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2003 November Report of the Auditor General of Canada Chapter 6—Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Federal Government
2003 November Report of the Auditor General of Canada
Chapter 6—Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Federal Government
6.4—Federal government expenditures devoted to the cultural heritage sectors, 1990-91 to 2000-01 ($ millions)
6.5—Strengths and deficiencies of information available on the nature and condition of federal tangible cultural heritage
6.6—Strengths and deficiencies of identification and selection mechanisms for federal tangible cultural heritage
6.1 Built, archival, and published heritage under the auspices of the federal government is exposed to serious risks of losses. This is because of deficiencies in various protection regimes, weaknesses in management procedures, and the combined effect of a decrease in protection expenditures and continued growth in heritage.
- Built heritage is threatened. Many of the national historic sites administered by the Parks Canada Agency are showing signs of deterioration. This issue will have to be addressed in the next two to five years to prevent the permanent loss of elements that show the sites' historical significance, closure to the public, or rapid deterioration of the sites.
- Archival heritage is at risk because federal departments have given little attention to information management in recent years. In addition, the National Archives of Canada has not yet succeeded in developing the tools needed to efficiently acquire government documents that may be of historic interest and archival importance.
- Published heritage is at risk because the collections of the National Library of Canada are housed in buildings that do not meet accepted standards for temperature, humidity, and space for these types of documents. The Library's conservation practices cannot make up for the shortcomings of the physical infrastructure.
6.2 Parliament does not obtain complete, overall information on cultural heritage protection. The Department of Canadian Heritage and other heritage organizations' reports provide data on the condition of heritage and the possible risks and challenges. However, in general they do not contain information on the extent and the long-term implications of conservation problems and their meaning for Canadians. Moreover, these reports do not provide specific information on expected conservation results or those achieved.
6.3 The current protection regimes have reached their limits. The federal government needs to review the orientations and the means of protection needed and the role and responsibilities of the Department of Canadian Heritage and the other key heritage organizations in protecting cultural heritage. This review must take into account the current condition of heritage, its continual growth, the resources available, and the increased public interest in heritage issues. It should also aim to make federal parties that play a role in the protection of cultural heritage accountable.
Background and other observations
6.4 Cultural heritage means the tangible evidence of human experience, such as artifacts, archives, and printed material, and intangible evidence such as folklore, language, customs, traditions, and know-how. Protecting federal heritage assets requires the involvement of a number of parties. The Department of Canadian Heritage is responsible for developing policies governing heritage issues. Agencies within the Canadian Heritage portfolio, including the Parks Canada Agency, Canada's four national museums and their affiliated museums, the National Archives of Canada, and the National Library of Canada, have specific mandates for the protection of federal heritage. Several departments and other federal organizations also have protection responsibilities.
6.5 Our examination focussed on the areas that presented the most risk to the protection of cultural heritage: selection and conservation of national historic sites and federal heritage buildings, acquisition of federal archives, conservation of the collections of the National Library of Canada, identification of collections of federal government organizations, and identification of Canadian cultural property. We excluded the four national museums of Canada and affiliated museums from the scope of our audit. As Crown corporations, they are subject, every five years, to special examinations as set out in the Financial Administration Act. During the latest round of special examinations, which we undertook between 1998 and 2002, we examined whether the national museums had implemented systems and practices that enable them to protect specimen and artefact collections.
The federal organizations have responded. The Department of Canadian Heritage, the Parks Canada Agency, the National Archives of Canada, the National Library of Canada, and the Treasury Board Secretariat have agreed to our recommendations. Measures underway or planned are indicated in their responses. The departments and agencies have stated that they will co-operate with their partners to implement our recommendations and improve the protection of cultural heritage.
Tangible cultural heritage
6.6 Cultural heritage means the tangible evidence of human experience, such as artifacts, archives, printed material, cultural products, architectural heritage, sacred sites, and archaeology. For some, this brings to mind old historic buildings; for others, it means visits to museums exhibiting artifacts from Canada and around the world. Cultural heritage also refers to intangible evidence such as folklore, language, customs, traditions, and know-how. These may be invisible, but they are very much alive. Exhibit 6.1 summarizes the key elements of tangible cultural heritage under the auspices of the federal government that we examined.
6.7 Cultural heritage is increasingly considered not only an asset to be protected and valued but also a means of promoting and reinforcing the cultural identity and cohesion of society. For a long time, heritage has not been protected for the sake of protection only. It is protected so that it may be valued, passed on, and made accessible to future generations. The public is interested in heritage in different ways and for different reasons: for some, heritage is a way to learn about Canada's past; for others, it is the purpose of a trip or a visit; for yet others, it represents employment. Most believe that heritage contributes to the quality of life of Canadians.
6.8 The importance that the public attributes to heritage can be seen in a number of ways. Every year, the Parks Canada Agency welcomes 25 million visitors to its parks and national historic sites. The National Archives of Canada responds to more than 120,000 queries of all kinds, including a large number related to genealogy alone. The National Archives' and the National Library's Web sites are consulted annually more than 14 million times.
Protection of tangible heritage
6.9 The Government of Canada's interest in heritage goes back more than a century—in some cases, to the pre-Confederation era. During that period, the federal government created a number of organizations whose mandate is to safeguard nationally significant Canadian heritage: the National Museum of Canada was founded in 1842, the Library of Parliament in 1859, the National Archives of Canada in 1872, the National Gallery of Canada in 1880, the Canadian Parks Service (today the Parks Canada Agency) in 1911, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1919, and the National Library of Canada in 1953. The government reaffirmed its commitment to heritage in 1976, when it ratified the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage established by UNESCO. It also ratified, in 1978, the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
6.10 The federal government made major investments in infrastructure for the protection of cultural heritage in the 1980s and the 1990s. It built new facilities for the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Canada Aviation Museum, and the National Archives Preservation Centre in Gatineau. More recently, the government initiated a major program to restore the Parliament buildings, which will take place over several years. In 2002, it began construction of the new Canadian War Museum and renovation of the former United States Embassy to house the new Portrait Gallery of Canada. It recently announced the creation of the Canada History Centre.
6.11 Two activities are key to protecting cultural heritage. The first, known as identification and selection, involves determining what merits conservation—that is, the heritage value of sites, events, objects, and documents. This activity is based on knowledge of our history and includes strategies, plans, selection criteria, and registration and documentation activities. The other activity, known as conservation, involves maintaining, preserving, and restoring the selected cultural heritage when needed. It is based on knowledge of the nature and condition of cultural heritage, a legal protection framework, overall planning, and the application of recognized conservation standards, including adequate facilities and monitoring of future activity. Poor management of these two activities may mean that the selected heritage is not represented, that far too many objects to be conserved are accumulated, that heritage elements deteriorate or are lost, and that ultimately reference to our history is lost.
6.12 Protecting federal heritage assets requires the involvement of a number of parties. The Department of Canadian Heritage is responsible for developing policies governing heritage issues. Agencies within the Canadian Heritage portfolio, including the Parks Canada Agency, Canada's four national museums and their affiliated museums, the National Archives of Canada, and the National Library of Canada, have specific mandates for the protection of federal heritage. Several departments, agencies, and Crown corporations are responsible for protecting national historic sites, federal heritage buildings, archives, and artifacts of all kinds. Public Works and Government Services Canada manages buildings that house cultural heritage collections. The Appendix summarizes the main responsibilities of each of the main players in heritage protection.
6.13 In recent years, the federal government has focussed on making heritage assets accessible through new information technology. More recently, the government tabled a bill to create a new institution, Library and Archives Canada, which will bring together the collections and expertise of the National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada. It is currently preparing a bill to bolster the protection of historic places. The Department of Canadian Heritage has set as objectives to develop Canadian communities' capacity for heritage protection and to promote wider use of partnerships for heritage protection.
Trends in the protection of tangible heritage
6.14 The growth of heritage assets and the financial resources available for their protection are two key factors that influence the protection of cultural heritage. Heritage accumulates naturally, but this growth has tended to accelerate in recent years because of, among other things, aging of buildings, increased government activities, increased published materials, and a broadened view of the concept of heritage. Previously, the concept of heritage was limited to architectural and archaeological heritage and to movable objects. This concept gradually expanded over time and now includes cultural landscapes, historic districts, buried remains, and other intangible elements such as language, customs, and folklore. This broadening of the concept of heritage has helped to situate heritage in its context much better and thus place greater emphasis on its importance. However, this in turn has increased the number of heritage elements needing protection, and thereby increased the demand for resources for protection activities.
