Canada’s Auditor-General is calling for a “rigorous” approach to managing costs to ensure the multibillion-dollar renovation of Parliament Hill’s Centre Block remains on budget.
Karen Hogan said Monday that as the project moves in the 2023-24 year into more construction work, vigilance is a necessity.
“In our view, it is important to maintain rigorous cost management processes and monitor the risk of cost increases as the spending rises over the coming years,” Ms. Hogan said in a report on the project.
For the first time since Centre Block opened in 1927, it is being fully upgraded in an initiative that includes the construction of the new Parliament Welcome Centre for visitors.
The project includes a mix of new exterior walls, attending to the roof, upgrading mechanical and electrical systems, making the building accessible and new foundations.
Work began in 2016 and though construction is expected to be done in 2030 or 2031, there will be another year of testing and preparation before occupancy in 2032.
“Up until now, the project has really been about design and site preparation,” Ms. Hogan told a news conference in Ottawa.
“But now, as we move into a construction project, it’s really important to ensure that timely decision making is there,” she said. “Delays in decisions usually bring about increased costs, right. And it’s a difficult project, given all of the partners involved.”
In her report, Ms. Hogan raised concerns about decision-making in the project to date.
Asked if Public Services and Procurement Canada, the federal department in charge of the project, can hold the line on costs, Ms. Hogan told Monday’s news conference that time will tell.
“But it really is up to [the department] and their partners to diligently continue to work down a path of keeping this on track and under budget.”
While the renovation is under way, MPs, senators, the Library of Parliament and the Parliamentary Protective Service, have found other locations in central Ottawa while the renovation work is being done.
MPs and House of Commons staff are now working out of the West Block complex on Parliament Hill, while the Senate is located at a former government conference centre in downtown Ottawa now known as the Senate of Canada Building.
Ms. Hogan said in her report that some decision-making around the project was “fragmented” and some key decisions were not made in a timely manner. However, she said the public works department took steps to address concerns.
She added that spending for the project has, so far, been kept below the funding approved in 2016.
Ms. Hogan said the department has balanced the requirements of the parliamentary partners, the heritage character of the building, sustainability issues and equitable access for parliamentarians and the public.
“Discussions on key issues on user requirements continued to be undertaken separately by the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada,” the report says. “This meant that key decisions on some user requirements from the parliamentary partners were not timely.”
For example, she said, a decision about the use of the east courtyard was required by the spring of 2020, but was not agreed to by one of the partners until March, 2022.
The Auditor-General recommended that the Public Services department submit progress reports to the Commons and Senate speakers at least twice a year, and the department agreed.
Public Services Minister Helena Jaczek said in a statement on Monday that she is committed to enacting the Auditor-General’s recommendations.
“Efforts to restore the Centre Block continue to advance within the estimated costs and schedule despite the challenges brought on by unforeseen events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the illegal protests in Ottawa last year,” she said, referring to the trucker protests in the nation’s capital.
The report says the audit is important because the Centre Block building and the Peace Tower are iconic elements of Canadian heritage and symbols of Canadian democracy.
“A significant amount of public funds have been allocated to this program and Canadians should know the progress so far and whether the program has been effectively managed.”