100 years ago, on March 21, 1922, Quebec passed its first law for the preservation of monuments and works of art of historical or artistic interest. This first heritage law in 1972 extended to works of art (Cultural Property Law) and even to intangible heritage (maple syrup, cooking, crafts, etc.) in 2011. Two amendments specifically targeted real estate. For the first time in 1985, municipalities were given the right to protect their heritage. The 2021 law imposes strict rules on municipalities for the first time: they will have to adopt a comprehensive heritage inventory, as well as rules regarding the maintenance and demolition of unoccupied buildings on their property.
“We had to give up improvisation. It didn’t make sense for me to find out in the newspapers about the demolition of the building, ”explains Natalie Roy, Minister of Culture and Communications, in an interview with the publication. news.
She says that shortly after taking office in October 2018, she “literally fell on her ass when she learned that more than half of the municipalities did not have bylaws to demolish or renovate vacant buildings. Anyone could request a demolition permit without giving a reason, or neglect a building with impunity, even if it is heritage. »
Thus, the minister was bombarded almost daily with urgent legacy cases that were presented to her as a last resort. When there was no imminent demolition of Château Bes in Sainte-Marie (surviving last resort day after the minister was sworn in), it was the expropriation of René Levesque’s birthplace in New Carlisle, in Gaspesie, or the fed-up owners of the Isle of Orléans who rebelled against his department’s fastidious and indiscriminate plans for the preservation of the heritage of his department. “It was one fire after another. It didn’t stop. We were in the fire department. »
The new law gives municipalities two years to pass rules: the idea is for municipal councils to act in full transparency on demolition cases and see themselves as legally obligated to force owners to maintain heritage buildings. In the meantime, all demolition permits for buildings built before 1940 would have to go through the minister’s desk with 90 days’ notice. “Wild demolitions are over. Information will be disseminated, citizens will be informed, analysis will be done in a timely manner. »
The same law would also require 87 county regional municipalities (MRCs) and 44 cities outside the MRC (such as Montreal, Quebec, Sherbrooke or Shawinigan) to compile a comprehensive heritage list of all pre-1940 buildings to be added. in the ministry handbook. “If we want to protect our heritage, we need to know this. We are going to make a detailed portrait of ourselves according to the same criteria. »
The minister wanted more transparency in the management of her ministry, which has been widely criticized for inexplicable and non-appealable decisions. The new law creates dispute resolution mechanisms: owners will even be able to apply to the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec.
In exchange, the law will give the Ministry the right to apply a more punitive approach (heavy fines, orders, expropriation) in relation to recalcitrant owners. “In particular, legal entities that buy a small ancestral home with the intention of letting it rot and then building a tower of apartments. We want to be able to take them. »
However, these will be extreme measures, since the minister advocates the old principle of “shared responsibility” between the government, municipalities, public organizations and, first of all, owners.
This multifaceted action manifests itself in several ways. For example, in 2020, Minister Roy, together with the municipalities, developed a program to help restore and renovate heritage buildings. “In 2020, we bet 52 million, which was a record. With the share of municipalities, it has increased to more than 100 million. And in the case of Montreal’s Chinatown, which is the subject of a notice of intent to classify, Minister and Mayor Valerie Plant created a joint committee in 2021 that includes several heritage advocacy groups, including Montreal Heritage. “And we followed the advice he gave us. The idea is to juxtapose ministerial power and changes in the city plan. »
Nevertheless, the minister insists on the need to make a choice. “First, because heritage value is not the same for all buildings. Then, because funding opportunities are not limitless. Hence the very strong direction he wants to give to the “requalification” of unoccupied or abandoned heritage buildings in order to find a new vocation for them.
“Buildings need to be revived, given a second life. Our churches, our village centres, even our old factories have a history, a value, they add beauty, they are meaningful, they are our identity. »
Therefore, he appeals to the imagination of citizens, entrepreneurs, elected officials and community groups. “Heritage buildings are often used as concert halls and museums. And why not landfills, restaurants, cheese dairies? There we can support families and offer services to the community. The environment must match them. »