Good morning, everyone.
Good morning and welcome to the 155th meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
This morning we are hearing witnesses for our study on the mandate of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and oversight of the Centre Block rehabilitation project and the long-term vision and plan, as discussed at the meeting of Tuesday, May 7.
From the House of Commons, we have Michel Patrice, deputy clerk, administration; and Stéphan Aubé, chief information officer.
From the Department of Public Services and Procurement Canada, we have Rob Wright, assistant deputy minister, parliamentary precinct branch; and Jennifer Garrett, director general, Centre Block rehabilitation program.
We also have Larry Malcic, architect from Centrus Architects.
Thank you all for being here. I've been told that you're all available to stay for the two hours of the meeting. From what I understand, there will be an opening statement to be followed by a presentation on the long-term vision and plan. After that we'll move to questions by committee members for the remainder of the meeting.
As you know, we all have a great interest in increasing communications on this topic, so this is very good. Everyone's very pleased this meeting is occurring.
Mr. Wright, please begin your presentation.
Good morning, Mr. Chair and committee members.
I am pleased to be here today to update you on the Centre Block rehabilitation program.
I am accompanied by Jennifer Garrett, director general for the Centre Block rehabilitation program, and Larry Malcic from Centrus, who is the program's design consultant.
We are pleased to be working on this exciting program with our parliamentary partners and to have the opportunity to discuss the restoration of the Centre Block with you this morning.
Since the historic move of parliamentarians out of Centre Block last Christmas, PSPC has been working in collaboration with the administration of the House of Commons on preparing the Centre Block for its major rehabilitation. This involves working hand in hand with Parliament on decommissioning the building so that it is fully separated from the rest of the Hill. This includes such things as rerouting underground IT networks and removing the building from the central heating and cooling plant.
Another key part of the decommissioning process is ensuring that the remaining art and artifacts in the building are safely moved and stored. During this work, the Centre Block remains under the control of Parliament, and we expect that it will be officially transferred to Public Services and Procurement Canada by the end of the summer.
While we continue to collaborate on the important decommissioning process, we are also advancing the assessment program, which had begun while you were still using the Centre Block. We have now progressed to opening up the floors, walls and ceilings to deepen our understanding of the building's condition, which is an important component of de-risking the project.
In addition to working to better understand the building's condition, we have also been working closely with parliamentary officials to define the functionality desired for the Centre Block of the future. In modernizing the Centre Block so that it supports a modern parliamentary democracy, we are also taking care to restore the beautiful building. We have heard loud and clear from you and other parliamentarians the desire to immediately recognize the Centre Block when it reopens and to feel immediately at home again.
An important element of the conversation on the Centre Block's future is phase two of the visitor welcome centre. Much like phase one is done for the West Block, the expanded visitor welcome centre will provide security screening for visitors to Parliament Hill outside of the footprint of the Centre Block and East Block. As well, it will provide additional services to Canadians and international tourists visiting the Parliament Buildings. It is also envisioned that this underground facility will provide functions that directly support the operations of Parliament, such as committee rooms.
You will see in the upcoming presentation that the design and construction of the visitor welcome centre will join the West, East and Centre Blocks in one parliamentary complex. As we move forward, thinking of the Centre Block as a central part of this unified parliamentary complex should provide some interesting opportunities. Approaching the Centre, West and East Blocks as a parliamentary complex is part of a larger initiative to transform the precinct into a more integrated campus. This campus will tie together the facilities on the Hill, as well as important buildings in the three city blocks facing Parliament Hill, such as the Wellington, Sir John A. Macdonald and Valour buildings.
This shift involves moving from a building-by-building approach to a more holistic strategy on such important and interconnected elements as security, the visitor experience, urban design and the landscape, material handling and parking, the movement of people and vehicles, environmental sustainability and accessibility.
Gaining your feedback on the functions you feel should be contained in the Centre Block and the visitor welcome centre and how the space should work for parliamentarians, media and the public is invaluable for our work going forward. We are happy to be back at this committee to hear your thoughts, and we are very eager to continue engaging with parliamentarians on this important work.
