The cost of renovating Canada's Parliament buildings has reached $3-billion, but officials insist the massive project is going well and is even running slightly ahead of schedule.
Public Works officials faced skepticism from Members of Parliament on the cost and timing of the construction during a committee briefing Tuesday. The MPs then joined the officials for a private tour of the West Block, which is scheduled to be the new temporary home of the House of Commons in 2017.
A glass ceiling will cover the temporary chamber, which will serve as swing space while the Centre Block is evacuated for renovations.
Senior Public Works officials told MPs on the government operations committee that of the $3-billion that has so far been approved for the renovations, about $1.8-billion has been spent. About $1.4-billion of that amount was spent over the past 10 years.
The chair of the committee, NDP MP Pat Martin, questioned why the McGill University hospital in Montreal could be built in roughly two years for $1.3-billion, yet the Parliament Hill project is taking decades.
"It's long been my view that the reason everything on Parliament Hill costs 10 times as much and takes 10 times as long is there are too many cooks in the kitchen," he said, arguing too many departments are involved in managing the project.
Public Works assistant deputy minister Nancy Chahwan said in her presentation that working with heritage buildings takes time and money and involves dealing with structural surprises.
"It would probably cost us less today to build a new parliamentary precinct, but because of the symbolism and the importance of the seat of democracy, we have to be very careful that we are maintaining that historic value and that symbolic value," she said. "These are unique buildings."
Ms. Chahwan said she is ultimately in charge of keeping the project on time and on budget and working with all of the other departments that have a role to play.
Ms. Chahwan also said her department is working with the RCMP to incorporate any additional security that may be required in the wake of the October shooting on Parliament Hill. She noted that plans were already under way for a new visitors screening centre that will be under the Parliament Hill grounds.
Following the meeting, Mr. Martin said he believes the project has involved "enormous waste" and that the glass ceiling for a temporary House of Commons is an example of unnecessary luxury.
"It's absurd. The glass ceiling is a ridiculous, fatuous, unnecessary problem," he said. "I mean we don't need a crystal palace here."
While Public Works insists the renovations are on-time and on-budget, various estimates for specific projects have circulated over time.
Ms. Chahwan had told the committee in November 2013 that the overall renovations had cost $1.1-billion between 2001 and 2013 and were expected to cost an additional $1.5-billion between 2013 and 2018.
Previous estimates are not easily comparable to current estimates however because additional projects have been added to the precinct renovations.
For instance, the government has just started renovations on the Government Conference Centre, which is south east of Parliament Hill across the street from the Chateau Laurier hotel.
The former railway station – which was the location of the 1981 Constitutional negotiations – was in need of renovations and is being refurbished to provide a temporary home for the Senate during the Centre Block renovations.
Renovations are nearly complete on a former bank on Wellington Street across from Parliament Hill. The building has been renamed the John A. Macdonald building and will be home to large Hill gatherings that had previously been held in the West Block.
Renovations on the Wellington Building, which normally houses a large number of Parliament Hill offices for MPs, is scheduled to be complete in 2016.
Public Works has said that renovations will take a pause in 2017 as Parliament Hill serves as a focal point for Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations.
Conservative MP Brad Butt spoke positively of the renovations.
"I think it's very exciting what's going on around here and that we are wanting to preserve these assets and make them more functional," he said during the committee briefing. "These buildings belong to the Canadian people and they are a treasure."
Following the private tour, Conservative MP Chris Warkentin, who is parliamentary secretary to Public Works Minister Diane Finley, said the work to date on the West Block is "impressive," and that he's looking forward to seeing the finished result.