. I have seen the architectural horror that has been proposed, especially the first plan that led the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, to state that it was equivalent to a container but, of course, of monumental proportion.

There is, in my opinion, a way to approach this issue. In the course of our study at the subcommittee, so ably chaired by Senator Tannas of Internal Economy, we asked — Senator Forest, Senator Munson, Senator Bovey and myself — about the status of Parliament Hill in terms of a national historical site. The answer we received was: There is no Canadian statute in which Parliament Hill is protected by the status of being a national historical site.

Of course, a Public Works representative informed us that Public Works follows the standards and guidelines for conservation of historical places in Canada, but Parliament Hill does not enjoy any legal protection. Not only does it not benefit from that protection, but the immediate area is a jungle for development. So that means that anything on the Hill that doesn’t belong to the government, outside that precinct, any developmental initiative can take place. We have heard the Château Laurier argument that this is a private hotel; as a private enterprise, we can do whatever we want. We will do whatever we want, unless, of course, maybe the City of Ottawa refuses the building permit. Or maybe the City of Ottawa will impose some restrictions. But in the National Capital Act, there is no power granted to the National Capital Commission to review any proposal of alteration, construction, demolition, any works — they are mentioned in here — that could change the immediate landscape of the Hill.


I was amazed by that because, being from Quebec and being quite active on the issue of protection of heritage — and my colleague Senator Massicotte could testify to that — Phyllis Lambert from the Canadian Centre for Architecture and I have opposed over the years a lot of demolition in the downtown core area because we thought that it would totally change the heritage value of the downtown core. A city cannot lose its identity from one generation to the other without recognizing that there is some value to protecting the heritage of a site or of a building that has been closely linked to the historical and cultural evolution of a city.

In Quebec legislation, in Quebec’s Cultural Heritage Act, section 40 — and I can quote it for you. It’s very short. Section 40 of Quebec’s Cultural Heritage Act states that the minister can, after having gotten advice from the commission, determine an area of protection around a building that has been classified as heritage or a national historical site.

In other words, there is a capacity for a provincial minister to determine that if a building has been recognized as a historical site, the minister can determine an area of protection. That area of protection must not exceed a distance of 152 metres. In other words, if somebody, anyone, wants to demolish a building in the close vicinity of the building being protected, that project could be submitted for evaluation and restriction.

You may say to me, “Well, it’s an impingement on property rights because if I happen to be the owner of the Chateau Laurier, I will decide how I want to do any expansion, even though it would drastically change the immediate landscape around Parliament Hill.”

Hence the bill that is in front of you. It aims to give power to the National Capital Commission to adopt regulations and determine within a radius around Parliament Hill or around a national historic site the limits or the condition through which the permit would be granted.

You may ask, “Well, does the federal Parliament have the capacity to give this power to the National Capital Commission, which would limit the absolute right of building, changing, erecting or demolishing anything around Parliament Hill?” And my answer is — not because I have determined that answer through my own knowledge and expertise, but because the Supreme Court of Canada so decided in 1966 in a famous case called Munro vs. National Capital Commission.

The National Capital Commission was created in 1966. At the time, the commission decided to adopt a greenbelt around Ottawa to protect the future of the capital. A person, Mr. Munro, felt aggrieved that his land would be expropriated if he lived in the greenbelt, so he challenged the power granted by a statute of Parliament to the National Capital Commission to do the expropriation. It went to the Supreme Court. In 1966, the Supreme Court concluded in this way, and I will read it very quickly:

I find it difficult to suggest a subject matter of legislation which more clearly goes beyond local or provincial interests and is the concern of Canada as a whole than the development, conservation and improvement of the National Capital Region in accordance with a coherent plan in order that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance.

The court has recognized quite clearly that the National Capital Commission enjoys that power because there is nothing more symbolic than the seat of the Government of Canada. That’s what the Supreme Court concluded.

There is no doubt, in my opinion, that the National Capital Commission, through this bill, can be granted the power to regulate any kind of destruction, demolition or alteration in the immediate area of Parliament Hill. The Parliament of Canada Act, as a matter of fact, if you look at it, defines what Parliament Hill is. I will read it:

The grounds in the City of Ottawa bounded by Wellington Street, the Rideau Canal, the Ottawa River and Kent Street known as Parliament Hill, and any buildings or work located on those grounds.

The Senate of Canada Building, located at 2 Rideau Street in the City of Ottawa. That’s us, here. The building located at 1 Wellington Street in the City of Ottawa. That’s where we have two committee meeting rooms, which are almost in the basement of the Château Laurier. The Victoria Building at 140 Wellington. That’s where many of you have offices. The Sir John A. Macdonald Building, located at 144 Wellington, where we have parliamentary gatherings. The Confederation Building, the Justice Building, which is immediately adjacent, and the Supreme Court of Canada Building.

That is what the bill defines as Parliament Hill, and that’s where the protection area would be defined. In other words, you would have the centre, and then a radius around that centre whereby any major alteration or changes would be submitted to the commission. The commission would then determine regulations through which the permit would be granted.

