By Natalie Bull, executive director, the National Trust for Canada
It’s that time of year: I’m making my list, checking it twice, sorting through who’s been naughty or nice.
At the top of my “nice” list this year is MP Peter Van Loan, who tabled a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons earlier this month proposing tax incentives for historic places.
What a great gift this could be for places that matter!
For me, Bill C-323 is a very welcome upswing in what has been a long rollercoaster ride. It’s something I’ve been talking about ever since I arrived at the National Trust 10 years ago, and it’s a cause the organization has been driving since long before my time here.
Let’s be clear: Canada has a tax system that expressly favours new construction. A tax break for owners who invest in heritage buildings would be more than just a heritage benefit: this kind of incentive can also promote “recycling” and re-use of buildings – our largest consumer good – bolstering climate change efforts. And there is clear evidence to link heritage investment to economic growth and job creation, because rehabilitation generates upwards of 21% more jobs, including skilled jobs, than the same investment in new construction.
In my 10+ years talking about tax measures for heritage, I’ve regularly cited the results achieved with the US Federal Historic Tax Credit Program, to the extent that I can probably quote their stats with my eyes closed: Since its creation in 1976, $23.1 billion in federal credits have generated more than $28.1 billion in additional federal tax revenue and leveraged over $120.8 billion in private investment (a 5 to 1 ratio of private investment to tax credits). In the process, it has created 2.4 million jobs and preserved 41,254 historic properties. Leverage and multiplier effects data has shown, again and again, that the US program is a strategic investment that works.
Canada certainly has a vast stock of eligible heritage properties in need of investment, some of them teetering on the edge of landfill. Top of mind is the proposed demolition of historic buildings fronting onto Gore Park in Hamilton; and literally thousands of great buildings in every part of this country being demolished by neglect because an empty lot has a better bottom line.
Would a Canadian heritage tax credit help turn the tide?
There is solid evidence that it would: In a Canada-wide pilot program designed to test the benefit of a heritage tax incentive, led by the federal government between 2001 and 2007, the Commercial Heritage Properties Incentive Fund offered financial incentives to attract developers to derelict heritage buildings. The results were impressive: a total of $21.5 million in federal contributions spread across 49 projects leveraged over eight times more in private sector investment ($177.2 million) and gave landmark buildings like Saint John’s CentreBeam Place vibrant new uses.
Thanks to this pilot, Mr. Van Loan’s bill can build on tools already in place to launch a rehabilitation tax credit, including nationally accepted standards and a Canadian Register of Historic Places that lists thousands of eligible places.
Please join me and the National Trust in doing everything we can to tell elected officials from every political party that Canada’s historic places matter, and that federal actions can help save and renew them.