Records on costly construction and design defects in newly-opened Parliament buildings run to more than 100,000 pages, says the Department of Public Works. MPs and senators complain of numerous errors, from doors that don’t open to sound systems that don’t amplify. Renovations cost more than $1.1 billion to date.
“It seems we are in a situation where responsibility and accountability seem to be rather weak,” Senator Eric Forest (Independent-Que.) earlier told the Senate committee on internal economy: “We were told there would be no problem, and now we find ourselves with a serious problem now that the work has been finished.”
“We do not see these people,” said Forest. “We have informed them they have been paid handsomely, in my opinion.”
Blacklock’s on January 29 filed an Access To Information request for one year’s worth of records, files and correspondence “regarding deficiencies in construction, engineering, design and architecture at Parliament’s West Block and the new Senate chamber.” Public Works Canada said the records total “over 100,000 pages”: “This estimate does not yet take into account the extraction and uploading of further information pertaining to this request from our various Branch systems and email accounts,” wrote staff.
Manon McMillan-Bruyere, Access To Information manager with the Department of Public Works, said records will not be disclosed for years. “Your request as such is extremely bulky,” wrote McMillan-Bruyere. “A request of this magnitude will take several months, or should I say years, to process. Consultation with third parties and other departments will also be necessary and will push the deadline even further.”
“We are looking for at least five years to process a request that is over 100,000 pages,” said McMillan-Bruyere.
“We’ll All Be Wiser”
The department closed Parliament’s 1920-era Centre Block on January 28 for renovations expected to take decades. The closure of the building forced the Commons to relocate to a West Block chamber, and the Senate to move to a former Grand Trunk Railway Central Station across the street.
Costs of refitting the West Block to house MPs were initially budgeted at $460 million in 1992, later revised to $769 million, and currently estimated at $975 million – more than double the original budget. MPs using the West Block for the first time noted inoperable doors, poor signage, and water damage from a burst sprinkler pipe that forced the evacuation of a cafeteria on January 29.
MPs have also complained acoustics in the Commons are so noisy they cannot hear debate. “It is impossible to hear,” Conservative MP Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard) earlier told the House: “I cannot hear the member sitting only a few rows away.”
The new Senate chamber was refitted at a cost of $200 million. The Senate committee on internal economy noted the building had so many deficiencies, senators could not move in until February 18. The move was originally scheduled last fall.
“I have not spoken to the architect or any of the engineers there but often they are so concerned about their design and what they want something to look like, it supersedes all functionality issues,” Senator Donald Plett (Conservative-Man.) told a December 13 hearing. “That was one of the things here: ‘This is what this building is supposed to look like, and you will simply have to suffer with some issues as a result of that.’”
Defects in the new Senate building included unfinished drywall and acoustics so poor “it made it virtually impossible for participants to hear the person who had the floor,” said Senator Scott Tannas (Conservative-Alta.): “I think we’ll all be wiser when we’re onto the next big one.”
There is no deadline and no budget for mammoth renovations to Parliament’s Centre Block. Department staff told the Commons House affairs committee last December 11 that a “budget or schedule has not been firmly established”.
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 the Auditor General in 1998, then revised to $1.5 billion by a federal advisory committee in 2001, and estimated at $5 billion by the Auditor General in 2011. “I can foresee an outraged Canadian public looking at the total bill for this,” said Conservative MP Scott Reid (Lanark-Frontenac, Ont.).