In my opinion, honourable senators, this will address the problems that we have been facing with the expansion of the Château Laurier. I say that, honourable senators, because the legislation that governs heritage sites in Canada is wanting. You might think that it’s because I am a groupie of heritage protection. I might be a groupie of heritage protection, but I am not the only one in that category. As a matter of fact, there are also groupies in the House of Commons in relation to heritage protection. For example, there was a study conducted by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development during the Forty-second Parliament, and they tabled a report in December 2017; two years ago. I want to quote something from that report that is quite interesting:

During its study, the committee learned that Canada is the only G7 country that has not passed legislation to protect historic places and archaeological resources under its jurisdiction.

That’s from the committee report of the House of Commons.


What was the minister’s answer to that? As you know, when there is a report tabled by a committee, the minister may be invited to react. You will remember the minister responsible for historical sites and Parks Canada was Minister McKenna. She answered to the report of the Heritage Committee. Her letter is dated March 23, 2018, a year-and-a-half ago. I will read the letter because it is very instructive:

Together, these measures have helped strengthen the conservation of many of Canada’s heritage places. I acknowledge, however, that more can be done. In particular, the committee’s report notes the lack of comprehensive legislation to protect national historic sites, archaeological sites, and other heritage resources under federal jurisdiction. The government is therefore committed to reviewing what legislative measures might be warranted to strengthen heritage conservation and protection at the federal level.

I repeat: The government is therefore committed. Well, like you, I was sitting here and listening to the Throne Speech. I said to myself that I will be so happy when I listen to the Throne Speech and there will be three words stating that the government will introduce legislation to review the Historic Sites and Monuments Act and the National Capital Act to better modernize the legislation. There was not a single word in the Throne Speech, unfortunately. That’s why you saw me looking sad at the end of it. Like many of you, I might have expected something out of it.

Honourable senators, this bill will help the government come forward with legislation in answer to the Heritage Committee of the other place, and the commitment that Minister McKenna made on behalf of the government in March 2018 to review the legislation so that our legislation in Canada will be in sync with the best legislation of any G7 country.

There is more in this bill than just what you read in the title. In fact, this bill will trigger and push the Department of Canadian Heritage to come forward with legislation. I submit, honourable senators, that it is our responsibility individually to make sure that this building and the area around it, as much as the whole of the Parliament Hill area, is protected at the same level as any provincial historical site will be protected in Quebec. If you look at buildings across the river, they will be protected with areas of protection, while here, on the other side of the river, we’re not and, singularly, the seat of the Government of Canada.

This is my gift for Christmas. I’ll leave you with the file. I will stay very attentive to what will happen. As you have seen, Senator Munson and Senator Bovey have taken public stands to make sure that the project of the expansion of the Château Laurier be in sync with the true heritage character of the Hill, and now it’s in the hands of private citizens. As I say, a groupie like me comes to the media to try to push and what not, but I think that, as legislators, you have the capacity to do something more, which is table legislation, have it adopted and send it to the other place so that the government will be stuck with it. And they will say: If Minister McKenna was true in saying that the government is committed to review the legislation, there we are. Answer the call. The bill is there in front of you.

Thank you, honourable senators, and my sincere thanks for your hearing me out. Good wishes, and I hope to see you in another world.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Hon. Patricia Bovey (The Hon. the Acting Speaker): Senator Duffy, do you have a question?

Hon. Michael Duffy: I wonder if Senator Joyal would take a question.

Senator Joyal: Yes, if I have time left, Your Honour.

The Hon. the Acting Speaker: Yes, Senator Joyal.

Senator Duffy?

Senator Duffy: Thank you, Your Honour. Congratulations, Senator Joyal, on your two pieces of legislation today. I join everyone else here in expressing our gratitude on behalf of all Canadians for your amazing contributions to building a better Canada over your entire political career, and I feel confident that will continue.

On this question that you have just raised about this planned horror next door, my concern is a slight expansion on this issue. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the Greenbelt, which surrounds the national capital and is the province of the National Capital Commission. Ontario, since way back in 2006, has had a policy of increasing urban density. We see this being pushed at municipal council levels week after week, almost.

Do you think it would be a good idea to expand your bill, or would it require another piece of legislation, to preserve the unique nature of the national capital so that the Greenbelt will be protected and that places like the Experimental Farm, which is in the middle of the city of Ottawa, will also be protected.

Because of this pressure for urban development, we have developers looking at this land, saying, “Hey, there’s millions of dollars to be made here.” So far as I can tell, they are not in a much better position than we are with the Château Laurier in that those lands are quite vulnerable.

I would appreciate your comments on that.

Senator Joyal: Thank you, Senator Duffy, for your question, because it raises a very real economic issue which is indivisible from modern life.

As you know, everybody wants to be downtown. The cost of a condo in the downtown area close to Parliament Hill is much higher than in Kanata or any other suburb of Ottawa. The city is much more vulnerable to economic pressure because of the value of the additional taxes that, of course, they can draw from a tower of 55 storeys versus a two-storey brick house in the Glebe.