6.15 As with other sectors of the federal government, cultural heritage has suffered from the budget cuts of the last decade. Statistics Canada data show that the 2000-01 expenditures of $508 million on cultural heritage were slightly below those of 1990-91, following a significant drop in the middle of the last decade. These expenditures, when expressed in 1990-91 constant dollars, show a decline of 17 percent. Exhibit 6.2 illustrates the trends in expenditures.
Focus of the audit
6.16 The focus of our audit was to determine whether the Department of Canadian Heritage and the other main federal organizations, other than Canada's four national museums and their associate museums, working to protect tangible cultural heritage have implemented protection mechanisms that allow them to
- know the nature and condition of heritage;
- identify and select the built, archival, and movable heritage that merits protection;
- preserve built and published heritage; and
- account for the results achieved in the protection of tangible cultural heritage.
6.17 Our examination focussed on the areas that presented the most risk to the protection of cultural heritage: selection and conservation of national historic sites and federal heritage buildings, acquisition of federal archives, conservation of the collections of the National Library of Canada, identification of collections of federal government organizations, and identification of Canadian cultural property. We excluded the four national museums of Canada and affiliated museums from the scope of our audit. As Crown corporations, they are subject, every five years, to special examinations as set out in the Financial Administration Act. During the latest round of special examinations, which we undertook between 1998 and 2002, we examined whether the national museums had implemented systems and practices that enable them to protect specimen and artifact collections.
The audit was conducted in the following federal organizations:
- Parks Canada Agency
- National Archives of Canada
- National Library of Canada
- Department of Canadian Heritage
- Secretariat of Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
- Secretariat of the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board
- Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office
- Treasury Board Secretariat
- Other departments that own collections
Further details on our audit can be found at the end of the chapter in About the Audit.
Observations and Recommendations
6.18 Built heritage includes sites, buildings, and monuments recognized for their historic value. These may include, for example, a building, battlefield, fort or citadel, shipwreck, archaeological site, cultural landscape, bridge, house, funeral site, railway station, historic district, ruins, engineering marvel, school, canal, courthouse, theatre, or market. Canada's national historic sites and federal heritage buildings represent such sites, buildings, and monuments.
6.19 The value of built heritage comes from what it can teach us about the lives and history of those who built this country. It comprises learning sites for all Canadians, be they young or old, recent immigrants to Canada, or long-time residents. It is also a source of tourist revenue for communities and helps to preserve the environment by capitalizing on existing structures.
6.20 The Government of Canada is involved in protecting built heritage through the recognition and commemoration of nationally significant historic sites, the designation of federal heritage buildings, and the administration of a number of historic sites and heritage buildings. At 31 March 2003, it had designated 891 national historic sites and classified 269 buildings as federal heritage buildings. It had also recognized 1,088 other federal buildings as having certain heritage characteristics, without designating them as classified buildings. Classified buildings have a relatively high heritage value. In principle, they benefit from a greater level of protection than recognized buildings. These national historic sites and heritage buildings are located in more than 400 communities across Canada.
6.21 Protecting built heritage requires the involvement of several stakeholders:
- The Parks Canada Agency has important responsibilities in implementing the federal government's policy on built heritage. It owns 148 of the 891 national historic sites and 516 of the 1,357 classified and recognized heritage buildings. It also supports the designation work of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and the Federal Heritage Building Committee. The Agency has a mandate to protect all elements of heritage that it owns. Its mandate also extends to providing help for protection and valuing activities to other owners of national historic sites.
- Nineteen other federal departments and agencies own 55 national historic sites and 841 federal heritage buildings.
- The Treasury Board Secretariat is responsible for the Heritage Building Policy.
- The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has a mandate to recommend the designation of national historic sites to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
- The Federal Heritage Building Committee has a mandate to recommend the designation of federal heritage buildings to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
- Provincial governments, not-for-profit associations, the private sector, and individuals also own national historic sites.
6.22 The Parks Canada Agency has developed a management system based on maintaining the commemorative integrity of the sites and on recognized standards of conservation. The concept of commemorative integrity, developed in the 1990s, describes the state and overall character of a national historic site. A national historic site possesses commemorative integrity when the resources that symbolize or represent its historic significance are not impaired or under threat, the reasons for its historic significance are effectively communicated to the public, and the decisions and interventions regarding the site respect its heritage values. The Agency determines whether commemorative integrity exists at a specific national historic site by assessing the condition of resources, the effectiveness of communications, and site management practices.
6.23 The management infrastructure of the Agency includes the following planning and monitoring tools: commemorative integrity statements, management plans, annual business plans, and commemorative integrity evaluations. According to its legislation, the Agency must prepare, every five years, for each site it administers, a management plan based on a commemorative integrity statement. This plan describes the major directions that the Agency expects to follow over the next few years in protection and valuing activities of the sites. Each of the Agency's 32 management units prepares an annual business plan to ensure that the directions contained in the management plan are implemented. The Agency has an objective to evaluate the commemorative integrity of each of its historic sites once every 10 years.
National historic sites in poor condition
6.24 Knowledge of the nature and condition of built heritage is key to sound management of conservation efforts for this type of heritage. It allows us to identify the most deteriorated elements of heritage, define conservation priorities, determine needed action, and allocate appropriate resources. (See photograph)
6.25 We found that the Parks Canada Agency has reasonably reliable inventory listings and information systems on the nature of all national historic sites and on the condition of the 148 national historic sites it administers. The inventory listings on the nature of the sites include information on the type of buildings and their location, as well as the reasons for their designation. The inventory data stem from research that the Agency conducts to support the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada as it reviews nominations for designation as a national historic site.
6.26 The commemorative integrity evaluations contain data on the condition of cultural resources of historic sites. At 31 March 2003, the Parks Canada Agency had evaluated 43 of the 148 historic sites it administers. Sixteen percent of the 43 national historic sites evaluated will need preservation work within the next two years; without such intervention, they will risk either permanently losing elements that show their historic significance or being closed to the public. Fifty-six percent of the sites are showing signs of deterioration and will need protection work within the next three to five years, or they risk rapid deterioration. Exhibit 6.3 shows the condition of the 18 sites evaluated in 2002-03.
6.27 Under Treasury Board real property policies, departments are required to systematically assess the condition of the real property in their inventory and use this information to manage the sites. However, we found that there are no consolidated data on the condition of the 55 national historic sites administered by the other federal departments and agencies.
6.28 There is also no information on the condition of the 688 national historic sites administered by third parties (other levels of government, private sector, volunteer sector, and individuals). However, we noted, as an indication of the condition of these sites, that the owners of 118 of these 688 national historic sites filed requests for financial aid under the National Historic Sites of Canada Cost-Sharing Program to begin work to preserve and/or value their historic sites. Sixty-three of those requests, valued at a total of about $30 million, were endorsed by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board but have yet to be fulfilled.
Insufficient means of conservation for historic sites
6.29 Delay in implementing management infrastructure. The Parks Canada Agency's implementation of a management infrastructure progressed more slowly than was expected when the Agency was created in 1998. At the time of our audit, the Agency had completed only 17 management plans representing 22 national historic sites. According to its legislation, the Agency should have had such a plan for each of the national historic sites it has owned for at least five years. However, it had prepared commemorative integrity statements for 84 percent of the national historic sites it administers and expected to complete the remainder in 2005. It has completed 43 commemorative integrity evaluations in accordance with its goal of completing 15 per year. There is still a lot to do to complete the implementation of this management scheme. The Agency is aware of the delay and is working to find a solution.
6.30 We noted that the Parks Canada Agency Act does not require that other federal departments and agencies that own national historic sites produce management plans similar to those prepared by the Agency. Further, these other departments and agencies are not required to apply accepted conservation standards used by the Parks Canada Agency. In September 2003, the federal government had finalized conservation standards that will apply to its entire built heritage.
6.31 Gaps between available funding and conservation needs. Statistics Canada data on federal spending on historic parks and sites and other heritage resources (Exhibit 6.4) show that federal departments and agencies spent about $228 million in 2000-01—$14 million less than in 1990-91 (a decrease of 6 percent). In constant 1990-91 dollars, this equates to a decrease of 22 percent, the inflation having reduced the value of the expenses by an additional 16 percent. This decline in spending has contributed to reducing the protection capacity for cultural heritage. The additional funds that the federal government has recently allotted to arts and culture will not significantly increase the protection capacity because they primarily address the valuing activities of heritage and not its protection.
