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Workers handle a beam for the roof of the new House of Commons chamber in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, September 15, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Workers handle a beam for the roof of the new House of Commons chamber in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, September 15, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Politics Briefing

The Parliament buildings are getting an expensive facelift Add to ...


By Chris Hannay (@channay) and Rob Gilroy (@rgilroy)

The Globe Politics newsletter is back. We’re pleased to include a roundup of news and opinion on U.S. politics, through until this year’s election in November. As always, let us know what you think of the newsletter. Sign up here to get it by e-mail each morning.


> A major irritant in Canada-China relations has finally been scratched with the release of Kevin Garratt. The Canadian had been held for two years on suspicion of espionage, and sources say the head of Canada’s spy agency travelled to China earlier this year to convince the country Mr. Garratt did not work for intelligence services.

> The Liberal cabinet insists that addressing the housing market is one of its top priorities.

> Why B.C. Liberal MPs are feeling a little on edge.

> Tom Mulcair reflects on his role at the head of the NDP, heading into Parliament’s new session. “I am the leader, chosen by the members. So I am not an interim leader. And I think that is a point worth making. I have chosen not to run for my succession. Of course I could. But I am not going to. And that’s a choice …”

> What’s Stephen Harper been up to while out of office? According to a leaked e-mail from Colin Powell, he may have been rubbing elbows with some powerful Republicans at the Bohemian Grove.

> Residents of Muskoka, known as one of Ontario’s more affluent cottage communities, are suing the provincial government for damages from floods.

> And yet another case has come to light of an Alberta judge relying on discredited myths about sexual assault in a trial. In this case, a man had been acquitted of sexually assaulting his daughters and stepdaughters when they were children because the judge did not understand why they waited until they were teens to report the alleged abuse. A retrial is pending.


By Chris Hannay

Out with the asbestos, in with the steel and glass. The $863-million, multi-year rehabilitation of Parliament Hill’s West Block continues apace and journalists got a rare tour of an active construction site on Thursday to check it out.

Between jaunts up and down narrow flights of scaffolding steps (pity the cameramen and their equipment), ducking under beams and avoiding the occasional ankle-level cable, we got to see the construction of the future – temporary – home of the House of Commons and even got a peek down Alexander Mackenzie’s secret staircase.

The expensive, long-running renovations of the Parliament buildings are needed because, as our guide Rocque Gameiro, senior director of the project, pointed out, the structures were put up at a time when there wasn’t much of a building code. One of the first objectives of the rehabilitation was just ripping all the asbestos out of the walls, which took months.

Underneath West Block, crews have been blasting through bedrock (see this picture) to build new much-needed working rooms and tunnels, some of which will eventually connect with a new visitor welcome centre.

But the most interesting part of the building’s construction may be the steel structure being erected in its courtyard. Once West Block’s renovations are done, crews will move on to Centre Block and its iconic Peace Tower. When that happens, all parliamentary work in that building will be impossible. So, for about 10 years starting in 2018, MPs will move into West Block’s courtyard under a steel-and-glass ceiling, supported by giant tree-shaped columns, because the current building can’t support the new roof’s weight. (Check out this picture for how it looks now, and these pictures for how it will eventually look.) As architect Georges Drolet pointed out to our group, the space used to be a cafeteria, so it’s a bit of a step up.


> In the land of Oz: Hillary Clinton, John Ibbitson writes at The Globe, wanted to make this election a referendum on Mr. Trump’s fitness to lead. But a stumble and near-fainting episode at a 9/11 memorial last weekend has turned the tables on the Democratic candidate. It was only natural that Trump sought reality TV peer Doctor Oz (was Dr. Nick not available?) to review his charts. “If a patient of mine had these records, I’d be very happy and I’d send them on their way," the good doctor told the audience. “Of course it was all stage-managed,” Ibbitson writes, but politically it did the trick.

> Where they stand: Now that we know every detail about the candidates’ health, this Globe primer will bring you up to date on where they stand on the policies.

> Mid-course correction? The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent says the “Clinton campaign is now hinting that it may undertake a change in strategy as the race enters the final stretch.” After a bruising week that saw a tightening in the polls, the campaign admitted that “running against a candidate as controversial as Donald Trump means it is harder to be heard.”

> Get busy, Democrats: At The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson says Democrats despairing over tightening poll numbers “need to get past the freakout stage and get to work. ... Angst doesn’t help. Energizing the Democratic Party’s reliable voters, especially in crucial states, can make all the difference.”

> Stupid, it’s the economy: The headline on this Jonathan Chait piece in New York Magazine calls ‘Donald Trump’s economic plan is a spinning wheel of crazy’, and “nowhere is that more true than on domestic economic policy, where Trumpism is a whirligig of endless motion. Trump knows so little about domestic policy … that there is hardly any point in describing his ‘position,’ since it changes so frequently.” ... Also at NY Mag, Rebecca Traister goes deep on Ivanka Trump and the maternity leave plan she unveiled on behalf of her father. “The widely held belief that entrepreneur Ivanka Trump is her father’s best public spokesperson was tested this week ... instead [she] revealed herself as just as defensive and dishonest as her father.”


Elizabeth Renzetti (Globe and Mail): “The Château Laurier is, like other dowagers needing a touch-up, the victim of its own success. Its owners, Larco Investments, want to expand the hotel by 200 rooms, adding suites and new underground parking. There’s no doubt the old girl needs to shake the Labrador hair off her skirts, but you don’t want to turn her into a Kardashian overnight. There’s only so much Ottawa’s heart can take.”

Carolyn Harris (Globe and Mail): “When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive in Canada on Sept. 24 for their one-week tour of British Columbia and Yukon, they will have their two young children with them. … The presence of royal children on official tours is comparatively recent. In medieval times, when kings and queens travelled around their realm, their children usually remained behind with trusted noble families.”

Gary Mason (Globe and Mail): “No relationship is likely to be more severely tested than the one Mr. Trudeau is trying to forge with the country’s aboriginal peoples. The Prime Minister has offered them the moon. … But the sunniness that his vows created is already beginning to cloud over.”

Don Martin (CTV): “The Conservatives have the government-in-waiting aura, but the leadership entries so far require a vivid imagination to see occupying 24 Sussex Drive.”

Michael Den Tandt (Postmedia): “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to a survey just published by the Angus Reid Institute, is more popular than he’s ever been. He should enjoy this while it lasts. That is to say until Monday, when MPs return to the House of Commons for the fall sitting of Parliament. After that, all bets are off.”

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Take a tour of Parliament's West Block renovations (CP Video)

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