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The Globe and Mail

Glowing report card by Public Works masks Parliament Hill renovation problems

The Parliament buildings are framed through maple leaves on Parliament Hill on June 20 in Ottawa.


Public Works says its multibillion-dollar makeover of Parliament Hill is right on schedule, but an internal document casts doubts on that claim.

The department has awarded itself top marks for on-time delivery of major projects in the parliamentary precinct, saying more than 90 per cent have met their deadlines.

The 90 per cent target was set in 2012 after the department came under fire from then-auditor general Sheila Fraser and others for weak accountability over the expensive refurbishing of the crumbling buildings, including the West Block.

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But Public Works' most recent report card shows that only about 70 per cent of all projects are actually on time.

The rest are behind schedule — some of them by a long way — but the department gives itself good grades anyway because it either plans to adjust the schedule to accommodate straggling projects or find a way to catch up.

These late projects — coded yellow, rather than green — are therefore counted as on-time, masking a potentially troubled delivery schedule.

"When measuring results, green and yellow ratings are considered to be on target," says an internal Public Works report, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act after a five-month delay.

"Where projects were assessed a yellow rating, action plans and mitigation measures were put in place, which is why these projects are considered to be on-target."

Remove the yellow projects, and average on-time performance falls to 70 per cent overall.

One project to improve technology throughout the buildings falls well below 30 per cent for on-time delivery. Capital construction and renovations, the two biggest project areas, are each at about 80 per cent for on-time delivery.

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The internal report, dated Aug. 20 last year, is the most recent annual accounting of the money spent fixing up the historic structures on Parliament Hill and area.

From 2001 until March 31 this year, the various projects have cost taxpayers $1.4 billion, with billions more to be spent for further work, especially on the Centre Block, home of the House of Commons and Senate chamber.

A consultant hired by Public Works in 2006 estimated the total cost could be $5 billion over 25 years, but the number was only preliminary in the absence of clear information about the repair work needed, including time-consuming restoration of century-old stonework.

The department has cost contingencies of up to 25 per cent built into its financial projections to account for the uncertainties in preserving heritage buildings, some dating back to 1859. Modern construction projects typically include 10 per cent cost contingencies.

Public Works defends its conflation of green and yellow ratings, saying it is "consistent with departmental reporting practices."

Said spokeswoman Annie Trepanier: "The projects with a yellow rating remain within approved parameters.

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"A yellow rating flags that additional efforts may be required in one or more areas in order to maintain the project within approved parameters."

One project that's earmarked for the forthcoming renovations to the Centre Block — so-called "business continuity planning" for the House of Commons — was flagged "red" earlier this year for being so far behind schedule.

That project has since been removed from the report card, Trepanier said, because it is "no longer considered viable and was put on hold."

Rehabilitation of the West Block, the biggest current project at over $1 billion, is about a third complete. The building will eventually become the temporary home of the House of Commons when MPs vacate the Centre Block to make way for major renovations there.

The Senate will move from its Centre Block chamber into a nearby government conference centre, formerly Ottawa's central railway station.

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