MPs on the Commons House affairs committee yesterday cautioned taxpayers to brace for cost overruns and skipped construction deadlines on mammoth Parliament Hill renovations. The Department of Public Works acknowledged it’s not sure how long the project will take, or how much it will cost.
“Is the budget fixed?” asked New Democrat MP David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, Ont.). “No, at this point, the baseline budget or schedule has not been firmly established,” replied Rob Wright, assistant deputy minister of public works.
“I would like to hear from you what year we will really move back into Centre Block,” asked Liberal MP David Graham (Laurentides-Labelle, Que.). “As soon as possible,” replied Wright: “I would say we’re at too much of a preliminary phase to speak to the scope, which then flows into creating a budget and a schedule.”
Parliament’s iconic 1920-era Centre Block is to close by January 31. Cabinet in 2007 approved a Long-Term Vision Plan that suggested renovations would take 10 years. Public Works sources indicate the closure is more likely to take from 13 to 20 years.
Total costs of Hill renovations were put at $1.4 billion by then-Auditor General Denis Desautels in 1998. Costs were revised to $1.5 billion by a federal advisory committee in 2001, and estimated at $5 billion by Auditor General Sheila Fraser in 2011. “I can foresee an outraged Canadian public looking at the total bill for this,” said Conservative MP Scott Reid (Lanark-Frontenac, Ont.).
Assistant Deputy Minister Wright said more will be known once the building is emptied and surveyed. “The next year will really be about establishing, through the functional programming exercise and the full assessment of the condition of the building, the scope which will drive the schedule and the budget,” he said.
“What I’m understanding is the budget has not been fully fleshed out, nor are the plans ready,” said Liberal MP Linda Lapointe (Riviere-des-Mille-Iles, Que.): “Before we begin renovations we always know what we should be expecting to have at the end, and what the idea behind it is. So, I’m a little surprised by your answers. In principle, when we’re dealing with taxpayers’ money, we need to know where we’re headed.”
Rumours Of Botched Job
MPs yesterday noted Public Works renovations to Parliament’s West Block were late and over-budget. Refits were originally budgeted at $460 million in 1992, and later revised to $769 million. It is currently estimated at $975 million including tax, double the original price.
The West Block closed in 2011. “I was told it would be back in 2014, possibly 2015,” said MP Graham. The Department of Public Works then proposed to reopen the building in time for Canada 150 observances in 2017. It remains closed, and is now scheduled to reopen in 2019.
“I’ve heard numerous rumours about an elevator built in West Block that didn’t go down far enough, resulting in a million dollars’ worth of spare parts that can’t be used because they are custom made,” said Graham: “Can you confirm or deny this? Is there any truth to this?”
“There’s no truth that I am aware of to that, no,” replied Assistant Deputy Minister Wright.
The department in an internal 2018 audit Evaluation Of The Real Property Services Program estimated its projects run late and over-budget about 40 percent of the time. “There are areas of concern such as the costs and timeliness of projects,” wrote staff: “Results indicate there is a potential for improvements.”