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Save Our Rideau
Rideau Canal Management Plan

Management Plan Process Updates

  • October 20, 2016 - the management planning process has been extended for another year. The new deadline is March 2018.
  • May 2017 - plans for pre-draft consultations in 2017 have been dropped by Parks Canada. A new deadline of March 2020 has been set.
  • February 2018 - on short notice, small group consultations about the new management were held. These were pretty well structured and provided a reasonable forum for input by the informed public and other government agencies (i.e. NCC, Ontario Parks). General public consultations are now scheduled for summer 2018 (within the prime navigation season to properly capture boater input)
  • August 2018 - a letter from Director Jewel Cunningham noted that public consultations are now scheduled for "late summer 2018"
  • September 2018 - an email from the heritage planner, Susan Millar, stated that public consultations are now delayed until 2019.


A management plan for a National Historic Site of Canada is a legislated requirement under the Parks Canada Agency Act*. On the Rideau Canal, two management plans have been done, one in 1996 and one in 2005. We're presently overdue for a revised plan, a revision should have been done in 2010 (when the requirement was for a 5-year review), one should have been done in 2012 when the management structure and policy direction of the Rideau Canal was changed, and one should have been done in 2015 with the new (as of 2012) 10-year review requirement. However, it wasn't until 2016 that the process for a new management plan was started. That process has now been extended since it became clear that rushing the plan would not do anyone any good. However, Parks Canada has not properly resourced the process, and the deadline keeps moving back, it's now sitting at 2020 (five years after a new Rideau Canal plan should have been done).

Management plans are important in a number of ways. Internally in Parks Canada "the purpose of a management plan is to ensure the commemorative integrity of a national historic site, guide appropriate public use, ensure the application of cultural resource management principles and practices in decision-making and conserve the natural values of the Canal" (Section 32 of the Parks Canada Agency Act). But it is also important in that it is one of the few times (sometimes the only time) that the public gets a say in how the National Historic Site is operated.

Having said this, there is the worry that Parks Canada just does these plans as a legislative requirement, that it doesn't actually follow its own management plans. We have a perfect example of this on the Rideau Canal when the 2005 Management Plan was thrown out the window in 2012 when there was a "substantive change in policy direction and the operation and management of the Rideau Canal." Since 2012, the Rideau Canal has effectively been operating without a management plan since operational and policy changes that year made most of the 2005 plan obsolete**. This also applies to the World Heritage Site management plan submitted to UNESCO, the 2012 changes to the Rideau Canal voided much of that plan as well***.

The New "High Level" Management Plan

Parks Canada has a new format for management plans, new plans are now "high level plans" - listing a set of general objectives but containing no information on how Parks Canada plans to meet those objectives. There is a significant worry with this new format since it doesn't contain any accountability. From a jaded perspective, one could say that Parks Canada management plans aren't worth the paper they are written on, since, as we've seen with the Rideau Canal, there apparently isn't any consequence to abandoning an existing plan such as Parks Canada did on the Rideau Canal when it changed the structure to Ontario Waterways in 2012.

However, it is one of the very few opportunities that Parks Canada provides for public input (they are forced to, it's a legislated requirement). But as you can see from the updates listed at the top of this page, it has not been a smooth process. Parks Canada has not resourced Ontario Waterways to be able to effectively do a plan in a proper and timely manner. An effort to complete the plan by 2017, changed to 2018, and now to 2019.

For examples of high level plans, and how bad they are, have a look at the new plans for Fort Wellington National Historic Site Plan and the Lachine Canal National Historic Site:

It's a legislated requirement under the Parks Canada Agency Act to "provide the Minister with a management plan for that national historic site or other protected heritage area in respect of any matter that the Minister deems appropriate, including, but not limited to, commemorative and ecological integrity, resource protection or visitor use ..." Try to find the words "Commemorative Integrity" in either the Fort Wellington or Lachine canal plans (hint, you won't, those words aren't there)

The 2016/17/18/19 New Management Plan

Whether or not one believes that Parks Canada will in fact follow its own management plan, it is still very important for the public to participate in the process. In the spring of 2016, Parks Canada initiated the process of creating a new management plan for the Rideau Canal. It's been a bit of a rocky start, in part since Parks Canada's management plan general template doesn't fit the Rideau Canal and in part since those charged with doing the plan are still on the learning curve for what the management elements of the Rideau Canal National Historic Site should be, a site that is currently not in a state of Commemorative Integrity, in part because of a flawed management structure.

That learning curve was evident in the Open Houses that were held in June and early July 2016 as the initial part of public input into the management plan. A set of poster boards was used to show various elements of the current management of the Rideau Canal. Notable by its general absence was heritage and the words "commemorative integrity" were only used once (in reference to some present day repairs and reconstruction). In fairness to those creating the listing, the boards did in part reflected the current management of the Rideau Canal, but not what Parks Canada should be doing to restore the Rideau Canal to a state of commemorative integrity, which must be core to any new plan (it's a legislative requirement).

Unfortunately the management plan open houses weren't structured to explain the management plan process and solicit meaningful comments. They weren't well advertised and so attendance was generally low. It reflects the "part-time" management of the canal and lack of internal expertise which should have properly guided the management plan process. Parks Canada HQ has now approved a badly needed extension to the process, but time will tell if they actually resource it properly.

I did make a submission in July 2016 regarding the open house presentation, you can read it here (PDF)



* Legislated Requirement

You can read the full Parks Canada Agency Act, but the relevant sections read:
"provide the Minister with a management plan for that national historic site or other protected heritage area in respect of any matter that the Minister deems appropriate, including, but not limited to, commemorative and ecological integrity, resource protection or visitor use, and that plan shall be tabled in each House of Parliament.

The Minister shall review the management plan for each national historic site or other protected heritage area at least every 10 years and shall cause any amendments to the plan to be tabled in each House of Parliament."


** 2005 Management Plan

The last management plan for the Rideau Canal was completed in 2005. You can read the full text of it here (PDF). It was a well done document. A great deal of public consultation went into its development and it covered all the requirements of operating the Rideau Canal as a National Historic Site of Canada. While not all of it was done (notable failings in things such as public education), it did provide a pretty accurate picture of what should be done.

In 2012, Parks Canada made a "substantive change in policy direction and the operation and management of the Rideau Canal" - something that should have triggered a new management plan. However the government of the day which pushed for those policy changes (making revenue generation a primary, unmandated, management goal) was also changing the Parks Canada Agency Act to change the review requirement from 5 years to 10 years.

Policy changes by Parks Canada, away from heritage protection and presentation, that started on the Rideau Canal in 2007/2008, were entrenched in the new management structure imposed on the Rideau Canal in 2012. These changes, particularly the purge of heritage from Parks Canada in general, has voided many aspects of the current (2005) management plan, since the management of the Rideau Canal doesn't have the skills or capacity to do these aspects, many of which are legislated requirements (i.e. commemorative integrity).


*** 2005 World Heritage Site Management Plan

As part of the nomination process, Parks Canada submitted a World Heritage Site Management Plan for the Rideau Canal to UNESCO. This plan was based on the 2005 Rideau Canal Management Plan. Parks Canada has not followed many aspects of this plan - I outlined a few of those deficiencies in my July 2016 management plan comments to Parks Canada (PDF - see pages 3 and 4 of the document).

The bottom line is that any new Rideau Canal Management Plan will either have to incorporate all the elements that are in the 2005 World Heritage Site Management Plan, or, if not, a new World Heritage Site Management Plan will have to be written and submitted to UNESCO.







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