MP Hughes raises lighthouse land issue in House of Commons

by Nancy McDermid

OTTAWA—Canada’s plan to protect Manitoulin Island’s heritage lighthouses faces a roadblock if the government severs land associated with these buildings and sells it to private interests, according to Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP, Carol Hughes.

Following a visit to Manitoulin on June 12 and a meeting with the Manitoulin Lighthouse Committee (MLC), Ms. Hughes promised she would assist the group and reacted quickly by posing a question on June 22 in the House of Commons.

“Mr. Speaker, it is alarming to discover that land attached to heritage lighthouses may be severed and sold off. Groups interested in preserving these structures see the land as integral to their plans. The value of these lighthouses goes beyond the physical structures themselves, and the land is very much a part of these heritage sites. If we want to preserve and promote these sites, the land and the lighthouses must remain unified. Will the government commit to protecting Canada’s heritage sites and reverse its plan to sell off this land?,” Ms. Hughes asked during Question Period.

The question was answered by Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway. The minister stood and responded that,

“we recognize the important role that Lighthouses have played in our development as a nation. They are structures of great historical importance in the communities where they are located. In keeping with the recommendations in the report, my officials will continue to work closely with Parks Canada in the implementation of the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.”

Though the response was vague, the MLC were pleased, according to co-chair Bill Caesar, that the question was tabled not only in the nick of time before the house had risen for the summer break but because it allows for six more questions to be forwarded to the minister. The questions will not be tabled in the House of Commons as this would bog down the system, but rather will be put on an “order paper” which Ms. Hughes sends to the minister allowing for a more detailed response.

The MLC has framed the suggested questions and sent them on to Ms. Hughes but as of press time they had not been processed by her staff and are not yet on the order paper. Ms. Hughes intends to process the questions as soon as possible, most likely this week.

“I think Ms. Hughes has done an amazing job to pose this question so quickly, peacefully and cooperatively,” Mr. Caesar said. “She is really interested in the cause.”

In regards to the issue of adjacent land being sold off, Mr. Caesar stated in a press release, “the land forms a natural buffer that insulates lighthouses from other development. Land was originally provided to lighthouse keepers to use it for their own economic benefit and we feel that it is similarly required by groups like ours in order to make the lighthouses financially viable well into the future.”

The MLC has asked Ms. Hughes to form a committee consisting of different branches of government that are concerned about the fate of the lighthouses in order to work towards a resolution.

Mr. Caesar felt that Mr. Ashfield is a “good person to be answering our questions,” as he is a member of the House of Commons from New Brunswick with 80-100 lighthouses under threat in his own province.

In 2010, the federal government declared 900 lighthouses across the country surplus to the Canadian Coast Guard’s needs, prompting local groups to submit business proposals to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and applications for heritage designation through the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.

At question on Manitoulin are parcels of land adjacent to three lighthouse properties at Strawberry Island, Great Duck Island and the Mississagi Strait Lighthouse.

“We are not interested in pressuring the government, rather we are interested in clarifying our situation,” Mr. Caesar said. “We need to find answers to our questions to decide whether or not to continue on. It has been five years now and we would like to see some progress.”