Evidence of meeting #155 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was building.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Rob Wright  Assistant Deputy Minister, Parliamentary Precinct Branch, Department of Public Works and Government Services
Jennifer Garrett  Director General, Centre Block Program, Department of Public Works and Government Services
Larry Malcic  Architect, Centrus Architects
Michel Patrice  Deputy Clerk, Administration, House of Commons
Stéphan Aubé  Chief Information Officer, House of Commons

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Briefly, David.

12:20 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Yes, I'll be as quick as I can, but I need to be clear.

There's a minimum size and you're going to dig that anyway, and once you're in there you have the options of making it bigger or not, depending on what decisions are made about committee rooms and where they're placed. It sounds like you can start digging without knowing the final size, because you do know a minimum size and it requires the same kind of start. Am I starting to get it?

12:20 p.m.

Director General, Centre Block Program, Department of Public Works and Government Services

Jennifer Garrett

The answer to that question is yes, recognizing that it makes the contracting aspect a little more complex, but it's manageable. This is a very large and complex program, and that's what we're here for, to manage those types of risks.

12:20 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thanks.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I assume any parking spaces will have electric charging stations.

Ms. Sahota, you're on.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

My legislative assistant, Caroline, is amazing. She lived in Europe for a while. She just informed me that with a lot of the excavation projects there, archeologists are often involved if there is anything to be found underneath. Especially with the amount of excavation that's needed for this project, there may be historical artifacts.

Are there archeologists involved in this project?

12:20 p.m.

Director General, Centre Block Program, Department of Public Works and Government Services

Jennifer Garrett

Absolutely, there are. In fact, we've found some interesting things.

Right now, if you stroll by the east pleasure grounds and look through the fencing, you'll see quite a significant archeological dig under way. They've uncovered the old barracks and guard houses. Because there is potential for artifacts on the Hill, we've mapped the potential impact and where we might find those as high, medium and low, and before we do any work—for example, build an east interconnect, or a construction road on top—part of our assessment program is to assess whether or not there are archeological resources, and when we find them, to fully excavate and document them accordingly.

If there's further information this committee would like to have on what we've found and the approach we're taking on that, we'd be happy to provide it. We have very good expertise and capability at Centrus in archeology.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I would love to hear more about whatever you find. I think that's fascinating. It should definitely be showcased and highlighted—maybe in the visitor centre. People could come to learn about it and understand our history.

Has there been any consultation with the Algonquin peoples, since it is unceded territory of the Algonquin?

12:25 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Parliamentary Precinct Branch, Department of Public Works and Government Services

Rob Wright

Right now, as you may know, we're working in a very close partnership with the national indigenous organizations and the Algonquin on the former American embassy to turn that into a national indigenous space.

We're working almost daily at this point with those groups, including the Algonquin Nation, on a wide variety of elements in addition to the 100 Wellington project. We're looking at opportunities to do some capacity-building as well as contracting opportunities to increase their participation in the work that's happening within the precinct.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I have a question on the West Block, and then on how that relates to the entrances for Centre Block.

Why are the larger, grander main entrances of West Block usually locked off and not used as everyday entrances for MPs? For example, the double-door entrances on the side and the Mackenzie Tower are all shut down.

Is that something we can expect at Centre Block? Are we not going to be able to go under the bell tower anymore? Will there be just side routes for everybody, or through the visitor centre at the bottom? How's that going to work?

12:25 p.m.

Stéphan Aubé Chief Information Officer, House of Commons

Certainly in the future, the goal is to have these facilities accessible to members as well as visitors so they can have access. In the context of the West Block, the Mackenzie Tower entrance and the Speaker's entrance—these are the main entrances at the sides—have been reserved for specific access for members and visitors right now from other countries, for example the Croatian president, who was here this week. We're reserving these entrances for that. The other entrances are for staff, members and administration.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Are there similar plans for Centre Block? Before, the Centre Block doors were open for all members to use, and if staff were accompanying them, they could use them as well.

12:25 p.m.

Deputy Clerk, Administration, House of Commons

Michel Patrice

I must admit we did not look that far ahead, but I would suspect it's the intent that these doors will still be accessible for members and staff.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I'd like to say that—

12:25 p.m.

Deputy Clerk, Administration, House of Commons

Michel Patrice

The concern is more about the visitors going through, for security purposes obviously, but—

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I'd like to—

12:25 p.m.

Deputy Clerk, Administration, House of Commons

Michel Patrice

—I suspect we'll have to look at that, but in my mind those doors would be still accessible above ground by members and parliamentary staff.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I hope so because I definitely think there was a special feeling of entering through those doors, and some of that feeling has been lost since we've been here in the West Block. It's a beautiful building, but I hope we're still able to use some of those entrances.

