Centre Block construction on budget, but decisions must speed up: auditor

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Centre Block construction from wellington

The modernization of Parliament’s Centre Block is within budget so far, but the federal government needs to do a better job of making up its mind before major construction begins, the federal auditor general says in a new report.

Karen Hogan warns in a report released Monday that if decision-making remains fragmented, it could lead to construction delays — and more costs for taxpayers.

The rehabilitation of Centre Block already comes with a price tag of up to $5 billion, and is set to be completed by 2031.

“Given the size and complexity of this undertaking, a streamlined decision-making process will be required to continue effectively managing the costs and timelines of the rehabilitation program, as construction work accelerates between now and the planned completion date,” says the report, which covers the period from January 2010 to July 2022.

The government is responsible for deciding how it wants Centre Block to look, including how many office spaces, committee rooms and security measures are needed, the report says.

“All these elements are important to determine the construction cost and schedule of the program and to keep it on track,” it reads.

In response, the federal government said it will start submitting project reports to the Speakers of the House of Commons and Senate twice a year, and it has committed to a study to ensure the space is inclusive.

Following the feedback, the government has changed the design of a new ventilation system so that some traditional Indigenous ceremonial places can take place inside, such as smudging and the use of the qulliq, an oil lamp used by Arctic Peoples.

Other design elements approved by the government include making the building resistant to earthquakes, determining the size of its welcome centre, and making it more accessible to people with disabilities.

The construction of Centre Block as it stands today began in 1916, after a fire destroyed the original building, and wrapped up in 1927.

It housed the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada beginning in 1922, and had had only minor repairs until its closure for the major renovations in 2018.

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Assessments by Public Services and Procurement Canada show there were many issues with the building, such as decaying structure, failing building systems and hazardous materials on site.

At a recent press conference, Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek praised the auditor’s report for updating Canadians on the “historic progress” being made on Parliament’s renovation.

“Once restored, it will be a model for sustainability, and an inclusive and accessible space for all Canadians,” she said.

Jaczek said the Liberal government anticipates the project will create more than 70,000 jobs over the course of construction, with over 90 per cent of the work going toward small- and medium-sized businesses.

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