6.32 Conservation needs have increased rapidly. As we have indicated, several national historic sites administered by the Parks Canada Agency needed conservation measures. As well, other Agency studies show that about 20 percent of all built cultural resources located on national historic sites and in national parks are in poor condition and need preservation work within the next two years. Another 40 percent are in fair condition and need preservation work within the next three to five years. These built cultural resources include buildings, bridges, fortifications, maritime structures, or lands. According to the Agency, the protection of national historic sites would require doubling the amount of spending on these capital assets.
6.33 Need to reinforce the legal protection framework. Except for national historic sites administered by the Parks Canada Agency, there is no legal protection for the national historic sites administered by other federal departments and organizations. As well, the designation of a national historic site held by third parties (individuals, private and not-for-profit sectors, other levels of government) does not impose any restriction, other than moral, on the disposal of such a site. The federal designation, therefore, has no bearing on the designated historic site. However, we noted that certain national historic sites owned by third parties are also classified under provincial and territorial legislation. When this is the case, they benefit from legal protection.
Deteriorating federal heritage buildings
6.34 The Government of Canada has a policy to protect the heritage value of federal buildings in all of its purchasing, operating, and disposal activities. It created the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office to systematically assess the heritage value of its buildings over 40 years of age and to provide departments and agencies with advice on protection, as requested. The Parks Canada Agency provides secretarial and support services to the Review Office.
6.35 Five departments and agencies own the majority of the federal heritage buildings. The Parks Canada Agency administers 516 federal heritage buildings. The Agency's Cultural Resource Management policy requires that it inspect and evaluate the condition of these buildings and identify the necessary work for their conservation. Other departments and agencies manage their federal heritage buildings according to their primary mandate and their priorities. According to the Parks Canada Agency, about 100 buildings belonging to other departments and agencies were either sold or destroyed during the last few years.
6.36 The Review Office has a reasonably reliable inventory of the federal government's 1,357 federal heritage buildings. This inventory includes data on the type of buildings and their location, as well as the reasons for their designation. However, the Review Office has only general information on the condition of the federal heritage buildings. According to a survey done in February 2000, the 13 major departments and agencies owning heritage buildings estimated that more than two thirds of the federal heritage buildings are in fair to poor condition. The Parks Canada Agency has reported that slightly less than two thirds of its federal heritage buildings are in fair to poor condition.
6.37 Those federal heritage buildings administered by the Parks Canada Agency benefit from legal protection because protecting heritage is an integral part of the Agency's mandate. However, those administered by other departments and agencies do not necessarily benefit from such protection since their owners do not always have a legal mandate to protect heritage. Furthermore, we noted that federal departments and agencies are not subject to the same conservation standards and accountability requirements as the Parks Canada Agency.
6.38 The list of historic sites and federal heritage buildings contains many similar sites or buildings. For example, the list contains more than 60 armouries, 100 lighthouses, and more than 40 buildings described as "a federal building", such as old post offices. We examined the selection processes for built heritage adopted by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board and the Federal Heritage Building Committee. We noted that the selection of historic sites and the designation of federal heritage offices were based on recognized selection criteria and in-depth research.
Did you know?
The Parks Canada Agency receives more than 2,200 inquiries each year about possible designations of national historic sites. Almost 95 percent of the proposals considered by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada are nominated by the public.
6.39 We found that the designation of a historic site had been revoked only after the loss or destruction of elements that show the sites' historical significance. In a context of continual growth of heritage, limited resources, development of protection capacities of communities, wider use of partnerships, and advances in historical knowledge, the option of re-examining the reasons for the designations could be considered.
6.40 In summary, three factors reduce the possibility of protection for built heritage: the deteriorating condition of built heritage, the decline in federal heritage expenditures over the last few years, and the expected growth in the number of national historic sites and federal heritage buildings. The risk of loss or damage caused to national historic sites and to federal heritage buildings will increase. Thus, future generations may not have access to key heritage components or will have to bear higher costs to preserve their heritage.
6.41 Recommendation. The Department of Canadian Heritage, in collaboration with the Parks Canada Agency, should continue its efforts to strengthen the legal framework to protect built heritage.
Response from the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Parks Canada Agency. The Department of Canadian Heritage and the Parks Canada Agency agree with this recommendation and will continue to actively collaborate to develop legislative proposals to protect built heritage, in keeping with discussion papers published in 2002. These proposals include statutory protection of national historic sites and federal heritage buildings, protection of archaeological resources on federal lands, and application of standards for heritage conservation for historic places in Canada. Extensive consultations on these proposals have taken place with stakeholders.
6.42 Recommendation. The Parks Canada Agency should implement its management structure for national historic sites as soon as possible.
The Parks Canada Agency's response. The Parks Canada Agency is aware of the delays in implementing some aspects of its management structure for national historic sites. The Agency has committed to completing the development of management plans for all the national historic sites it administers by March 2006. The Agency is working to update information on the condition of cultural resources and is on schedule to assess, over a 10-year period, the commemorative integrity of all the national historic sites it administers. The Agency's ability to improve the timeliness of reporting on the condition of cultural resources is limited given current funding levels.
6.43 Recommendation. The Treasury Board Secretariat, in collaboration with the Department of Canadian Heritage, should specify information requirements on the condition of built heritage and on the performance of protection activities. The Secretariat should require that federal departments that own national historic sites and federal heritage buildings provide this information on a periodical basis.
The Treasury Board Secretariat's response. We agree that there is no centralized inventory containing detailed information about the condition of federal heritage buildings and national historic sites that are administered by federal custodians other than the Parks Canada Agency and the Department of Canadian Heritage (DCH). The Treasury Board Secretariat will examine, with the DCH and the Parks Canada Agency, what type of information they collect about the condition of federal heritage buildings and national historic sites under their administration, how this information is used, and how results of protection activities are measured. We will also discuss with the DCH the Office of the Auditor General's recommendation that custodians provide periodic reports on the condition of heritage buildings and national historic sites.
The Department of Canadian Heritage's response. The Department of Canadian Heritage agrees that there is no consolidated data on the condition of national historic sites and federal heritage buildings administered by federal departments other than the Parks Canada Agency, but it notes that current Treasury Board policies require departments to systematically assess the condition of the real property in their inventory. In the context of legislative proposals referenced in 6.41, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Parks Canada Agency will work with the Treasury Board Secretariat to define what type of information should be collected and how the condition and protection of built heritage would most appropriately be assessed and reported.
6.44 The primary role of the National Library of Canada is to acquire, conserve, and promote the published heritage for Canadians. The Library believes that it owns the largest collection of Canadian publications in the world and is thereby one of the most important reference centres on Canadian studies. In addition, it plays a role in developing collections and documentary services across the country and in pooling the resources of Canadian libraries.
Did you know?
The National Library of Canada owns the largest and most comprehensive collection of federal, provincial, and territorial official publications published since 1867.
6.45 The National Library has a collection of more than 19.5 million publications, including books, journals, CD-ROMs, microforms, sound recordings, software, and electronic documents. It acquires its publications primarily through legal deposit, a mechanism created by the National Library Act requiring that Canadian publishers provide the Library with two copies of every new publication (one copy for conservation and one for access services). The National Library's collections have grown from 13.3 million to 19.5 million documents since 1991, with an average growth rate of 3.5 percent per year.
Collections housed in poor-quality facilities
6.46 Environmental conditions do not meet conservation standards. Appropriate collection facilities with stable temperatures and humidity levels are the most important factor in ensuring long-term access and preservation of collection materials. The National Library of Canada preserves most of its collections in five buildings owned or rented by Public Works and Government Services Canada. These buildings do not meet the standards for temperature and humidity for conserving documents. This is a constant threat to their preservation. In the current environment where the collections reside and continue to suffer damage, there is lack of air circulation, extreme fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity, and overloaded shelves in poor condition. The National Library does not regularly monitor fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. Such information is essential to document the impact of these environmental conditions on the expected life of its collections. (See photograph)
6.47 Since 1988, the Library has experienced 116 environmental incidents. About 60 of these—floods and excessive heat—damaged a total of about 30,000 documents in the Library's various collections, including official publications from Statistics Canada, provincial government periodicals, and pre-1867 foreign publications about Canada received from the Library of Parliament. The Library estimated the minimum cost of repairing or replacing the damaged documents at $4.5 million. It does not know the exact number of documents irretrievably lost.
6.48 Insufficient space increases the risk of deterioration of collections. The access collections of the National Library are overcrowded and take up about 90 percent of the available shelf space. The standard is 75 percent for access collections. This high rate of occupation means that huge numbers of documents are continually being moved about, which is damaging to the collections, particularly fragile documents. The Library currently uses 23,000 square metres of space; it estimates that it requires an additional 5,000 square metres of space to rectify this situation. In this regard, the National Library is discussing its needs with Public Works and Government Services Canada in order to submit a request for temporary facilities to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. The Library estimates that it will need an additional 17,000 square metres of space by 2015.