I will now ask Ms. Garrett and Mr. Malcic to walk you through the presentation. Along with my colleagues from the House of Commons, I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.
Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
With regard to how are going to roll out this presentation, I'm going to take you through what I call the programmatic aspects of the presentation. Then I'm going to hand the floor to Mr. Malcic to take you through some of the initial ideas that the architect has to respond to the 50% functional program that we've received to-date from our parliamentary partners. Then we'll close with you on the next steps.
This next slide depicts the project scope for the program. Launching off the successes of both this building and the Senate of Canada buildings, we're now launching the biggest heritage rehabilitation program that PSPC has ever done. That program contains essentially two key components, the first being the modernization of Centre Block program proper, which is effectively a complete base building upgrade from masonry to structural to seismic to modern and mechanical and electrical systems, just to give you a sense. Essentially, the entire base building needs to be upgraded to meet modern standards. Along with that, there needs to be design to address a functional program to ensure that we're supporting modern parliamentary operations well into the 21st century.
The second component of the program scope is to construct phase two of the visitor welcome centre. Essentially, if you look out in front of Centre Block—and yes it is an underground facility—we're going to dig a very large hole and build that visitor welcome centre phase two. That facility will have capabilities to support parliamentary operations and services in support of visitors who are coming to Parliament Hill, and we'll connect the triad—the East, West and Centre Blocks—effectively forming what Mr. Wright referred to earlier as a “parliamentary complex”. That triad will obviously be part of a broader parliamentary campus.
The next slide shows this joint effort between the House of Commons administration and us to map out for you the construction and the design process as we go through the program.
I would say that at this point we're still working with our construction manager to formalize the final project schedule, but we have key milestones that we can share with you this morning, and we basically have a three-year outlook for the program at this point.
In terms of design, we've essentially launched the functional program phase, as well as the schematic design process. By the end of this fiscal year in March, if you're following along the two top rows of arrows—the functional program and the design arrows—our target is to effectively have a preferred design option at the schematic design level for the Centre Block and visitor welcome centre. But if we start to move down a row and start to follow the construction activities, this is a layered integrated program approach. We're not waiting for the design process to be complete, but are starting construction activities. Two key construction activities that we are going to be launching through the fall and winter time frame are targeted demolition and abatement in a November time frame within Centre Block, as well as the start of excavation in a winter 2020 time frame. To do that, our construction manager has already started the tendering process.
That is the key outlook for the big programs standing up.
The other thing that we're going to be doing, which we've already launched and are actively working on, is completing that comprehensive assessment program that Mr. Wright referred to in his opening remarks and completing the projects that we call the “enabling projects”, things like the temporary loading dock. The books of remembrance relocation was part of that, and there are temporary construction roads, and there's effectively standing up the construction site.
Regarding the next slide, perhaps some or all of you may have seen an early drawing of what we expected to be the construction delineation site early on in the program. This slide in front of you represents our latest thinking and our interactions on planning with the construction manager. It represents our understanding of what we think that site construction delineation is going to be for the program. Effectively, what you'll see, if you look to the left of the slide, is that we've outlined where visitor welcome centre phase one is, and the grey hatched in area is essentially the footprint for the proposed visitor welcome centre phase two, based on the functional program requirements we've received from parliamentary partners to date.
That effectively drives it in combination. The three considerations that drive the delineation of that line are support of existing parliamentary operations, the construction needs of what is going to become a very large construction site, and also managing the visitor experience.
We want to make sure that we're balancing all of those, so there has been a significant amount of activity and coordination to ensure that we're setting that line with the administrations of the House, Senate and the Library in consultation with our construction manager. The line we think will allow us to continue to support parliamentary operations and enable a program of visitor experience on the front lawn but allow the construction manager to execute the program.
I'll go to the next slide. Before I hand the floor over to Larry, there are some things or key design challenges that I wanted to flag that we know about right now and that we will start to work through in the coming months over the course of the program. As I referred to when we were talking about the scope slide, base building modernization is going to be significant in terms of Centre Block, and it will take up space. In studying that, what we know to date right now in terms of our assessments and our understanding of modernization and code requirements is that it's going to take up space from the functional program in Centre Block proper to the tune of about 2,500 square metres.