There is a point whereby the economic and financial pressure of development is almost unbearable because the city councillors, like any person being elected, don’t want to increase taxes, but they want to maintain the same level of services or even increase the level of services. That is how they are elected. That’s what happens in any municipal campaign; it’s the same in Ottawa and in any other city across the river and so forth.

There is no doubt that the National Capital Commission also feels that pressure. That pressure is exercised on the Greenbelt as much as it is exercised around Parliament because members of Parliament want to live around it. As was said today, there are 338 parliamentarians. How many live in Ottawa and how many have to go to a hotel to stay? There is a strong pressure in Ottawa for development and for expansion of hotels.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t recognize that. We have to recognize it. But we have to adjust it to a certain number of criteria whereby we make a choice as a society to protect the Greenbelt area around the capital for obvious reasons. We want this city to become one of the model cities of Canada because it’s where each Canadian identifies himself or herself. When they are seeing you on TV on Parliament Hill, you have always had the backdrop of the Parliament buildings or, on the other side, the Langevin Block or the former American embassy. It’s part of what I call the “imaginary landscape” of Canadians, and in a way, we all are here when we switch on our TV, tap on our telephone or are at our computer, and we see the images of the national capital.


So we can’t let the capital develop wildly without some criteria, and we have to recognize the pressure. There is no unemployment in this city, because, as I say, the pressure is here. The pressure to occupy the site of what is the national capital is renewed from generation to generation.

I have been here for 50 years, and believe me, the first time I arrived here, I was renting a room in a boarding house on Somerset Street, very close to Elgin, when I was an assistant to Jean Marchand. Well, if I went there today, I would not be able to rent a room in that same two-storey brick house because it is now so gentrified that it has pushed people away. Where will those people go? They will go farther and farther. There is a need to build, and hence the pressure on the greenbelt increases.

The point you raise is a valid one. This subject should be reviewed when the bill is sent to the appropriate parliamentary committee to have a broader picture of the national capital and where it is going. Of course, the national capital has a plan for future years, and they try to maintain the objectives of the plan, but those plans are always susceptible to review, chopping, curtailment, exceptions or derogations. After 20 years, the plan will become a patchwork that is far away from the model it was supposed to be when first conceived. I believe the committee would be the best forum to review this issue.

Many of you have been here for a long time. You will have seen the changes that the capital has gone through in the last 50 years, since the creation of the National Capital Commission. This is part of our responsibility. We owe it to the rest of Canada to ensure that the capital develops in sync with the values of the protection of the environment, being mindful of our heritage, our national character and identity. There is no other place in Canada that is closer to the definition of Canada in the minds of Canadians than the precincts of Parliament Hill.

Don’t fool yourself, honourable senators. If there had not been protesters to defend this building, it would have been demolished in 1966. Organizations of citizens — made up of groupies like me — fought to prevent the demolition. The Public Works Department had already decided, once the railway tracks were removed, to demolish this building. Public Works had planned to create a parking lot. If that happened, there would probably be a 30-storey tower on this site, and we would not be in this building. Parliament Hill, as I defined it in this bill, includes part of the Château Laurier, part of the Supreme Court and part of the other buildings that are now on Wellington Street, and that have been integrated through the years to what we call the heart of Canada.

So we have to be mindful of that and think about future generations. What would have happened if those in 1966 followed the expedient decision of the department? Cars were taking more and more space in the urban downtown area, and they needed to have space. “Okay, what building can we demolish? Well, there are no more trains so the station can go.” It was a group of citizens who opposed that. Finally, the decision was reviewed due to public pressure. But we cannot always rely on private citizens to do the job. The legislation must be right at a point in time.

What I propose to you is to make the legislation right and to expand that legislation on the basis of the issue that you raised, which is part of exactly the same reality.


Hon. Lucie Moncion: Senator Joyal, thank you for bringing this issue to our attention like that. I don’t know if I chose the right word in French. Regardless, thank you for making us aware of that heritage. You did not include the residence on Sussex Drive in this bill, even though many Ottawa buildings are part of our heritage. They are very nice buildings, but they are not included in your proposal. Would you mind commenting on that?

Senator Joyal: Thank you for your question, Senator Moncion. The bill actually does cover those buildings because paragraph 1(k) includes the following element:


(j) any place that has been commemorated as a historic place under paragraph 3(a) of the Historic Sites and Monuments Act;

(k) a national historic site as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Parks Canada Agency Act; and

For obvious reasons, 24 Sussex Drive is such a place. Prime ministers have resided there since the 1950s. I think the Right Honourable Louis St. Laurent was the first Prime Minister of Canada to live at 24 Sussex Drive when the property was offered as a gift to the Government of Canada. The negotiations took place during and after World War II.

There is no doubt that could also be part of the regulations that are proposed in the bill, to add to the historic sites in the capital so that area is also protected.

In the context of regulation, it’s quite clear that a building that would be across the street would be subject to more stringent regulation than one that is at 500 or 1,000 feet away because there is a limit of the radius here. Essentially, the goal is to ensure that horrors will not easily be constructed or that a site would be clear of this historic building, or that works are done that would destroy the quality of the environment and the character of the environment.

Your question is covered in the bill.