6.49 The poor quality of the facilities is having an impact on the National Library's newspaper collection and non-print collections in particular. Newspaper material is more fragile than that of other paper collections. According to an internal study conducted in 1999, the newspaper collection is deteriorating very rapidly. The deterioration is to the point that the study recommended freezing part of the collection pending conservation treatment. Due to a lack of space, the National Library keeps the newspapers folded, rather than storing them flat in appropriate boxes according to generally recognized conservation standards. Folds weaken the paper and increase the risk of tears. According to the study, under the current conditions, the expected lifetime of new acquisitions in the newspaper collection is very limited compared with what it should be under appropriate conditions. (See photograph)
6.50 Collections of unprinted documents, such as microfilms, sound recordings, videos, electronic documents, and CD-ROMs, already represent 37 percent of the collections, and their number is growing rapidly. These collections are at even greater risk than books because the media are less durable and need to be updated frequently due to the rapid evolution of new information technologies. Each non-print medium requires specific environmental conditions that the Library cannot systematically offer. If measures of conservation are not taken, the risk of loss increases. This situation is of even greater concern because in the future these collections will become increasingly important and cost the most to preserve.
Did you know?
The public can access the numerous collections of the National Library of Canada through municipal, provincial, and university libraries that participate in the interlibrary loan network.
Limited preservation capacity
6.51 Certain measures contribute to preventing the deterioration of the collections: limiting access and applying the necessary treatments adapted to the particular medium. However, we noted the Library's limited capability to carry out these measures because of a lack of space, financial resources, or internal expertise.
6.52 Inability to create a preservation collection. A good preservation practice currently used by libraries consists of creating what is known as a "preservation collection." The National Library of Canada adopted this measure in 1988. Since then, the Library has put aside one of the two published copies it receives under the terms of the legal deposit. The Library has also put aside one copy of documents dating before 1988 but obtained since that time. The purpose of this measure is to protect the collection by limiting public access and storing it in a separate area with a controlled atmosphere. The entire preservation collection now includes more than 2.3 million publications. Since 2001, the Library has conserved 26 percent of this collection in conditions that comply with environmental standards: these 600,000 documents are located inside four vaults that the National Archives of Canada has loaned to the Library. The Library is keeping the majority of its rare book collection in one of the most secure places in its main building; however, that location does not meet the environmental standards for conservation.
6.53 In brief, despite its efforts, the National Library has been able to adequately protect only a very limited number of documents belonging to its collections in facilities that meet preservation standards. Under the current circumstances, the Library cannot hope to achieve the objective of building a preservation collection that is complete and preserved under conditions that meet the standards.
6.54 Significant delays in conservation treatments of documents. Like other similar libraries, the collections of the National Library of Canada are also threatened by the acidification of paper format publications. This phenomenon weakens a document's format and shortens its lifetime. From 1981 to 2001, the Library succeeded in treating nearly one million contaminated documents, but about two million documents remain to be treated. Given its small treatment capacity, the Library cannot foresee the day when it will have treated its entire backlog of documents needing deacidification. We would have expected the Library to set priorities for treatment based on the risk of loss of documents; however, it has not done so.
6.55 In 1989, the Library noted that more than six million documents needed treatments other than deacidification. Since that time, the Library has reduced the backlog by only a few hundred thousand documents. Internally, the Library does not have sufficient specialized competencies for managing the preservation function or for carrying out specialized treatments. Its capabilities are limited to simpler work. For more demanding restoration treatments, it has turned to the specialized services of the National Archives of Canada for the past several years. However, due to other priorities, the National Archives has been able to accommodate only one half of the National Library's requests for preservation treatments over the last few years.
The need for a more strategic management approach
6.56 For the past three years, the Library has considered the preservation of its collections one of its priorities and undertaken a number of related activities. We expected that it would have a strategic plan to guide its preservation decisions. In a context of growing collections, limited resources, and obsolete infrastructure, a strategic plan would enable the Library to better evaluate and explain its strategic preservation choices and the affiliated costs. The strategic plan should take into account the actual condition of the collections as well as the risks of deterioration or loss, estimated growth rate of the various collections, preservation and restoration costs, and the capacities and weaknesses of the facilities.
6.57 For several years, the Library has sought to obtain more modern facilities for its collections. On a number of occasions, it has communicated its needs to central agencies and has made public statements on its concerns about the existing facilities. However, the Library has not developed any alternative preservation strategies in case the approval of a new building is not forthcoming. Nor has it developed a set of preservation priorities. The actual condition of the facilities suggests that the Library's management decisions have often been dictated by the necessity of responding to the most urgent space requirements.
6.58 The Library completed a survey on the state of its collections in 1989. Between 1997 and 2001, it developed conservation plans for each of its collections. However, it has not succeeded in implementing most of the recommendations contained in those plans because the implementation was based on having adequate facilities.
6.59 The National Library of Canada has a great deal of information to help manage its collections in a more comprehensive, strategic manner. It has exhaustive inventories of its collections (printed materials, journals, microforms, audio, video, and electronic publications). The AMICUS catalogue provides complete, up-to-date information on the nature, location, and age of the records registered in the Library's collections. However, the Library does not capture detailed data on the condition of its collections. Nor has it done a risk analysis to develop a coherent preservation strategy.
6.60 The National Library is aware of these weaknesses. Together with the National Archives of Canada, it has posted a request for proposal for a risk analysis of its collections to be completed by November 2003. It intends to use the risk analysis to develop a strategic preservation plan.
6.61 In summary, the poor quality of the facilities seriously impedes the Library's ability to preserve its collections. The Library needs to complete its analyses to allow it to evaluate the possible options for the short, medium, and long term. However, the improvements that the Library may make to its management procedures cannot completely compensate for the poor environmental conditions and the lack of space. This situation makes it difficult for us to provide assurance that the Library can carry out its legislative mandate for preserving its collections.
6.62 Recommendation. The National Library of Canada should put in place measures that enable it to obtain comprehensive information on the condition of the published heritage.
The National Library of Canada's response. The National Library of Canada agrees with this recommendation. The Library will put in place measures to obtain comprehensive information on the condition of the published heritage. It has always been the goal of the Library to ensure that Canada's published heritage is well protected and that current and future generations of Canadians can continue to benefit from access to it. A new strategic vision and new strategies will be developed in the coming two years and will then be implemented in the context of the new organization, Library and Archives Canada.
A risk assessment of the collections of the National Library and the National Archives is underway. The results of this study will be used as the basis for a comprehensive assessment of the conditions of Library's collections. The Library will then make decisions and implement strategies. Given the importance of this task, the Library estimates that the investment required to carry out this recommendation could be beyond existing resource levels.
6.63 Recommendation. The National Library of Canada should develop a strategic plan based on a risk analysis of the deterioration and loss of collections and set priorities and milestones.
The National Library of Canada's response. The National Library of Canada agrees with this recommendation. A corporate and comprehensive strategic plan for the preservation of collections will be an important tool to manage the collections and ensure their preservation. The corporate strategic plan will be based on the assessment of the conditions of the collections and on internationally recognized standards for preservation. It will define options and include estimates of resources necessary to implement them. Priorities and milestones will be implemented.
6.64 Recommendation. Pending a solution by the federal government to the facilities issue, the National Library of Canada should evaluate, with its partners, any alternative options for the preservation of its collections, including the risks and the costs involved. It should inform the Treasury Board Secretariat of the options it favours in the short, medium, and long term.
The National Library of Canada's response. The National Library of Canada agrees with this recommendation. Some alternative options have already been planned to address urgent requirements and are being implemented (interim collections, storage facility, ongoing major modifications to existing facilities, permanent transfer of collections space, and temporary use of other collection space from the National Archives).
As part of its strategic planning, the Library will identify key, more permanent options for the preservation of its collections, including risks and costs. The Treasury Board Secretariat will be informed of options for the short, medium, and long term.
6.65 Canada's archival heritage includes records of all types: printed and electronic textual records, maps, architectural drawings, documentary art, photographic images, films, videos, audio recordings, and philatelic and national heraldic material. These records are significant because they affirm the identity of Canadians: they talk about Canadians; share their culture and history; and define their political sovereignty and their rights, privileges, and obligations in society. They also provide evidence of government policies, decisions, programs, and services that influence their lives as citizens and support the judicial process. At the National Archives of Canada, records come from two sources: the federal government and the private sector. Most of our observations are aimed at the acquisition methods for documents from the federal government sector. The National Archives collections are growing steadily. For example, over the last 10 years, government textual records grew at an annual rate of 6 percent.