To give you a sense of what that means in terms of physical space, that would be the equivalent of all the offices on the fourth floor of Centre Block. That's to put in things such as conduits for modern HVAC and to increase the structural: put the seismic solution in place, washrooms, IT closets, etc., all the sort of space-building functional requirements. That's the first one.
The second one is the technical challenges of actually modernizing and undertaking a very significant modernized program in what is one of our highest heritage buildings in the country. Rest assured that we have conservators and all sorts of experience with us to do that, but it is not an insignificant challenge. In support of that, we've mapped completely the heritage hierarchy of the building, and we are doing our very best to put design into the building or to design the building so that we're having the least amount of impact on heritage in heritage areas where there would be a lower hierarchy in the building. We're working through that.
Finally, the functional program demand that we have received to date from parliamentary partners does exceed the availability or the supply. We have a demand-and-supply issue, so part of the work that we're going to be going through in the coming months is working through that. There's a series of key decisions that we'll bring you back to, once the architect has taken you through the program, to have a bit of a sense of how we're going to go through that.
We'll go to the next slide, and without further ado I'm going to pass the floor to Mr. Malcic.
I'm pleased to return to this committee to share information and ideas regarding the rehabilitation of Centre Block.
It is, as Mrs. Garrett has said, a high heritage building, and we wish to preserve that key important heritage. But it's also the working heart of the Canadian parliamentary democracy, and that has evolved over the last century since the building was designed and built. What has remained constant is the importance of the fundamental planning principles that created the building and, indeed, the triad of buildings in the first place. Those are the beaux arts design planning principles that have emphasized the hierarchy of spaces and the importance of both ceremonial circulation and processional routes, as well as providing a very strong infrastructure for the functional aspects of the building. You have the symmetrical displacement of the two chambers, the House and Senate, the placement of the library on axis, along with Confederation Hall, and in more recent years the Centennial Flame. We want to ensure that as we move forward with the project, we extend that beaux arts plan to create a campus or a complex of buildings that are appropriate in every way to the historical intentions of the original creators of Parliament Hill.
We see, as we look at this in a conceptual way, the way in which we plan to maintain the axiality of the design. In fact, we'll draw it together more closely, so that we can integrate the collection of buildings in a better way that relies on the fundamental principles, by adding the visitor welcome centre complex, phase two. This will knit together East Block and West Block and provide additional spaces that have long been lacking in Centre Block, particularly new committee rooms, a new entry to the overall complex, especially for visitors, and the connections, as I said, to the other buildings.
I want to specifically begin today perhaps with the House chamber and the modernization considerations that are important there. The House chamber, as a focal point in the overall building, encapsulates the issues faced throughout the building. We want to ensure that the design is “future-proofed” so that it can accommodate, as the nation grows, the growing number of members of Parliament. We have to find a way to accommodate that.
Now, one of the fundamental questions is: Will we accommodate that within the footprint of the existing chamber, or should we develop an expansion of that?
There's the question of furniture, and whether the existing furniture that has been part of the original design can be reused, or whether we shall be looking for something newer for that.
As the number of members of Parliament grows, so the lobbies themselves need to grow as well. The question is, how do we accommodate this important growth, which really reflects the growth of the nation, in the actual physical building itself?
Finally, there's the provision of universal accessibility, which is important throughout the building and is something that the original architects never considered.
If I begin with those considerations of the Commons chamber, the fundamental issues include life safety and code requirements, especially the code requirement for universal accessibility and, as I said before, the seating capacity in line with the growing population and the number of parliamentarians. These will be measured against the heritage assets that are in the building; future broadcast and communications technology; modernization of all heating, cooling and plumbing; and the design for seismic activity, which was of course never considered in the original building.
As we do our discovery and investigate all of these aspects of the building, we're developing a fundamental set of drawings. You see one of them here, a section through the Commons chamber that shows the degree to which we're using modern technology as well, including photo autometry to integrate actual photographic imagery of the building with the drawings themselves.
