The following is a summary of the key points that were discussed during our meeting with Minister Lana Popham on June 19, 2023.
Our meeting was the first opportunity for Britney Dack (Chair) and myself to meet with Lana Popham since she became Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport (TACS).
First, however, concerningly, a lot has happened in BC that impacts heritage since we met with the Minister; notably, the 2023 Provincial State of Emergency due to province-wide wildfires. As heritage advocates and workers, we are preparing ourselves for the full accounting, once the fires settle, of what was lost, and know that the heartbreak over the loss will be a shared emotion. Heritage BC has online learning resources to raise awareness of climate change impacts and how heritage preservation is one tool for climate action. If any member institution of Heritage BC is in an emergency state, please let us know, as we have an understanding with BC Heritage Emergency Response Network (BC HERN), and the BC Museums Association, to coordinate appropriate advisory services and supportive actions. Heritage BC also has available modest resources through its Climate Disaster Response Fund.
In our discussions with Minister Popham, we stressed the struggle of communities and organizations that provided heritage stewardship in finding the resources to do routine and deferred maintenance of built heritage resources. Now, with the wildfires fully occupying our minds (and hearts), we can anticipate added pressure on heritage organizations. Limited resources will likely be expected to stretch to fire-smart protective measures, such as sprinklers on roofs and under boardwalks, replacing wood shingles for metal roofs if the location of heritage buildings has them at high risk of wildfire, and fuel management programs in the parks and forested areas which typically surround many important historic sites. Additionally, since most heritage organizations operate in the realm of summertime tourism, but do so while under-resourced, heritage will suffer as organizations are not financially resilient against loss of business due to smoke and threat of fire.
We had three key topics to cover in our meeting. We shared some highlights from our heritage awareness programs; the aspirations of the heritage sector in BC, which involves heritage being recognized and valued as a change agent for critical societal imperatives, including climate action, housing, strengthening community economy, identity and reconciliation; and a discussion of the continual struggle of finding funding resources for heritage conservation and importantly, deferred maintenance and the impact this will have on tourism growth and opportunity in BC.
We shared the success of our heritage awareness programs, specifically Heritage Week and Heritage BC Awards. It is through these programs that we can maximize our partnerships and allow communities to draw attention to the important ways in which heritage is part of community aspirations, including tourism. We know that much of what we do in heritage is about connecting people to relevant stories.
We informed Minister Popham of the growing expertise of the heritage sector on the topic of embodied carbon in existing buildings and of the linkages not only to climate action but how it has been proven that we cannot build our way out to providing affordable housing. Instead, finding ways to fully utilize and adapt existing buildings, heritage or otherwise, is critical to the solutions we need. Heritage BC is actively working with heritage sector planning professionals to compose our position statement on Homes for People, the Province’s action plan on affordability in the housing sector. We expect this to be ready by mid-September. Minister Popham has expressly indicated that she will help coordinate a joint meeting with the Housing Minister so that the heritage sector’s concern about the pressure of Homes for People on heritage in our cities can be expressed while showing that the heritage sector has ideas for solutions.
The Minister asked about the outcomes of Community Economic Response Infrastructure Program: Unique Heritage (CERIP) and 150 Time Immemorial Grant Program (150 TIGP), the two recent grant programs that Heritage BC is successfully managing. The investment for these two programs was $25.5M for heritage related infrastructure, heritage conservation, awareness and Indigenous awareness and partnerships. We highlighted the successful outcomes of this funding and also stressed the oversubscription of these granting streams. For example, CERIP reviewed 159 projects with an ask of $73,624,653. Only 68 projects could be funded with most receiving partial funding for a total of $15,520,000. The grant was oversubscribed by 474% and the funding provided represented only 58% of the ask of those projects. With 150 TIGP, the grant was oversubscribed by 260%. There was $25,992,597 requested and $9.5M awarded. We concluded that future investment is needed if we are to continue the momentum towards heritage playing a role in strengthening tourism and contributing to transformative change in communities.
We also discussed our Heritage Legacy Fund (HLF). The heritage sector is grateful for the $5 million investment made in 2022 bringing the fund over $13 million. In 2023, we awarded $400,000 province-wide. But, we stressed that the HLF is currently the only sustained annual heritage focused funding, and it is at a level dramatically lower than it was decades ago when other programs were also in place. We ensured that Minister Popham knew that the majority of heritage organizations do not qualify for BC Arts Council funding and that heritage funding, compared to amateur sports funding, is far from equitable. We will continue to advocate for Provincial investment into the Heritage Legacy Fund. In 2028, the HLF will celebrate its 25th anniversary; if the fund can reach $25 million by 2028, we can get close to providing nearly $1 million annually for heritage conservation.
We look forward to our next meeting with Minister Popham. She gave positive indication that she wants to understand what the ongoing issues are and our ideas for potential solutions.
Kirstin Clausen, Executive Director