Did you know?
A linear metre of documents contains about 8,000 pages of text. The National Archives of Canada holds an inventory of more than 100,000 linear metres of government textual records.
A protection regime with shared responsibility
6.66 The archival heritage protection regime for federal documents has three main stakeholders: the Treasury Board Secretariat, which is responsible for establishing the federal government's information management policy; federal departments and agencies, which are responsible for applying the information management policy and managing their own records in particular; and the National Archives of Canada, which is responsible for identifying federal government documents of historic value, preserving them, and facilitating access to them after the home organizations have transferred them. The National Archives also has a mandate to facilitate sound management of federal departments' and agencies' records, which is a key prerequisite to the Archives' effective acquisition of records of historic value. The strength of the protection regime depends on these three stakeholders' ability to act in a concerted manner and to ensure that the information management policy and the National Archivist's guidelines on records disposal are applied effectively.
6.67 The National Archives of Canada Act invests the National Archivist with exclusive power to authorize the transfer, disposal, or destruction of records generated by federal government institutions or a federal minister's office. In accordance with this power, the National Archivist determines which government records and which cabinet minister records are of historic interest and archival importance in order to acquire them. Nearly all federal departments and agencies (about 170) are subject to the National Archives of Canada Act.
6.68 The National Archives of Canada's main acquisition tools for government institutions consist of the records disposition authorities program and the terms and conditions for the transfer of records. These specify, among other things, how long departments and agencies may keep their documents before transferring them to the National Archives of Canada.
Ineffective records disposition authorities regime
6.69 A records disposition authority is a legal instrument, signed by the National Archivist. It authorizes the destruction or disposal of the records generated by the relevant department or agency or their transfer to the National Archives of Canada. This instrument allows the National Archivist to determine which records have historic value and to call for the transfer of these records to the National Archives when the organization no longer needs them.
6.70 Independent studies conducted in the early 1980s and early 1990s concluded that the authorities' regime did not enable the collection of important records of historic value, in either quality or quantity. In 1991, the National Archives of Canada developed a strategy to improve the scope and longevity of the records disposition authorities over five years. It undertook to produce up-to-date authorities that would cover all of the functions of all departments and agencies before the end of 1996. We examined the progress made in this area.
6.71 Limited coverage by the records disposition authorities. According to a National Archives of Canada study dated December 2000, records disposition authorities of 21 main federal departments and agencies covered a maximum of 67 percent of operational records created for non-administrative purposes. Thus, the authorities did not cover significant portions of these key departments. This study led to further reflection on the approach to identifying records of archival value.
6.72 Obsolete authorities. There are 2,252 records disposition authorities in force, but only 37 percent are used. The rest have become obsolete, mainly because of the disappearance of administrative functions, government programs, or even entities, and normally would be revoked. More than half of the 831 authorities in use need to be revised or replaced. This is attributable to frequent changes in government organization, the use of new record filing systems, and the use of new record mediums and formats. These changes meant that, until recently, the National Archives had to constantly devote resources to updating authorities.
6.73 The use of inaccurate or inappropriate authorities is a serious threat to fulfilling the National Archives' mandate. The resulting risks are incorrect identification of records of historic value, the destruction of valuable records, and the use of too many resources (time and space). We noted that departments and agencies have stored large amounts of records in the federal records centres; these were incorrectly identified or classified, or filed without a disposal schedule. The National Archives of Canada makes these storage facilities available to federal organizations for storing their records before they are transferred to the National Archives or destroyed.
6.74 We also noted that the authorities based on selective retention have resulted in a massive transfer of records of little historic value to the National Archives. This type of authority, which was common before 1991, prescribed that the National Archives appraise the records after they had been transferred to the Archives. The National Archives continues to receive a large number of documents under these authorities. However, it does not have the capacity to process such a large volume of records and continues to accumulate a large backlog.
6.75 Furthermore, a recent survey that the National Archives conducted of four departments revealed a number of deficiencies in less-consulted records that are still under departmental control. These included a complete lack of control in the filing and retrieval of these records, invalid or incomplete records disposition authorities, undefined retention periods, and storage conditions that do not meet the standards. These deficiencies undermine the Archives' ability to identify records of archival value and result in major storage costs for records that could already have been destroyed.
6.76 Terms and conditions of authorities not met. The departments and agencies—not the National Archives of Canada—determine the duration of the retention periods for their various types of records, based on their administrative and operational needs. To this end, they establish records retention schedules. Federal departments and agencies may keep their records for 5 to 30 years or more. The National Archives cannot force organizations to respect these retention periods.
6.77 A number of departments and agencies keep records of archival value on their premises or in the federal records centres for much longer periods than those agreed upon in the terms and conditions for transfer. Many departments hesitate to transfer their records; they claim that they need immediate access to meet their needs. When the federal departments and agencies finally transfer records to the National Archives, it is often storage needs that motivate them to do so. The increasing use of electronic records, which require little space, will probably not further encourage the organizations to transfer their records on a regular basis.
6.78 The Archives does not have up-to-date information on retention periods. It has not implemented a monitoring system to ensure that records are transferred according to the established retention periods.
6.79 Failure to transfer records at the time prescribed in the authorities, and long retention periods, increase the risk of losing contextual references necessary to assess and document the history of government activities. Furthermore, during the period when the records are in the care of the departments and agencies, the National Archives cannot protect these records or make them accessible.
A crisis situation recognized but far from being resolved
6.80 The National Archives recognized that, despite all its efforts, it could not attain its objective to modernize the records disposition authorities. According to the Archives, it needs to review the general method, which is still too demanding and complex; adopt more flexible tools; review its method of dealing with the federal departments and agencies; integrate internal management processes; and adopt a risk management approach. After more than 12 years of limited success in its modernization attempts, the National Archives has no assurance of fulfilling its mandate without undertaking another major revision.
6.81 In 2003, the National Archives of Canada decided to proceed with a fundamental rationalization exercise using a new appraisal methodology. It plans to re-evaluate all federal government activities by 2009, revoke all records disposition authorities now in effect, and replace them with more comprehensive, flexible ones that are centred on the important functions of departments.
6.82 However, the National Archives of Canada has not estimated the effect of this new approach on the volume of records that will need to be processed; nor has it estimated the associated costs, despite the enormous impact that these variables have on its activities and resources. The current growth rate is of concern: inventories of National Archives government textual records increased by 85 percent over the last decade. This growth occurred in a context where the authorities did not cover a considerable number of governmental activities. There is also a significant portion of archival records that are kept in the departments, agencies, and federal records centres. Moreover, the National Archives of Canada does not have any management performance measures for archival records obtained from the federal government.
6.83 Significant backlogs. The National Archives also has the mandate to collect records from the private sector. The Canadian Archives Branch receives personal archival collections from cabinet ministers, as well as archival material from corporations and individuals. It also deals with the photographic and audio-visual material obtained from federal departments and agencies.
6.84 We noted considerable backlogs in the acquisition and processing of archives from the private sector, including holdings of former ministers and members of Parliament. The National Archives has estimated that it needs about 275 full-time equivalents or $14 million to process these backlogs. About 9,000 linear metres of private records at the National Archives, which are ready to be acquired or processed, have yet to be appraised by archivists. There is also a major backlog in the processing of other types of records—audio-visual, photographs, and works of art. The backlogs include a number of ministers' records from the past 35 years. In the meantime, those records are not accessible to researchers or to the public. The Canadian Archives Branch places priority on those records that may result in tax credits for the donation. Recently, the Branch did a study on the total cost of ownership, which it intends to use in planning to reduce its backlogs. (See photograph)
6.85 Impact of the new Management of Government Information Policy. In May 2003, the Treasury Board Secretariat published a new Management of Government Information Policy. This policy recognizes the importance of information in the government's decision-making process, service delivery, and accountability. It confers a leading role to federal departments and agencies in information management, including the disposal and destruction of records. It also gives the National Archives a leadership role in the records management field of the Canadian government.
6.86 The new policy encourages the use of electronic systems as a method of creating, using, and managing government information. The management of electronic records will result in a number of new requirements and will identify problems that are completely different from those caused by the paper records. For example, the life cycle, authenticity, completeness, clarity and comprehensiveness of the records, and the very definition of a record are problematic. The National Archives also recognized that the management of electronic records will result in a new way of acting and thinking. For example, it anticipates that it will need to intervene much earlier in the records' life cycle—in fact, before electronic records are created.