Let's look at the organization of seating in the House of Commons chamber. The chamber as it is does not currently meet building codes for life safety or accessibility. We need to correct those deficiencies and we also need to provide additional seating, ideally to achieve 400 seats plus the Speaker's chair, to provide for growth over the next decades. We can make significant improvements and get to some of that capacity. Obviously, though, it will require changes, and some of those changes may require compromises. We expect that we can achieve code compliance and accessibility from the floor of the chamber to the ambulatory, as shown in one of the options I developed to have the 400 seats.
This potential solution is based on maintaining the House's tradition of parallel seating—and, although other chambers in other places do other forms of seating, the actual configuration of the existing room itself lends itself to the parallel seating.
In looking at the chamber, we need to look not only at the actual floor of the chamber but also at the galleries surrounding the chamber, because they too are equally challenged in terms of contemporary life safety and accessibility requirements and must be updated. We've designed options to make these improvements, but they will come at a cost of capacity. Currently there are a total of 553 seats in all of the galleries combined. Meeting current code standards and providing accessibility may reduce that number to about 305 seats. This would require reorganizing the seating and reducing the steep rake of the north and south galleries that no longer meets code.
The functional program, I should point out, includes the request for a remote chamber to be located in the visitor welcome centre to allow people to view proceedings in a more appropriate setting with multimedia displays, which could be a contemporary and appropriate way to expand the viewing of the House in its meetings.
Just to look in more detail at the north gallery, here is an option for it: reduce the steepness of the pitch of the seats, provide fully accessible viewing positions and achieve building code compliance. You begin to see the way in which modern building codes will impact the existing space.
Similarly, in the south gallery, a plan for it includes, in this case, the console operator booth. These are ways that we can, without altering the historic fabric or indeed the look and feel of the room that are so important to the dignity of Parliament, make the accommodations necessary.
With regard to committee rooms, the importance and use of committee rooms has changed dramatically over the last 100 years. They are now an integral part of the legislative process and much in demand. Both the Senate and the House need new committee rooms, and I would ask Mr. Wright to elaborate on that.
As has just been positioned, there will be a number of choices, and the options that are shown there are just illustrative. There will be many more options that will be considered over time, so this is really the start of a conversation—which is the important point. It's not the end of a conversation, but a critical piece.
Committee rooms are along that line. We have clarity on the requirements. It's a question of where committee rooms should be situated. It's important to consider the location of those committee rooms in the fullest context of the parliamentary precinct. There's a tendency, as we are focusing on the Centre Block project right now, to want to try to fit everything into the Centre Block, but we may be well served, and Parliament may be well served, by thinking of the broader context as we try to move forward into an integrated campus, with the facilities increasingly being integrated with tunnel infrastructure, for example. So this decision of where to locate committee rooms will be very important.
The last point I'll make on this slide is with regard to the heritage committee rooms within the Centre Block. There are challenges with bringing those up to a high level of security that, for example, a caucus room would require. We have made investments in the West Block, and as we move to a parliamentary complex it may be useful to think of how the West Block and the Centre Block could be used in tandem as an integrated facility.
I'll move to next slide.
This gives you an illustration of where committee rooms are right now, as the Centre Block is now offline. Many of those committee rooms now are not on the Hill proper. You can see that for both the House of Commons and the Senate, there have been a number of major investments off the Hill.
How can we leverage those investments over the long term and ensure that the parliamentary operations remain the primary driver of where the functions that serve Parliament should be located?
The next slide attempts to articulate a diversity of locations where committee rooms could be located. You can see, in the Centre Block, the return of committee room functions that were in the Centre Block, both for the House and the Senate. You can see the potential for committee room locations within the visitor welcome centre phase two. You can see the idea of what are called pavilions on the north end of the Centre Block, and the idea of putting committee rooms where the chamber is in the West Block.
The East Block will go under major restoration for the Senate. Committee rooms could be added there. Of course, the existing committee rooms in the Wellington Building and the Valour Building are there. They remain as important investments. Also important to consider is the fact that we will be working to develop new facilities for both the House and the Senate of Canada adjacent to the former U.S. embassy at 100 Wellington, initially to provide swing space so that we can empty the Confederation Building, which requires restoration as well as the East Block, and then over the long term those would become permanent accommodations for Parliament. That again is a potential location space for committee rooms.
