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Advocating for policy change to ensure Lincoln and Ontario's heritage is preserved.

Vineland's Schoolhouse 1895 - 2015

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4 December 2015: Our submission to Ontario's Culture Strategy - Strengthen Ontario's approach to protecting its built heritage

To the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport (MTCS),

We write to ask the MTCS to put a much more urgent, stronger, and effective emphasis on the protection of built heritage in its forthcoming cultural strategy than is provided either in the cursory reference made to built heritage in your recent discussion paper "Telling our Stories, Growing our Economy: Developing a Culture Strategy for Ontario" (see p. 14) or in the MTCS's current suite of activities. We were disappointed to see that Ontario's built heritage received so little attention in your discussion paper. The guiding principles listed on p. 9 of your paper do not mention built heritage at all as a priority issue. This is a serious omission and we implore you to remedy this in your articulation of Ontario's new cultural strategy.

The heritage site designation process in Ontario is seriously impaired and needs immediate strengthening. The Ontario Heritage Act (OHA) does not provide adequate protection for Ontario's heritage properties. Across the province, Ontario's built heritage is under assault by thousands of individual wrecking balls as municipalities stand aside and fail to use their powers under the OHA, and the MTCS Minister fails to appropriately apply the OHA.

In this submission, we first diagnose some of the key weaknesses in Ontario's approach to protecting its built heritage and then propose some solutions that should feature in the MTCS's cultural strategy and its work.

Diagnosis: Key weaknesses in Ontario's approach to the protection of built heritage

1/ The OHA enables municipalities to designate properties of heritage value for conservation, but it does not compel municipalities to do so: this leaves protection of Ontario's heritage sites to the whims of local governments. The OHA does not require municipalities to develop a policy for preserving heritage sites; it does not push them to create a strategy for implementing a heritage policy; it does not demand that municipalities create a heritage register of important sites; and it does not insist that municipal governments designate properties of obvious heritage value. Instead, the OHA simply suggests all of these things and leaves them to the discretion of municipal government. As a result, protection of built heritage in Ontario is haphazard at best. Many municipalities lack any institutionalized heritage policies, strategies, and processes. To our knowledge, no stocktaking has been done of the extent to which Ontario's roughly 444 municipalities have put such heritage measures in place. We know that our town, the Town of Lincoln, does not yet have a heritage designation policy, strategy, or process.

2/ No process exists to challenge a failure by a municipality to protect a heritage site. We understand that a possibility to appeal such cases to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) was eliminated in the 2005 revision of the OHA. This leaves the fate of Ontario's built heritage entirely to the imperfect deliberations of local politicians, most of whom lack any expert counsel on heritage matters, with no review or oversight of their decisions. This is grossly asymmetric: property owners-often developers-have an opportunity to challenge municipal heritage designations at the OMB, but there is no recourse to address municipal failures to designate a site.

3/ The OHA does not contain any provisions to compel restoration when designated heritage sites are damaged. The absence of any remediation provisions essentially guts the OHA of substantial power: a developer or property owner could damage a designated heritage property and this would not trigger substantial consequences. This is oddly inconsistent with other Ontario legislation, such as our environmental laws. If a polluter damages a river, for instance, the polluter is compelled by law to clean up its mess. Such remediation provisions should be added to the OHA.

4/ The Ontario government's various ministries are not coordinated to protect Ontario's built heritage and, at times, work at cross purposes to the detriment of heritage preservation. For instance, there is no expectation in either law or policy that would compel public owners or managers of potential heritage properties to consult with municipalities or the provincial government on heritage designation prior to altering or destroying these properties beyond the limited list of public bodies named in Ontario Regulation 157/10. School boards and municipal governments are not covered by this regulation.

5/ The Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport is not appropriately applying the OHA. The Minister is confusing and conflating the distinct municipal and provincial designation processes under the OHA. In response to the 6 April 2015 application (Exhibit A attached) by Friends of Vineland Public School 1895 for provincial heritage designation of the 120-year old architecturally, culturally, and historically significant 1-room school house formerly at 4057 Victoria Avenue (Town of Lincoln Lot 23, Concession III), The Honourable Michael Coteau, Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport refused to provide designation because, in his words (see Exhibit B attached):

I am guided by the principle that under the Ontario Heritage Act primary responsibility for identifying and protecting properties rests with municipalities. As the level of government closest to local communities, they are in the best position to make decisions about the conservation of these properties, with the advice of their appointed heritage committees. The Province respects local government decisions with regard to the protection of such properties under the Act.

This confused the Minister's right and responsibility to provide provincial designation and protection under the OHA with the OHA's empowerment of local governments also to provide municipal designation and protection. In deferring to local government on the matter of provincial designation, Min. Coteau failed to appropriately enforce the OHA. In so doing, he erroneously allowed the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) to proceed with demolition of this important historical site during July 2015.

6/ There is no appeal process when the Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport fails to act on a provincial heritage designation request. Clear criteria have been established for provincial heritage designation at: Nevertheless, the process by which the Minister considers such requests is entirely opaque and subject to the arbitrary discretion of the Minister. Once a decision is rendered, there appears to be no appeal process in response to either a positive or negative decision.


Ontario's heritage designation processes are broken. Both these processes and the Ontario Heritage Act on which they're founded require substantial overhauls. Specifically:

1/ The Ontario MTCS should undertake a public audit and stocktaking of heritage policies, strategies, processes, and registries in Ontario's 444 municipalities to assess the current state of Ontario's municipal heritage designation institutional infrastructure. Once a clear picture of deficiencies has been created, remedial action should be taken by the MTCS to ensure municipalities plug these holes.

2/ Stronger expectations on municipalities for robust heritage designation systems should be written into a revised OHA. The OHA should compel municipalities to create, operate, and maintain these systems. The OHA should also compel municipalities to take proper account of the counsel provided by their municipal heritage advisory committees and to justify in a transparent fashion any deviations from committee recommendations.

3/ The Ontario government needs to create an appeal process for concerned parties when municipalities fail to designate valuable heritage properties. Leave to appeal to the OMB in such cases should be restored or an alternative appeal process should be created.

4/ Provisions should be added to the OHA to ensure that any damage to designated heritage properties must be compensated for with appropriate remediation and restoration work. In short, the OHA should be given the same teeth as similar environmental legislation.

5/ The OHA should be revised to mandate coordination amongst public bodies on the heritage status of all public buildings, with a particular emphasis on those older than 100 years. Ontario law and policy should mandate that all public buildings of potential heritage value should be subjected to a heritage review process prior to any decision to sell, alter, or demolish them. For instance, Accommodation Review processes run by local school boards should be required to participate in a municipal or provincial heritage review prior to a decision to close, renovate, or destroy a historic school building.

6/ The Ontario Attorney General's office should provide clarifying guidance for the Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport and Ministry officials on the distinct application of the OHA for municipal and provincial designation. It should never again be the case that the Minister defers to municipalities on a provincial heritage designation application.

7/ The Ontario government should create a process for review and appeal of Ministerial decisions on provincial heritage status.

We hope that these recommendations will feature in Ontario's new cultural strategy and in the Ontario government's work programme for the year ahead.

We know-from Toronto's St Lawrence Market to Ottawa's major tourist sites and onward to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Jordan, Elora, St Jacobs, Kingston and other towns across Ontario that preservation of built heritage makes a significant contribution to Ontario's social and economic wellbeing.

It's time to make Ontario's efforts and structures to protect its built heritage more strategic and effective, and less ad hoc and arbitrary.

We look forward to your action on these important matters and look forward to hearing from you.

Respectfully submitted,

Friends of Vineland Public School 1895

Thank you for your continued support!