6.87 Over the past few years, the Archives has played a leading role and taken several initiatives to support the Treasury Board Secretariat and the departments and agencies in managing information and electronic records. However, it has not yet been able to analyze whether it has the capacity to provide all of the support and coaching they need. The draft of the joint work plan developed in June 2003 with the Treasury Board Secretariat identifies an impressive list of many types of tools to be developed and validated. Carrying out these projects will require numerous resources that the Archives has not yet estimated. Over the next few years, these tasks will increase the already large workload that will be needed to upgrade the records disposition authorities' regime.
6.88 Implementing the Management of Government Information Policy will require a major cultural shift in information management in the federal public service. It will also require reinforced accountability on the part of departmental management and the development of competencies. The Treasury Board Secretariat will also need to provide the means and closely monitor the situation if it wants to support the National Archives in its mandate. We found that the Secretariat had not carried out a business case for this public policy. This type of analysis generally provides information on the benefits, costs, and risks related to the policy. We are concerned that the lack of this type of information could lead information managers to interpret this policy as being a low priority in government administration.
Incomplete information on the nature and condition of archival records
6.89 We found that the National Archives does not have specific information on the nature or condition of archival records kept on departmental premises or in the federal records centres. The National Archives knows the general condition of its holdings. However, it does not report on what proportion of the collections is threatened by acidification and what measures are to be taken to ensure their longevity. Thus, the National Archives cannot provide information on the magnitude of this problem or, as a result, on the progress made in processing the records and the work that remains to be done. Given the lack of such information, it is difficult to establish relevant protection plans with adequate resources.
6.90 In summary, the National Archives of Canada has no assurance of obtaining all government records that are of historic interest or archival importance. Despite the efforts and progress made over the past decade, the National Archives is still struggling with a situation outside of its control that is growing and becoming more complex. Its capacity to carry out its legislative mandate is restricted, and the measures it is considering are far-reaching and will require validation. Without the appropriate tools, a cultural shift in the government administration, and regular accountability on the part of each stakeholder, the risks to the federal government's archival heritage will only increase.
6.91 Recommendation. The National Archives of Canada should implement mechanisms to obtain comprehensive information on the nature and condition of archival heritage, whether it is under their own control or that of departments and agencies.
The National Archives of Canada's response. The National Archives agrees with this recommendation and, in recognizing the importance of it, has recently undertaken a Collections Risk Assessment for the purpose of identifying renewed strategies for the protection and preservation of its collections. This initiative, along with the development of a more robust collections management function, will enable the organization to achieve the following: a more complete and accurate description of the state of the collection, in all the organization's facilities; a more strategic approach to preservation planning; the capacity to assess and mitigate risks to the collection under a risk management framework; effective, readily applicable survey methodologies; and a clearer identification of the information technology framework that is needed to support accurate, up-to-date reporting on the state of the collection and the progress made with preservation plans and strategies.
The National Archives has completed a review of all existing records disposition authorities and communicated the results with departments. A complete life-cycle approach is being developed that will link departmental information management practices with the archival practices of the National Archives. This approach will foster the early identification of archival records and provide departments with the necessary information management tools and guidance in order to provide appropriate care of these records until transfer to the National Archives.
If enacted, in Bill C-36 (currently before Parliament), there is a proposed amendment that would allow the Librarian and Archivist to require the transfer of government records that, in the opinion of the Librarian and Archivist, are at risk of serious damage or destruction.
6.92 Recommendation. The National Archives of Canada should implement, as soon as possible, its new method of selecting and acquiring records of historic value and report annually to Parliament on its progress. It should equip itself with appropriate management tools that allow it to measure how well it is protecting federal government records of archival value.
The National Archives of Canada's response. The National Archives agrees with this recommendation and is currently in the process of developing and implementing its new approach to the selection and acquisition of records of historic and archival value. A review of all existing records disposition authorities has been completed. In addition, new internal procedures are being developed, as are new terms and conditions for the transfer of records to the National Archives and related guidelines and application tools. This work also responds to needs expressed by government departments at a recent Information Management Focus Day.
The National Archives will seek to develop indicators and enhance its existing reporting framework, namely the Departmental Performance Report and the Report on Plans and Priorities, to provide the ability to respond to this recommendation.
6.93 Recommendation. The Treasury Board Secretariat, in collaboration with the National Archives of Canada, should develop a comprehensive plan to implement the new Management of Government Information Policy in order to provide the necessary support to federal departments and agencies that need to apply it. The Secretariat should develop a results-based management and accountability framework that departments and agencies can use in implementing the policy and in preparing reports to Parliament.
The Treasury Board Secretariat's response. The Management of Government Information Policy was the result of several years of research and consultation across the federal government. The new policy responded to the need of departments and agencies for an updated policy regime that recognized the increasing role that electronic communications, documents, and records play in the operation of government, policy and decision making, and the delivery of high-quality programs and services. It is recognized that effective implementation will require a multi-pronged strategy encompassing leadership and new accountability models, standards, and guidelines; investments in skills and technology solutions, training, and communications; and performance indicators and measurement regimes. Attitudes and practices must change if the federal government is to manage information as a valued asset.
The Treasury Board Secretariat will continue to work closely with the National Library and National Archives Canada, as well as with departments and agencies, to develop and manage a comprehensive and phased strategy for implementing the Management of Government Information Policy and sound information management practices. This work will be done within the context of the new Management Accountability Framework, which sets out the Secretariat's expectations for management excellence.
The National Archives of Canada's response. The National Archives agrees that improvements should be made in information management in government departments, including the organizing and scheduling of records to be transferred to the National Archives for permanent retention. In conjunction with government departments, it is currently developing new guidelines for the transfer of records.
It should be noted, however, that the physical transfer of records of government departments to the National Archives alone does not ensure the preservation of those records. The increasing number of electronic records created by government departments (for example, e-mail) will need new methods of management and ongoing maintenance to ensure the authenticity and reliability of these records over time, both in departments and after transfer to the National Archives. In addition, this growing challenge of managing electronic records is only part of the larger information management challenge faced by government for records in all media. Backlogs of undermanaged traditional paper records also exist in almost every department.
The National Archives agrees with this recommendation and is currently in the process of developing such an implementation plan with the Treasury Board Secretariat's Chief Information Officer Branch and the National Library. The Treasury Board Secretariat and the National Archives have launched a joint project to assist government departments to scope the requirements necessary to implement the new Management of Government Information Policy. The National Archives has developed a self-assessment tool that departments can use to gauge their own internal state of information management readiness. Results from departmental self-assessments, as they become available, will be used in the implementation project.
Collections of federal departments and agencies
6.94 Over the years, a number of federal departments and agencies have accumulated important collections of various objects and specimens while carrying out their activities. Consider, for example, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's national collection of 17 million insects, the 33 million archaeological objects of the Parks Canada Agency, or the important artefact collections of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Some of these organizations, such as the national museums and the Parks Canada Agency, have a legal mandate for heritage protection. The majority of them are subject to the general policies of the Treasury Board Secretariat.
6.95 We are concerned that the Treasury Board Secretariat's policies on materiel management and on the disposal of moveable assets do not include the protection of collections or artifacts that could have a heritage value and that are held by federal government organizations other than the national museums and the Parks Canada Agency. These organizations are also not required to conform to particular requirements for protecting these collections in their daily management operations. Consequently, they may not give their collections the needed attention or may dispose of them for practical reasons related to their primary mandate, without taking into account their heritage value. These organizations are also not required to report publicly on the management of their collections. As early as 1982, the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee (Applebaum-Hébert) had described this situation.
6.96 The federal government has a number of mechanisms to evaluate the heritage value of federal buildings and that of cultural property donated to established Canadian institutions or for possible sale abroad. For example, the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board relies on the museums and others' expertise to determine the heritage value of artifacts or collections likely to be donated to them. A similar approach could be used to evaluate the heritage value of collections held by departments and other federal organizations.
6.97 Recommendation. The Treasury Board Secretariat, in collaboration with the Department of Canadian Heritage, should define its expectations in protecting heritage collections. The Secretariat should clarify, in its policies relating to the management of movable goods, the responsibilities of federal departments and organizations that own heritage collections. The Secretariat should also determine the information on the nature and condition of collections and on the performance of protection activities that departments and organizations should provide on a periodical basis.