We have to sequence all of this over time to make sure it meets the needs of parliamentarians, but it's an important conversation about how to move that along over time to make sure we're making the best investments on behalf of Parliament to serve the needs of a modern parliamentary democracy.
Again, it's an important dialogue that will take place over the coming months.
I'll pass it back to Larry to continue.
Circulation and connections are fundamental to any building's functioning. Centre Block itself, because of the nature of its beaux arts plan, had a very clear plan of circulation. Once again, however, what we are planning and now designing are ways that we can extend the clarity and power of that circulation system.
It's one in which we need to bring together many different things. Here you begin to see the way in which we want to create the new front door for Parliament in the visitor welcome centre, and to use that then to provide a clear public entrance and public circulation.
We want to ensure that the circulation for parliamentarians and their staff is equally efficient and effective and, ideally, that it would be a circulation system that runs independently of the public circulation. We also have to consider, as part of circulation, the building's servicing. How do we bring goods in and distribute them throughout the building? How do we bring rubbish and garbage out of the building in a way that doesn't have an impact on any of the building users?
All of these things intertwine. We also have the additional layers, in terms of circulation, of bringing the building services into the plan, because those, too, have to be considered as part of the circulation system. The goal is for all of the buildings to become interconnected so they will work as one campus and a complex of buildings. In this way, you will have the benefit of all of them working together rather than simply independently.
At the moment, this is still very much in development, but you begin to see, here in the green, the way in which public circulation could be brought in through the visitor welcome centre. It could come in horizontally across the visitor welcome centre, and then vertically into what are currently the light wells or the courtyards of the building and be given direct access. The public then would have direct access into the galleries. The paths of visitors and members of the public would not necessarily cross those of parliamentarians and those doing parliamentary business. However, it does show that we're considering the courtyards as a fundamental part of the solution for a much better, more operational Centre Block. By glazing them and enclosing them, we are actually able to reduce the overall external footprint of the building and improve its sustainability by reducing its energy consumption. We could then provide a series of spaces where the new functions, including the circulation, could be introduced.
Finally, we've already touched on the visitor welcome centre and its relationship with this, but this shows diagrammatically the way we view it, which is as a great opportunity. It's the opportunity, I guess, of this century, to take Centre Block and expand it—in the green you see the expansion of the House of Commons—to provide committee rooms and other support facilities, which are very necessary to the operations of Parliament.
In red, you see on the east side the expansion for the Senate.
In orange, you see the requirements of the Library of Parliament to provide a better, more appropriate visitor experience.
In yellow, you see the entry sequence, which will actually provide a fitting entrance, one that reflects the dignity of Parliament as it's traditionally defined. We would therefore integrate into a single campus the group of buildings that exist there now, create the connections to the East Block and the West Block and provide the new space for both the Senate and the House. Centre Block itself, freed up and opened up once again, will be able to function as it was conceived and designed, maintaining its dignity, history and prominence while ensuring it has an effective and efficient role as the centre of Canadian parliamentary democracy.
Earlier, in terms of the presentation, we talked about making some key programming decisions. In delivering this program, the intent is to make decisions in layered approaches, going from the highest level down to the more detailed, so that they can be made in the appropriate time frame. We're looking for enduring decisions, because change is obviously the enemy of projects like these. Once you've designed something and you're going back to reverse decisions that you've made, it costs time and ultimately money.
With regard to the programmatic decisions in support of the program, you'll see that there are some related to the base building modernization effort, and there are those related more to the functional or the parliamentary program. We are working very closely with the administrations of the House of Commons, the Senate and the Library of Parliament to make sure that we are landing those decisions and releasing work for the architect in a way that will benefit the program.
Things like asbestos abatement, the seismic approach, as well as key programmatic decisions around the functional program—what the hoarding is going to physically look like, what the chamber size inlaid is going to be—are all key decisions that we need to make in a transparent fashion. This is in terms not only of their design but also of their impact in support of parliamentary operations, as well as cost.
