Monday, June 22, 2015

Ontario Place — a special place... and case!

First, before heading on down to the Lake Ontario waterfront, some context.  My two previous posts tell the story of how Ontario ended up with a different protection regime for cultural heritage property in the hands of the Crown.  Provincial standards and guidelines, developed and made mandatory under Part III.1 of the Ontario Heritage Act, now apply to all provincial ministries, as well as to other “public bodies” prescribed in regulation.  To keep things clear, the designation regime under Parts IV and V of the Act does not apply to these public owners.

A big policy question was what public bodies should be “caught” by the new approach.  “Public bodies” is not defined in the legislation and in theory could cover a huge swath of public owners, taking in what is often called the MUSH sector — municipalities, universities, school boards, hospitals, etc.  But a major consideration was that, if public sector properties were brought into the net, it would have the result of excluding them from municipal designation.  In the extreme case this would leave municipalities with only private property to designate!  And what would be the status of town halls, libraries, schools and so on already designated?

So no surprise that it was decided this was just way too far to go.  Rather, since the primary policy intention of the new regime was for the province to “lead by example”, the list of public bodies would be narrowly focussed on Crown agencies and corporations.  And, again to minimize the impact on designation approaches, the list would not catch agencies with a single site, but only agencies with property in different municipalities, so as to ensure a consistent standard of care across their property portfolio.  The St. Lawrence Parks Commission?  Caught.  The Royal Ontario Museum?  Not.

And now we come to Ontario Place, the iconic Toronto landmark owned by the Ontario Place Corporation (OPC), an agency of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.  One site, so not caught, right?

Well, not at first.  But earlier this year the government amended Regulation 157/06 (the regulation listing public bodies subject to Part III.1 of the OHA) to add the OPC.  The reason, MCTS said, was to make it clear “about who is responsible for the identification and management of any cultural heritage resources associated with Ontario Place.”

As most will know, Ontario Place, opened in 1971, is in the middle of a major renewal.  While a single property, the site is a large and complex one — a waterfront urban park — with a wealth of resources, cultural and natural.  Cultural heritage values clearly need to be identified and protected as an integral part of revitalization plans.  Bringing Ontario Place within the ambit of Part III.1 of the OHA, and the standards and guidelines regime it provides, seems a smart way to go.

To develop the site’s Statement of Cultural Heritage Value (SCHV) and identify its heritage attributes, the province — in what by all accounts was an exemplary process — set up a heritage review committee with both provincial reps and external heritage advisors. Here is a little of what they came up with:

Ontario Place, a cultural heritage landscape, remains a rare and intact Modernist expression of integrated architecture, engineering and landscape that honours and incorporates the natural setting of Lake Ontario. It was a remarkable and ambitious achievement of late twentieth century architecture, and holds an enduring influence in Toronto, the province and internationally.

See the full SCHV and description of heritage attributes at 

In July 2014 Michael Coteau, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, announced the SCHV as part of the province's long-term vision for revitalization of Ontario Place.

Tamara Anson-Cartwright, former MCTS staffer who played a pivotal role as advisor on the project, says: “It was an incredible experience and one of the proudest moments of my career with the province.”

The SCVI has already proved useful in assessing heritage impacts as part of the environmental assessment of the Ontario Place Urban Park and Trail, a first step in revitalization.  It was also handy in obtaining Minister's consent for the removal of a non-heritage building on the site — the provincial standards and guidelines require the consent of the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport for the demolition of structures on heritage properties determined to be of provincial significance.  The SCVI will also be invaluable in preparing a long-term conservation plan for the site, as also required, and in continuing to help inform and guide the revitalization and re-imagining of Ontario Place.

Kudos all round!

Next time: What about municipally-owned heritage property?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Policies for the conservation of provincially-owned property (part two)

As we saw last time, the 1975 Ontario Heritage Act made no provision for the protection of provincially owned heritage property.  Bilateral agreements had been struck between the culture ministry and a few of the main property-owning ministries and, later, the Crown agency that was created to manage much of the government’s property — the Ontario Realty Corporation.  But these arrangements were limited in their scope and certainly in their clout.

