Poor heritage protection highlighted by the Auditor General

The state is far from being exemplary in preserving the common heritage of Quebecers, as the law nevertheless promises to do, documents a devastating audit carried out following the many failures that have accumulated during the last years on the side of the Ministry of Culture and Communications (MCC).

After months of analysis, the Auditor’s report tabled before the National Assembly falls like a mass: the Ministry of Culture (MCC), notes the report of the Auditor General of Quebec tabled in the National Assembly this Wednesday, “n ‘has not established a vision of the real estate heritage and has not positioned itself as to the results to be achieved in terms of knowledge, protection, enhancement and transmission of this heritage to future generations ”. This Ministry, indicates the report, does not take care to update and adapt its interventions. Nor did it “take the necessary steps to promote heritage as an important asset of our society or to raise awareness among citizens and all those involved in the sector of its invaluable and irreplaceable value”. The result, in Quebec society, is a neglect because even the partners of the Department “do not feel sufficiently challenged”.

However, it is incumbent on the State to ensure the preservation of “priceless and irreplaceable property”, insofar as “the immovable heritage of a community and a people is an integral part of their cultural identity and constitutes a legacy bequeathed to future generations “.

However, classified and officially protected goods are not kept in good condition. The Office of the Auditor General cites several cases already familiar to readers of Le Devoir. That for example of the mill of the chasm in Baie-Saint-Paul, classified in 1965 and which was left to collapse at the end of the 2000s. We also give the example of the building of the Cèdres power station, inspired by European castles, classified heritage building in 1984 but abandoned since.

The auditor general’s audit indicates that the Department does not even have “information on the state of several classified heritage buildings or located on a classified heritage site”. Almost 40% of goods are not even inspected every four years. In the past five years, no inspections have been performed in 2 of the 17 administrative regions.

Of the 41 buildings and heritage sites requiring major maintenance, taking into account the partial data available, 20 were not inspected as part of a regional tour, while 15 were inspected more recently. three years.

Despite the numerous alerts

The MCC does not even have complete information on the value of the housing stock under its authority. Nor does it rely on a structured watch process to oversee the monitoring and processing of information on the safeguarding and enhancement of heritage. Nor does it monitor in a structured fashion what is happening elsewhere in the area of ​​preservation.

When it comes to classifying public goods, the department’s assessment framework appears to be incomplete. The analyzes themselves are of variable quality and poorly documented. In addition, the very long delays are detrimental to preservation: 40% of the processing of heritage property classification requests take more than 5 years and 20% more than 10 years. Besides the ministry appears “rarely at the origin of initiatives of exchanges and partnerships between the citizens and the actors of the medium”. Meanwhile, the ministry has not provided a mechanism to inspect the property or provide better follow-up. The Auditor General suggests that the ministry align itself with practices observed on the UNESCO side.

While the development of traditional trades is more necessary than ever for the restoration and maintenance of buildings, as already noted two costly reports, funded by the government in 1994 and 2011, no financial resources are yet planned to make the necessary corrections. “As of February 2020, the MCC has still not identified the trades and skills it wishes to impart as part of the training program. “

In other words, the Auditor General notes that the Ministry of Culture “does not adequately assume its responsibilities in terms of real estate heritage and does not exercise the leadership expected in resolving safeguarding issues”. Is this due to the fact that, as the report observes, “the MCC does little awareness of the priceless and irreplaceable value of heritage among the various actors in the community”?

What national interest?

The issue of protecting buildings through classification “is not being treated fairly and diligently”, observes this report, in which the overwhelming findings accumulate page after page.

What is MCC doing to protect buildings in the public interest? The Auditor General regrets that “the only position taken by the department is to classify only the buildings to which it attributes a” national interest “”, thereby leaving the burden of real estate heritage entirely to cities and municipalities, which, according to him, is of regional or local interest. However, notes the Auditor General, “the concept of national interest is not defined”, not to mention that “the position of the MCC has not been adequately communicated or explained. It is also subject to improvisations and interpretations. The analysis process lacks rigor, the report notes. In more than 80% of cases, there is no mention of the analysis criteria used.

Neither the criteria nor the list of properties under study according to these are made public, “which limits the transparency of the process and the understanding of citizens and municipalities regarding the choices of the MCC, and possibly their adherence to the heritage preservation “

In addition, the MCC does not offer owners of heritage buildings the appropriate tools and support to enable them to properly direct their interventions and ensure the conservation of these buildings. ” Management information is missing. The processing times and delays are still very long. France’s approach should be taken, the report suggests, to develop an effective safeguarding strategy.

Poorly equipped municipalities

Municipalities are faced with heritage cases for which they are responsible, but without being able to react according to a framework that the majority of them completely ignore. “Indeed, when it comes to the protection and enhancement of the real estate heritage, more than 65% of the municipalities state that they make no distinction according to the local, regional or national interest of this heritage,” notes the report. following analyzes in the field.

The MCC has never agreed with the municipalities on what must be put in place to support it in its legal responsibilities for safeguarding the built heritage. Besides, the municipalities appear little aware of their obligations and duties in this area. The ministry is singled out because it has not “taken initiatives to support them”, intervening only “at the request of the latter”, providing little support.

Municipalities say 80% that they have received “no communication from the MCC related to a vision for real estate.” The vast majority of municipalities with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, however, believe they do not have the necessary expertise in these matters.

Can we also rely on municipalities to preserve heritage, since the main income of municipalities comes from property tax? Municipalities, the report finds, may be “inclined to allow the demolition of a building to replace it with a building with higher tax potential, despite its heritage interest and without assessing the benefits of saving it.”

The ministry never agreed on what must be put in place to support the preservation of Québec’s built heritage with municipalities. In addition, it has not taken any initiative to support the municipalities in their possible steps in this direction.

Furthermore, no mechanism for monitoring the interventions of municipalities has been put in place, despite the necessary collaboration that it must obtain from municipalities in matters of heritage, observes this report.

The MCC has also not defined its vision of real estate assets with municipalities. “No such statement appears in documents released by the CMC.”

Citizens left to their own devices

Owners are not helped to properly prepare “interventions that respect the heritage value of their property and its characteristic elements”. “70% of conservation plans required by law” have yet to be released. However, without these plans, it proves difficult to “coordinate the interventions of the MCC and those of the owners”. For buildings classified since 2012, 91% of the plans remain unpublished to date. In other words, the authorized work is completely lacking in supervision and the results of the work prove to be consistent. Again, the Auditor General recommends drawing on foreign experience, particularly the example of Belgium and the United States.

Ecological patterns

The Sustainable Development Commissioner also attached his opinion to the report published by the Office of the Auditor General. He underlines the importance of preserving old buildings insofar as this preservation contributes to the protection of the environment.

“The maintenance and renovation of existing buildings can, in some cases, have less environmental impact than their demolition and the construction of new buildings,” said the commissioner. He added that preserving heritage can contribute to “building a sense of individual and collective belonging” and, as such, “enriching social capital and helping to support social and territorial cohesion”.

Other details will follow.



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