By Ryan McGreal
Published April 25, 2008
Lister Block heritage supporters are one step closer to knowing what advice the Ontario Ministry of Culture received on the heritage value of the Lister Block.
Advocates have been calling since 2006 for the Ontario Ministry of Culture to release the report prepared by the Ontario Heritage Trust to the public. The report was to assess the building's heritage value.
The report was never made public, and under a compromise between the Ministry, the City of Hamilton, and Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), the property owner, the building was not provincially designated as a heritage building.
Toward that end, Kieran Dickson, a Hamilton lawyer and heritage advocate, has been attempting to access government documents related to the Lister Block via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
The Ministry argues that the report is exempt under subsection 13(1) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which exempts:
advice or recommendations of a public servant, any other person employed in the service of an institution or a consultant retained by the institution.
This week, Dickson received a redacted copy of a report titled, "Report of the Provincial Development Facilitator on the Lister Block" and submitted by Alan Wells, the provincially appointed development facilitator, on September 27, 2006.
The redacted section discusses the Heritage Report prepared by the Ontario Heritage Trust:
Heritage value: As noted in the Heritage Report this building can be rehabilitated in a cost effective and efficient manner [rest of paragraph redacted].
Paragraph with redacted text from the Report of the Provincial Development Facilitator on the Lister Block
An annotation reads, "access denied in part to pg. 28 under s.13 as disclosure would reveal advice to government.
Interestingly, the same document is available in its entirety [PDF link] on the City of Hamilton's website.
In the non-redacted version, the same paragraph reads:
Heritage value: As noted in the Heritage Report this building can be rehabilitated in a cost effective and efficient manner – the building has local, provincial and national historic significance and its key attributes will be maintained through this rehabilitation. We believe this approach has support from the heritage community and Ministry of Culture and is consistent with the assessments made by the Ontario Heritage Trust. [emphasis added]
This strongly indicates that the Heritage Report, still unavailable to the public, concluded that the Lister Block has "local, provincial and national historic significance" - and may even have recommended designating the Lister as a provincial heritage building under the amended Ontario Heritage Act.
Why, then, did the Ministry of Culture not designate the Lister Building?
A letter by Premier Dalton McGuinty to LIUNA Vice President Joe Mancinelli, also made public through an FOI request, may provide an answer. It indicates that the Ontario Government wanted to see the issue resolved "with minimal involvement from the minister's office".
In other words, the Ontario Government may have ignored the advice of the Ontario Heritage Trust and decided not to exercise its powers under the Ontario Heritage Act so it could broker a political compromise with people, like Mancinelli, who believe that the province has no business interfereing in municipal affairs.
Of course, there's no way to be certain without reading the Heritage Report, but the Ontario Government continues to deny access to it. As Dickson concluded in a recent email:
According to the Ministry, [the reacted passage] reveals the advice to the Ontario government by the Ontario Heritage Trust. If this is the case, then I think we have learned why the Ministry of Culture is investing so much time and energy in preventing access to the Trust report.
More to come as more information becomes available.
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