The Treasury Board Secretariat's response. In the context of the current rationalization of policies underway in the Secretariat, the recommendation will be considered as part of the revision to the Materiel Management Policy and the related Policy on the Disposal of Surplus Moveable Crown Assets. The latter already specifically recognizes the importance of heritage assets.
The Department of Canadian Heritage's response. The Department of Canadian Heritage will work with the Treasury Board Secretariat to ensure that Treasury Board policies related to the management of movable goods include considerations that are appropriate to the management and protection of heritage collections.
Information to Parliament
Little performance information about heritage protection programs
6.98 Public reports of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Parks Canada Agency, the National Archives of Canada, and the National Library of Canada provide information to Parliament on the nature of federal cultural heritage and the risks and challenges to protection. However, these reports provide only limited information on the condition of heritage. They do not specify expected results of protection and do not provide information on results achieved and costs of proposed measures to improve protection. Thus, Parliament does not have a complete picture of the federal cultural heritage; nor does it have a clear idea of what is really accomplished with departmental resources and those of heritage organizations.
6.99 We found that information on the outcomes of protection measures is lacking. All organizations we examined have adopted general heritage protection objectives. For example, the Parks Canada Agency is aiming to ensure and maintain the commemorative integrity of national historic sites, and the National Archives is working to preserve the history of government. However, none has specific goals or indicators to provide an overview of when and how the commemorative integrity or history of government would be considered protected. Each organization places importance on partnership as a method of promoting heritage conservation, but none provides any information about what is expected from these partnerships.
6.100 There is also a lack of information about the long-term consequences of protection issues and what this means to Canadians. Reports from the National Archives of Canada and the National Library of Canada provide a wealth of information about their infrastructure deficiencies, but they offer little information on the issues of collection protection stemming from their resource reductions and the poor condition of their infrastructure.
6.101 Further, accountability for the activities of the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board is lacking. Indeed, the Board has not produced an annual report of its activities for 10 years, as required by the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.
6.102 Proper accountability for heritage protection would require that the Department of Canadian Heritage and federal heritage organizations provide information on the nature and condition of collections, historic sites, and federal heritage buildings, and on expected and actual results of heritage protection. The following information would allow a better definition of the expected results of the protection of cultural heritage:
- an inventory of all collections, historic sites, and heritage buildings under federal control, including an evaluation of the condition of this heritage;
- an analysis of the requirements for protecting and restoring collections and historic sites that are in poor condition;
- a management framework including priorities and some indication that the collections and historic sites in need of protection are included in these priorities;
- an estimate of the costs of protection; and
- an evaluation of the deficiencies related to the coverage of collections and an estimate of the cost to rectify these deficiencies.
6.103 The protection regimes currently in place rely on the actions of a number of stakeholders who are not equipped with the appropriate accountability mechanisms. With respect to built heritage, departments and agencies that own national historic sites and federal heritage buildings are not required to report on the management of their heritage resources. For archival heritage, the Treasury Board Secretariat and federal departments are not required to report on the management of documents. This is also the case for departments and organizations that own collections.
6.104 Recommendation. The Department of Canadian Heritage, the Parks Canada Agency, the National Archives of Canada, and the National Library of Canada should define clearly the results they wish to achieve in the protection of heritage and collect the information necessary to evaluate how well these results have been achieved. They should inform Parliament of the condition of heritage protection, the measures considered for improving this condition, and the resources needed to carry out the measures.
The Department of Canadian Heritage's response. The Department of Canadian Heritage agrees with this recommendation. Through a Heritage Policy Framework, the Department will define its desired overall outcomes for the protection of cultural heritage and develop appropriate tools and mechanisms to achieve the desired data collection, planning, and reporting. Through the Historic Places Initiative, the Department will define the desired results and reporting mechanisms to ensure the protection of built environment. In the context of its Portfolio Management responsibilities, the Department of Canadian Heritage will work with the respective portfolio organizations to achieve a consistent approach in the implementation of this recommendation.
The Parks Canada Agency's response. Parks Canada has provided information to Parliament on the condition of built cultural resources as part of its annual reports for several years. The Agency is also on schedule in assessing and publicly reporting on the commemorative integrity of national historic sites. In the Agency's view, insufficient funding is the most significant challenge, both in improving the timeliness of evaluations of the condition of cultural resources and its ability to improve the condition of these resources.
The National Archives of Canada's response. The National Archives agrees with this recommendation and has undertaken a Collections Risk Assessment for the purpose of identifying renewed strategies for the protection and preservation of its collections.
The creation of Library and Archives Canada is currently being considered by Parliament with Bill C-36. The new institution will continue to have collections at the heart of its services and to place a continuing priority on conservation and preservation activities of this national cultural resource. Corporate strategic policy and planning for preservation will be strengthened in the new organization.
The National Archives has reallocated existing resources in order to begin the implementation of the new information management initiatives already announced. However, the records of the Government of Canada are destined to grow and are becoming more costly and complex to maintain and preserve. The National Archives is presently under-resourced to deal with the increasing number of archival records in electronic form as well as the legacy records in government departments.
Any initiative to improve the protection of this heritage resource should address the complete life cycle of the records. This would include the resources necessary for the long-term preservation of the records in an authentic and reliable manner that would grow in relation to the volume of records created.
The National Library of Canada's response. The National Library of Canada agrees with this recommendation. More specific information about results the Library wishes to achieve regarding the protection of published heritage will be provided. Departmental performance reports, reports on plans and priorities, and other tools will report with more depth on the evaluation of results and on achieved results, noting risks and their impacts for short-, medium-, and long-term preservation.
The Library is willing to further develop, with other heritage organizations, performance indicators for the protection of cultural heritage. A logic model will be part of the Library and Archives Canada Management Accountability Framework.
Oversight of cultural heritage protection
6.105 The Minister of Canadian Heritage is responsible for ensuring that the major orientations of the organizations within the portfolio support the government's goals and priorities. The Minister is also responsible to Parliament for the resources allocated to the organizations. The Department of Canadian Heritage is responsible for supporting the Minister in carrying out the Department's responsibilities and in developing policies, including heritage policy.
6.106 To provide proper support for this role, the Department created a Portfolio Affairs Directorate with a mandate to support the development of more coherent and integrated perspectives for the portfolio organizations. This directorate integrates, among other things, portfolio issues related to policy, planning, reporting, and communication.
6.107 The Department also created committees composed of senior officials of each portfolio organization, to ensure that, among other things, policies, including heritage policies, are harmonized. Working groups in areas such as history and heritage, audiovisual, and the arts support these committees.
New orientations and initiatives for the protection of heritage
6.108 In the last three speeches from the Throne, the government committed to strengthening key arts and heritage organizations, protecting important historic sites and buildings, developing Canadian communities' capacity for heritage protection, and promoting wider use of partnerships for heritage protection.
6.109 In its 2002-03 Budget, the federal government introduced a $30 million financial assistance program for businesses that own heritage sites. It recently proposed a bill to create a new institution that would consolidate the collections and expertise of the National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada. The Department of Canadian Heritage has launched the Historic Places Initiative and has started the development of a strategic framework for heritage.
6.110 Bill creating Library and Archives Canada. The purpose of this bill is to create a unique and modern knowledge institution, with the authority and governance structure required to fulfill its mandate. The mandate would include preserving Canada's documentary heritage for current and future generations, being a source of lasting information about Canada that is accessible to everyone, constituting the ongoing history of Government of Canada organizations, and fostering co-operation between communities working to promote and preserve Canada's documentary heritage.
6.111 Historic Places Initiative. The federal government, in co-operation with provincial and territorial partners, is working to create tools to help Canadians preserve historic sites and use them in new ways. A federal-provincial-territorial working group, assisted by a variety of professionals and technical experts, developed a new Canadian Register of Historic Places. Once launched, the Register will include a list of about 20,000 Canadian historic places. The Register will be accessible by Internet and will constitute an important source of information for planners, policymakers, developers, industry, community organizations, teachers, and students. Public authorities have developed new Conservation Standards and Guidelines. These measures will provide guidance to anyone carrying on conservation work in Canada. A work certification process is also currently being developed. These three tools may potentially be used to gain access to public funds earmarked for heritage protection.
6.112 The federal government is currently consulting with interested parties on drafting a bill to strengthen the protection framework for historic places. The proposed legislation would give legal protection to all historic places located on federal lands or in federal waters.
6.113 Development of a strategic framework for heritage. In 2000-01, the Department of Canadian Heritage made the development of a strategic framework for Canadian heritage a priority. This framework seeks to guide future interventions by the federal government in this area by clarifying the government's role, increasing the cohesiveness of the various policy instruments in effect, and creating new partnerships and new means for maximizing the government's efforts in this area. The Department, in co-operation with other federal organizations and stakeholders, has started developing this framework, but the target date for the project was delayed. However, the Department has indicated that the development of this framework remains a priority.
