Federal government lifts the veil on House of Commons renovations

It’s been nearly two years since the Centre Block closed for a planned 10-year-long renovation project. A lot has happened since.

Today, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), the government department leading the renovation, invited a handful of journalists inside to document the state of the renovations.

MPs moved to the renovated West Block in February 2019, while senators moved into the renovated former Ottawa train station a few weeks later.

Because the renovations won’t be completed in time for the election after next, some MPs now serving may never sit in the renovated Centre Block Commons chamber.

The red carpet of the Senate Chamber is covered in scaffolding as parts of the chandeliers are removed during a tour of the Centre Block renovations Wednesday, December 2, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Centre Block is the building on Parliament Hill that contains the House of Commons and Senate chambers, along with the Peace Tower, the parliamentary library and the Memorial Chamber. Both the Commons and Senate chambers are crowded with scaffolding right now.

The historic linen ceiling of the House of Commons has been carefully removed for restoration.

Rob Wright, assistant deputy minister at PSPC, is leading the project. He said the focus of the restoration project is on “conserving, preserving, restoring, retaining that look and feel” of the “iconic elements of this building.”

A worker climbs scaffolding in the chamber of the House of Commons during a tour of the Centre Block renovations Wednesday, December 2, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Many of the building’s walls have been opened or taken out entirely in spots. Workers have removed about 2,500 metric tonnes of asbestos.

Asked whether anything interesting or historic was found in the walls, Wright said workers have found nothing but old gum wrappers and newspapers — no missing briefing documents or other valuable items.

The timeline usually cited for the renovations is 10 years from start to finish, which would mean project completion in 2028. Many observers predict the work will take longer, given its complexity and historical value.

Workers transport a roll of wire through the basement hallway of Centre Block Wednesday, December 2, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Wright pushed back against the 10-year timeline, “The media have indicated that it’s a it’s a 10-year project,” he said. “We’ve never articulated that it’s a 10-year project.”

MPs finalized the scope of the renovation just before their summer break. Back in October, MPs on the working group reviewing the renovation plans agreed on a design for the House of Commons lobbies on either side of the central chamber that offers “additional support space.”

PSPC has never committed publicly to a schedule and a budget for the project, but Wright said the department is getting close. “I think in the end, we should be in a good position in the first quarter of 2021 to really establish a baseline budget and schedule,” he said.

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