Efforts to overhaul the Ontario Heritage Act provided an opportunity to address the issue through legislative change.  In 2002, under Premier Ernie Eves, David Tsubouchi was appointed Minister of Culture.  The minister was (yes!) keen on heritage and, thanks to him, the long-stalled reform of the OHA got going again.  But, fortuitously, he brought something more to the (cabinet) table.  The new Minister of Culture also happened to be the powerful Chair of Management Board of Cabinet and the minister for Management Board Secretariat, which was responsible for the Ontario Realty Corporation.  You see where this is going…

Meanwhile, back in the policy shop, there was a big push to respond quickly to the new interest from the minister’s office.  Old proposals for changes to the Act were dusted off and given a re-think.  Most held up, but some — like what to do about the protection of the Crown’s heritage property — not so much.

As usual in this situation, one looks to what other jurisdictions do.  Most other provinces, with a more centralized approach to heritage than Ontario’s, had legislation that was binding on the Crown and included provincial heritage designation.  This meant that provincially owned property could be designated by the province, which in turn meant, in most cases, the minister responsible for heritage.  Seems logical, but how had this worked out?

Not so well.  There were designations of Crown heritage property but they were relatively few, and were usually the result of negotiation between government ministries/departments.  This latter point makes sense when you think of it.  Following this approach one minister (the culture minister) is essentially designating another minister’s property!  The tension — and potential resistance — in the situation is obvious.  Throw in that in most provinces, as in Ontario, the culture minister is likely not a cabinet heavyweight.  Maybe not the best way to go.

What about the feds?  They have a Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO).  This seems a stronger and more comprehensive model, with federal departments’ responsibility for their heritage backed up by a Treasury Board policy.  But it is also a centralized one, with the designation of heritage property by the Minister of the Environment and FHBRO undertaking heritage evaluations as well as other work.  The regime also does not apply to federal Crown corporations.  Some good things here, but the right fit for Ontario?

In addition to researching how other jurisdictions deal with your particular policy issue, it’s equally important to look at how your own deals with different but analogous issues (even if sometimes the parallel is not apparent).  Ontario as it turned out had one very recent major initiative that influenced the final policy outcome here: the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which became law in late 2001.  The key take-aways from this legislation were that it applied government-wide, it mandated guidelines to be followed, and it was mainly self-implementing, i.e. not needing a central “review” office.

So… on the question of how to protect Crown-owned heritage property what was developed was a proposal for legislative authority to develop standards and guidelines to apply to all ministries and to other “public bodies” as well.  To avoid overlap and ensure clarity as to which protection regime applied, property of these owners would not be subject to designation under Parts IV and V.

Easier said than done.  But, thanks in no small measure to their shared minister, David Tsubouchi, the “little” Ministry of Culture was able to get the “big” Management Board Secretariat and Ontario Realty Corporation on side.  The bill to amend the Ontario Heritage Act introduced in 2003 included a whole new part of the Act: Part III.1, “Standards and Guidelines for Provincial Heritage Properties.”  While that bill died when the October 2003 election was called, a virtually identical provision was part of the new government’s Bill 60 and became law in 2005.

While this was a huge accomplishment, there were still the small matters of actually developing the standards and guidelines in consultation with affected ministries, getting them approved by cabinet, and deciding on what public bodies they would apply to.  This long and difficult process (a story in itself) took another five years!

But, finally in April 2010, success.  Cabinet approved mandatory standards and guidelines applying to all ministries and to 14 Crown agencies and corporations listed in regulation (Regulation 157/10, since amended).  While the regime is largely self-implementing, the culture ministry has an oversight function and a role in approving ministry/agency evaluation processes (what’s heritage, what’s not) and certain decisions about heritage property of provincial significance.  (Read the standards and guidelines for yourself at:

Then, of course, the implementation began!  While off to a slow start, going pretty well, from all reports…

Next time: something cool about Ontario Place!