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A Capital Problem
The Under-Capitalization of the Rideau Canal
Ken W. Watson

Throughout its history, under-capitalization, the lack of funds to do needed repairs, has always been a problem for the Rideau Canal. However, it has been made much worse in recent years by the lack of heritage support by the Government of Canada and is now at crisis levels.

The backlog of needed work now totals $104,300,000 (2012 dollars)*. Examples for many of the locks, dams and bridges of the Rideau Canal are shown below. These are Parks Canada's own numbers taken from their 2012 National Asset Review. Click here to see full list for the Rideau Canal (PDF).

The 2012 asset value of Rideau Canal structures (locks, dams, buildings) totalled $928,965,000. In the few years, yearly capital spending has averaged 1.65 million dollars (see bottom of page for actual numbers) which is 0.18% of the asset base. If you add in general maintenance (avg. 3.04 million), the average is $4.7 million dollars (0.50% of the asset base). Either of those numbers is woefully short of 3% to 5% that should be spent on a heritage asset base to ensure they are all maintained in good condition. The 0.18% recapitilization rate is far short of Parks Canada's own goal of 1.5%.

Bottom line is that due to not spending enough on a yearly basis to maintain the asset base the backlog has now topped $104 million dollars. It gets worse since the $104 million is actually a low figure. Parks Canada has a poor record when it comes to heritage repair costs estimates. For instance, the cost in 2010 to repair the Beckwith Street Bridge in Perth, originally estimated by Parks Canada at $700,000, ended going 100% over budget (to over 1.4 million dollars).

The $104 million is work that needs to be done now. The longer the work is delayed the higher the costs go. A recent example is the sink hole at Jones Falls which could have been fixed for less than $100,000 when first discovered, but they waited until it was a much larger problem, costing over $600,000 in 2013 to repair. The $104 million is actually a public debt that is only going to grow much larger with time unless taken care of now.

The 2012 asset review found that of the canal's 47 lift locks, only 2 are listed as being in good condition with 13 listed as being in poor condition. The total backlog of maintenance work on the locks alone totals $49.7 million dollars.

The backlog is just another example of how the Government of Canada is not supporting the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site. It's a shame.

Feb 2014 update: In the 2014 budget, the government stated that it will give 391 million to Parks Canada for work over the next 5 years on highways, bridges and dams. There was no mention of the Rideau Canal and little if any of this extra funding will likely make its way here. So still "shame on you" to the Government of Canada for letting this incredible piece of Canadian heritage decay.

March 2014 update: The government announced that it would spend 4.3 million dollars to repair the earthen dam and Minnow Creek Weir at Poonamalie. While not new money (it is not part of the 391 million given to Parks), it is moderate good news. The bad news is that the government will only fund work on safety of persons issues (i.e. dams), no new capital has been announced to fix the heritage assets (i.e. locks). So we're still in an "shame on you" situation with the government ignoring the heritage issues on the Rideau Canal.

June 2015 update: The government has announced $39.4 million in new infrastructure funding over an unknown number of years. This is on top of the previously announced 6.6 million of infrastructure funding. It's a good start but does have to be put in context of the $104 million in deferred work. Most of the proposed work for "safety of persons" - dams and bridges. Very little heritage infrastructure is being repaired. An example is Jones Falls which has $12 million in deferred work, including almost $10 million in required work for the lower flight of 3 locks. The infrastructure announcement provides funding for repair or replacement of 2 bridges and some work (unspecified) for the Jones Falls dam, there is no funding to repair the locks. It's also to be noted that these repair estimates far exceed what is in the asset report, the Jones Falls wooden bridge, shown in the asset report as requiring $30,000 of work is now listed as requiring $1.6 million of work! The concrete bridge over the weir, listed as requiring $550,000 is now stated as needing $650,000. It shows that the 2012 asset report greatly understated the amount of deferred work on the Rideau Canal. For details of where the funding is going see: Rideau Canal Infrastructure Annoucement (PDF).

The following is a list of the backlog (click here for a detailed PDF):
Location Cost*
(in $millions)
Ottawa Lockstation $ 5.7      
Canal Walls - Ottawa to Hogs Back    $ 22.4      
Hartwells Lockstation $ 1.5      
Hogs Back Lockstation $ 5.9      
Black Rapids Lockstation $ 3.5      
Long Island Lockstation $ 5.7      
Burritts Rapids Lockstation $ 2.2      
Nicholsons Lockstation $ 2.5      
Clowes Lockstation $ 1.3      
Merrickville Lockstation $ 4.4      
Kilmarnock Lockstation $ 0.8      
Edmunds Lockstation $ 2.2      
Old Slys Lockstation $ 2.9      
Smiths Falls Combined Lockstation $ 3.2      
Smiths Falls Detached Lockstation $ 0.8      
Poonamalie Lockstation $ 4.2      
Beveridges Lockstation $ 1.9      
Narrows Lockstation $ 1.8      
Newboro Lockstation $ 0.8      
Chaffeys Lockstation $ 3.2      
Davis Lockstation $ 0.8      
Jones Falls Lockstation $ 12.0      
Upper Brewers $ 2.3      
Lower Brewers $ 0.8      
Kingston Mills Lockstation $ 9.0      

* numbers have been rounded to 1 decimal place

If you're worried about what is happening to this magnificient piece of Canadian history, please communicate those concerns to your neighbours, your local MP, the PM and the UN. See the Save Our Rideau Communication Page.

See the Ottawa Citizen article on this topic at:

* Problems with the Numbers

There are many problems with the numbers in the asset list. The locks are a good example. Most of the locks have a single number of 8.616 million as their current (2012) value. So a lock at Jones Falls, which is almost twice the depth of the lock at Kilmarnock, are valued the same. Plus the 3 old locks at Smiths Falls (a Level 1 cultural resource), which date back to the original building of the Rideau Canal, have no value put on them. It indicates that not much real valuation of Rideau Canal structures, particularly its heritage structures, has gone into this asset list.

Every items in the C category (poor) should have a Delayed Work number associated with it (since presumably a goal is to bring all these up to fair or good condition), but some such as the swing bridge at Lower Brewers and several walls at Poonamalie, all listed in poor condition, have no delayed work value.

A recent (Dec 2013) outside review of the 2012 National Asset report shows that Parks Canada has dramatically understated the number of cultural assets that are in poor or very poor condition. Parks Canada shows 33% are in poor or very poor condition, but the review found that in fact 61% are in in poor or very poor shape. That more realistic assessment is going to greatly increase the value of delayed work.

Rideau Canal Maintenance and Capital Spending

  2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14
Capital 1,995,148 3,430,617 5,828,132 2,006,665 1,034,424 ~1,900,000*
Maintenance 2,889,586 3,292,393 2,791,111 2,967,600 3,199,362 ~2,950,000*

* 2013/14 numbers based on Parks Canada's stated total of 4.85 million for maintenance and capital spending.

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