Parliament Hill is getting the reno of the century — and some MPs say they're being kept in the dark

White area shows the extent of Parliament's front lawn affected by the construction project. (Google Maps/Laury Dubé/Radio-Canada)

Sunday, March 8, 2020

For starters, they want to know what's going to happen to the lawn

CBC NEWS, By Karina Roman, Chris Rands

MPs are being asked to make some important choices about the decade-long renovation of the Centre Block of Parliament Hill — choices that could have a significant impact on the House of Commons and how Canadians experience the nation's capital.

But experts with knowledge of the project say MPs are not getting all the information they need to make those calls — and it's still not clear who has the power to make final decisions that could reshape the most iconic piece of public real estate in Canada.

The project to restore and modernize Centre Block — which includes the House of Commons and Senate chambers, the Library of Parliament, offices for MPs and party leaders and the Peace Tower — is underway and will unfold over the next 10 years.

The project aims to upgrade the buildings' seismic resilience, systems and security, and to make them more energy-efficient and accessible, all while preserving their heritage.

"On a contemporary basis, I don't think there is a more important construction project that's happening in the country," said Liberal MP and Chief Government Whip Mark Holland. "It's a place where the theatre of our democracy has played out over the last 100 years.

"We're making a decision now for the next 100 years. So it's an incredibly important decision."

But while the project has been in the works for years, MPs are only now starting to see what the final product could look like. They have a lot of questions — and some fear they're not being shown the whole picture.

The options for Centre Block include:

  • Option 1: Preserve the Building's Existing Footprint
  • Option 2: Expand the Footprint for larger MP lobbies, build government lobby as an addition
  • Option 3: Expand the Footprint for larger Commons chamber and MP lobbies, entire western exterior wall of Centre Block to be removed and rebuilt

Options 2 and 3 would alter the symmetry between the two houses of Parliament.

It's estimated that in 50 years, population growth could boost the number of MPs from the current 338 to 460. If the Commons chamber's size is not expanded, one possibility is for MPs to sit on long benches as MPs do in Westminster in London.

While many MPs are balking at such a drastic change, they still would like to know what it might cost. But no estimates were attached to documents presented to the committee.

MPs were given three options for a new subterranean visitor welcome centre as well — also without price tags. Department officials have agreed to provide cost estimates for each option within a month.

"MPs might not realize, especially if they aren't given the information, that the lawn as we know it could become unusable," said another expert with direct knowledge of the approvals process, who also is not authorized to speak publicly.

Critics have recommended east and west entrances and no centre entrance. But none of that input has been presented to MPs so far.

That troubles Julian. "The Centre Block lawn is, in a very real sense, the living room of Canadian democracy," he said. "That access needs to be preserved."

MPs from different parties appear to agree that the goal of the renovation project should be to preserve a priceless piece of Canadian heritage — not to create something completely new.

"It's already about as perfect a piece of heritage and architecture as you could have," said Holland.

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