The long-planned move of the House of Commons and Senate out of the historic Centre Block building on Parliament Hill will have to wait an extra few months.
MPs and Senators on each chamber’s board of internal matters voted Thursday to delay the move, because their new respective spaces nearby were not ready. Instead of moving into their new homes this summer, they will be fully moved-in in January, 2019. The House will be moving to the West Block, while the Senate will be moving to the Government Conference Centre.
Michel Patrice, the House deputy clerk of administration, told MPs that there would be “no new costs” associated with the delay. While MPs will not be moving into the newly rehabilitated West Block right away, he said, they could be moved out of Centre Block and into other offices nearby.
He said the change from an all-out move this summer to one that will happen in phases over the fall was the result of unexpected challenges in fixing up the more-than-a-century-old West Block.
“Obviously, it has been challenging. We have had our share of surprises. Anyone who has lived through a renovation project can relate to that,” Mr. Patrice testified at the Board of Internal Economy meeting.
House staff recommended delaying the move based on concerns that technology and security upgrades would not be ready in time. The board discussed the security concerns in-camera and did not elaborate on them. MPs on the board, which is composed of party house leaders and whips, voted to agree to the new phase-out plan.
The Senate’s standing committee on internal economy, budgets and administration made the same decision Thursday morning about that chamber’s move to the Government Conference Centre.
Senator Scott Tannas of Alberta, the committee’s point person on the move, said the technology concerns in their new building included broadcasting and translation services not being ready in time. On security, he said there were concerns about things such as doors and perimeter fencing.
“A September move presents an unacceptable risk to operational readiness and to the safety and security of senators and staff,” Mr. Tannas told the committee.
The long-term rehabilitation of Canada’s Parliament buildings started more than a decade ago and is expected to cost more than $3-billion. The renovation of West Block – which will soon host the House of Commons inside its former courtyard – is expected to cost $863-million, while the renewal of the Government Conference Centre – a former train station – has a $269-million budget.
The House, Senate and RCMP demanded heightened security measures after the Oct. 22, 2014, shooting on Parliament Hill.
Those requests were made to Public Services and Procurement Canada, the department responsible for the Parliament building rehabilitation, over the following years.
The Senate also decided in 2015 to begin broadcasting their proceedings on television for the first time, and requested upgrades in their new chambers to allow for it.
Internal reports obtained by The Globe and Mail under access to information show bureaucrats struggled to keep up with the additional demands in the middle of a complicated construction project.
“Untimely Senate requests to implement full broadcast capabilities to two smaller committee rooms ... will pose significant impact to project schedule and result in unexpected additional costs,” a March 2017 progress report from Public Services and Procurement Canada warned.
Representatives of the Library of Parliament also testified Thursday that, as previously reported, guided tours and school trips would not be allowed to wander inside the new buildings while the chambers are in session. The groups can, however, go directly into public galleries to watch the proceedings if there is space.
Instead, to try to accommodate the same number of students, the Library said it would extend hours of trips in the evenings and weekends and pack more tours into the weeks that the chambers are not active.