6.114 The new orientations and initiatives detailed above, although developed to renew ways of doing things, will not correct all weaknesses identified during our audit. For example, the new register of national historic sites and the legislative proposal designed to strengthen the protection framework for historic sites, federal heritage buildings, and archaeological sites will not automatically resolve the issue of how much funding to allocate to the protection of cultural heritage. Moreover, the creation of Library and Archives Canada will not be sufficient to resolve the preservation problems noted and the risks of losses of archival and published heritage.
Balancing choices with resources
6.115 By nature, heritage grows continuously. In the last 10 years, National Library collections increased by 35 percent and National Archives collections by 85 percent. During this period, the number of national historic sites administered by the federal government increased by seven percent. Over the last five years, the number of designated federal heritage buildings increased by 10 percent.
6.116 Protecting our cultural heritage means making choices about which sites and collections to protect and the means of doing so. These choices are never easy to make, but they have become critically important to the development of protection strategies. Currently, the Parks Canada Agency, the National Library of Canada, and the National Archives of Canada can hardly meet their mandate to protect heritage. A better balance between resources and the mandate and responsibilities in the area of protection and would encourage more responsible administration and accountability on the part of government agents and provide greater assurance of the protection of heritage assets.
6.117 We feel that the time has come to adopt a more strategic and global approach to the protection of cultural heritage. The federal government needs to define more clearly the results it seeks related to heritage protection, the means available, and the resources it can earmark. This effort needs to include an examination of the way roles and responsibilities are shared by the Department of Canadian Heritage, other federal heritage organizations, and partners from other public administrations and the private sector. It must also consider the elements of heritage that are worthy of preserving.
6.118 Recommendation. The Department of Canadian heritage should complete the heritage policy framework as soon as possible.
The Department of Canadian Heritage's response. The Department of Canadian Heritage agrees with this recommendation.
6.119 Recommendation. The federal government, in collaboration with its partners from the public and private sector, should define the results it wants to achieve in the area of cultural heritage protection, examine the way roles and responsibilities are shared among heritage organizations, and find a balance between expected results and available resources.
The Department of Canadian Heritage's response. Development of the Heritage Policy Framework and the Historic Places Initiative are key tools for the federal government to define its role in heritage, to establish partnerships with other stakeholders, and to define heritage protection outcomes and strategies to achieve them. It is anticipated that the Treasury Board's expenditure and management review of the fixed capital assets of selected organizations in the Canadian Heritage portfolio will address many of the issues raised in this recommendation.
The National Library of Canada's response. The National Library agrees with this recommendation. The Library will contribute to a global review of roles and responsibilities concerning cultural heritage protection in the federal government. The Library expects the Department of Canadian Heritage to take a leadership role.
The National Library agrees that current measures for the protection of cultural heritage have reached their limits. This is particularly the case with respect to the physical infrastructure for the housing of the Library's collections that is provided by the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada. Resource constraints have also severely limited the Library's preservation program. The Library is ready to participate, with the Department of Canadian Heritage and with other key heritage organizations, in an overall review concerning better protection of cultural heritage.
The protection regime has reached its limit
6.120 Our audit revealed that built, archival, and published heritage under the auspices of the federal government is at risk of being lost. This is mainly because of deficiencies in the management mechanisms, weaknesses in various protection regimes, a decrease in resources allocated to heritage protection, and the limited capacity of the buildings housing the collections to provide protection. Meanwhile, the heritage content in need of protection is increasing rapidly, and the gap between what needs to be done and the resources available is ever-widening. The risk of loss or damage caused to national historic sites and federal heritage buildings and to collections of the National Library and National Archives will increase. Thus, future generations may not have access to key heritage components or will have to bear higher costs to preserve their heritage. Exhibits 6.5, 6.6, and 6.7 summarize, for each major protection activity, strengths and deficiencies observed in built, archival, published, and movable heritage sectors.
6.121 A number of factors are responsible for the difficulties the current protection regime is currently facing. In this chapter, we report on the efficiency and effectiveness issues related to operating aspects of the organizations responsible for heritage protection; the lack of information about the nature and condition of our heritage, which undermines the capacity of the Department Canadian Heritage to develop policies; the inadequate information to Parliament; and the weak accountability of several interested federal organizations.
6.122 Currently, the Parks Canada Agency, the National Library of Canada, and the National Archives of Canada can hardly meet their mandate to protect heritage. We seriously doubt that planned management and operational improvements will allow them to meet all preservation challenges the federal government faces. We believe it is essential to rethink the ways of doing things to achieve a better balance between the volume of work and available resources. A better balance between the mandate and responsibilities for protection and resources would encourage more responsible administration and accountability on the part of government agents, and provide greater assurance of the protection of heritage assets.
6.123 The federal government has committed itself to better protecting our cultural heritage. We believe the time has come to adopt a more strategic and comprehensive approach. The federal government must reflect on the results it wants to achieve for heritage protection, on protection means available, and on resources it can allocate to this end. This review, already introduced in the context of developing a new Heritage Policy Framework, needs to include how roles and responsibilities of heritage agencies are shared among the Department of Canadian Heritage, other departments and cultural federal institutions, and partners of other public bodies and the private sector.
About the Audit
The focus of our audit was to determine whether the Department of Canadian Heritage and the main federal organizations working to protect tangible cultural heritage have implemented protection mechanisms that allow them to
- know the nature and condition of our heritage;
- identify and select the built, archival, and movable heritage that merits protection;
- preserve built and published heritage; and
- account for the results achieved in the protection of tangible cultural heritage.
Scope and approach
Our audit, which took place between October 2002 and September 2003, covered the federal government's protection activities, rather than the valuing activities, of our tangible cultural heritage. We focussed on the areas that presented the most risk to the protection of cultural heritage: selection and conservation of national historic sites and federal heritage buildings, acquisition of federal archives, conservation of the collections of the National Library of Canada, identification of collections of federal government organizations, and identification of Canadian cultural property. We excluded the four national museums of Canada and affiliated museums from the scope of our audit. As Crown corporations, they are subject, every five years, to special examinations as set out in the Financial Administration Act. During the latest round of special examinations, which we undertook between 1998 and 2002, we examined whether the national museums had implemented systems and practices that enable them to protect specimen and artifact collections.
The audit was conducted in the following organizations:
- Parks Canada Agency
- National Archives of Canada
- National Library of Canada
- Department of Canadian Heritage
- Secretariat of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
- Secretariat of the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board
- Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office
- Treasury Board Secretariat
- Other departments that own collections
We did not examine the overall management of each of these organizations.
We did not verify how owners of national historic sites and federal heritage buildings, other than the Parks Canada Agency, protect built heritage; nor did we verify how organizations subject to the National Archives of Canada Act protect the archival heritage they house while records are awaiting transfer to the National Archives. We also did not verify how departments that own collections protect them. Instead, we focussed on those organizations whose primary mandate is the protection of heritage.
We visited conservation facilities of the organizations examined. We interviewed staff, examined senior management files and reports, and analyzed data.
We expected that
- inventories and information systems would provide reasonably reliable information about the nature and condition of tangible cultural heritage;
- the selection of elements of built, archival, and movable heritage would be based on strategies and selection plans;
- the selection of built, archival, and movable heritage would be based on recognized and relevant criteria;
- strategic conservation plans would enable relevant intervention in the preservation of built and documentary heritage;
- the preservation of built and documentary heritage would be based on the application of recognized preservation measures and established standards;
- the expected results of heritage protection would be clearly defined;
- the roles and responsibilities of federal organizations in the protection of tangible cultural heritage would be clearly defined;
- information about the effectiveness of protection mechanisms for tangible cultural heritage would be available; and
- the results achieved concerning the protection of heritage would be submitted to Parliament.
Our audit supports the Auditor General of Canada's focus on Heritage and Legacy. It contributes to the well-being of Canadians by providing information on the condition of cultural heritage and the ways to improve it.
Some of the quantitative information included in this chapter is based on data from various federal departments and organizations and other sources. We have satisfied ourselves that this information was reasonably reliable given its use in the chapter. However, we did not audit this information.
Assistant Auditor General: Richard Flageole
Principal: Ginette Moreau
Lead Director: Richard Gaudreau
Director: Paul Morse
For information, please contact Communications at (613) 995-3708 or
1-888-761-5933 (toll free).