I'd like to share the remainder of my time with Linda.

Is there anything left?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

No.

Mr. Reid.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

The visitor welcome centre is the area where almost all of my concerns are focused.

When it comes to issues like putting elevator shafts into the current courtyard areas in the Centre Block, on its face, I think that makes sense, and so on.

My concerns are entirely around the visitor welcome centre and its colossal size. It really is big. It's going to be very expensive. It's bedrock down there. I don't know if it's granite, sandstone or limestone.

Does anybody else know?

12:25 p.m.

Director General, Centre Block Program, Department of Public Works and Government Services

Jennifer Garrett

It's a lot of bedrock.

May 14th, 2019 / 12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

There's a lot of rock, yes. When it comes to archeology, I thought, well, you don't go down very far before there are no more archeological possibilities. There may be paleontological possibilities. I don't know.

Anyway, here's the thing about it. Once the shovel goes in the ground, once the contracts are given out for the shovel to go in the ground, all of which is scheduled to happen before the election—or at least part of it is scheduled to happen before then—inevitably, many dollars will have been spent that are unrecoverable. The bigger the footprint, the bigger the space we're committing to, even though we do not have a consensus on what should go in there.

I can tell you that, among the things you're showing, I am vigorously opposed to a number of them. Let me tell you, I do not agree with putting the Library of Parliament, which I assume is a museum, there. It's not that we shouldn't have a museum of parliamentary history. As a historian, I love the idea. It's just that there are a lot of other buildings that could go into it. It doesn't have to be attached to the Centre Block.

Viewing rooms to watch parliamentary procedures when there's overflow do not have to be underground there. In the event we think something like that is going to happen, we can set up seating in other places. To go back to the Westminster model, parliament traditionally involved multi-purpose rooms, Westminster Hall being the most obvious and most glorious of them, and that's almost a thousand years old.

On the issue of security, we already have the place people will come in for security reasons. We could put a second spot in, but we have a place that is designed to maximize security. It's well-designed. It serves its purpose well. It's outside of the buildings.

In terms of access from that area to the House of Commons and Senate chambers, well, the Senate is a little more difficult, but for the House of Commons, the tunnel shown there in grey to the west of Centre Block could be a way of accessing viewing areas in the House of Commons, so there's no need to run that in front, underground, which means that you could get that access underground without disrupting Canada's front lawn.

There's room on the side and back, in your plans themselves, for potential pavilions. That might be controversial. I assume those are above ground, but we don't have a chance to speak as to whether that is less intrusive, or to get public feedback. I literally didn't know of this possibility until today.

I know you have a little strip along the belvedere that you've opened up, and I have a personal sentimental reason for wanting that to be open for the next few years. That is the spot where I first kissed my wife, actually, but for the many other people who don't have that particular sentimental attachment, the front lawn is more important.

The pleasure of viewing the side, which is where the Senate extra buildings...that could be done.

On House of Commons committee rooms, none of them should be underground, under what is now the front lawn, because we have a large number of other rooms available to us. Throughout my entire lifetime—and I'm more than half a century old and have lived in Ottawa my whole life—the conference centre, now the Senate, has been sitting there as a great big empty black hole. It's finally being used. Now that it has been reconditioned, we could use that for some committee rooms.

For number 1 Wellington, the old railway tunnel that's being reconditioned, I know we have a lease that expires—in 2034, I think you said—but it's a lease between ourselves and the NCC. We can use those permanently, and they're lovely rooms, so I think we can increase the number of committee rooms easily. In the Macdonald Building, those rooms could be multi-purpose and turned into committee rooms, or at least some of them could be—those in the upstairs part.

You see what I'm getting at. There's lots of room for all these things without doing what is the most intrusive thing of all the different things we're doing here, the most expensive and the one with the least certain timelines.

I know I've used up all of my time, Mr. Chair, but I will say, speaking for myself only, that in my opinion, the absolute.... I would like to see nothing happen with regard to the visitor welcome centre phase two, even if it means missing a building season, until you have the consent of the House of Commons. I feel very strongly about that. If this stuff goes ahead before the next election and we've spent a bunch of money before the House comes back, regardless of which party is in government—it happens—I know that I for one will be distressed.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Personally, I don't agree with you, but I won't bring that up now.

We've got lots on the list still.

Mr. Graham.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

What's the story with the elm tree?

12:30 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Parliamentary Precinct Branch, Department of Public Works and Government Services

Rob Wright

I'll pass this to Ms. Garrett in a moment. As you know, we were here some time ago—