We're having similar discussions with the other partners and engagements with parliamentarians accordingly. Obviously, some of these will benefit from much-needed feedback from parliamentarians. We look forward to working with the House of Commons to receive that feedback.
I'll close the presentation and give you a sense of what the next year looks like for the Centre Block rehabilitation program. As I referenced earlier, we are going to both refine the functional program and schematic design with a view to landing on the preferred design option in a March time frame. We have a whole bunch of enabling projects at work. The work in the east pleasure grounds and the relocation of monuments to get ready for the substantial construction program are ongoing as we speak.
This is your last year for Canada Day celebrations as traditionally planned on the Hill, because sometime after Labour Day you will see fast fence go up along that site delineation line you saw earlier in the presentation, and the actual construction site for the Centre Block rehabilitation program will take place. For example, you'll see things like the dismantling of the Vaux wall and construction trailers will start to show up on site, as well as the construction hoarding.
We continue to work on the site implementation plan and the hoarding design. We'll soon have some good information on that. We will complete both the comprehensive assessment program, which will feed into the design process; what we know about the building; as well as formed substantive cost, scope and schedule early in 2020.
That's it for the presentation.
We'd be happy to take any questions the committee may have for us.
When you came to meet with us the last few times, we talked about consulting parliamentarians who worked in the former Centre Block. The Board of Internal Economy had to be consulted, and so did the members of Parliament. Was there a consultation with MPs to find out their views? I can give you mine.
In your document, for which I thank you, you show that there are currently 338 seats and that there will be 400. People are sitting in rows. I can tell you that folding chairs in rows of five doesn't work. I myself sat on a bench made up of folding chairs. Several colleagues are often not on time and you always have to get up to let them pass.
I'm not sure whether that's what you have in mind, but I'm telling you it's really inconvenient.
Are you consulting the parliamentarians who are currently working here?
With 400 seats, I'm not sure we'll be able to move around.
Thank you for your question, Ms. Lapointe.
In response to your first question about the suggested plan, that's only one option to demonstrate that the potential increase in the number of members of Parliament in the House of Commons must be taken into account.
The intent is indeed to present those options to the working group formed by the Board of Internal Economy. Then, it will also be a matter of consulting this committee, of course. So it's an option. You have seen throughout the presentation that no final decision has been made; these are just options. In addition, I think it is our common duty, at Public Services and Procurement Canada and the House administration, to present you with options to start the discussion and receive instructions to meet your needs as parliamentarians.
As for the consultations on your experience in the West Block, administration employees will meet with members of Parliament, for example, officers or staff from those offices to ask for their feedback, as well as their suggestions, advice and comments.
I'd really appreciate it if you could.
Thank you for the very helpful Gantt chart. I look down it and see that you divided things up timewise. The first one is April to September—we're in that period now—when certain things commence.
The one thing that ends in September 2019 is the Centre Block decommissioning. That is done sometime in September. A number of things start in the period we're in now, and continue on post-September. The one that strikes me most significantly is the schematic design issue. It seems to me that starting that process before the next election is highly problematic in terms of getting input from the House of Commons and us.
Additionally, I should note that construction management—the tendering—starts in September, so there may actually be tenders that are put up before Parliament or the House of Commons has a chance to do any oversight. We are going to be in the middle of an election; no one will be in a position to do oversight. I think that is problematic.
In the interest of the House of Commons—which, after all, is the body that oversees expenditures—having its appropriate share of control over this, both on the costs side and what the costs are being incurred for, I encourage you to put that off until the post-election period. I recognize that this would not speed up the project, but this is one of those times when I think it might be appropriate. My colleagues may contradict me on this point, but that's my initial observation. That is a problematic timeline. I just throw that thought out for your consideration.
Mr. Malcic, thank you for being here. I found your comments with regard to the architectural issues very informative. I did have an administrative question for you. From whom do you formally take your marching orders or instructions? Or, if you wish, who are you contracting with?
That's great. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you all for being here.
It's interesting, quite fascinating, to watch this evolve.
To me it looks like one of the tricky things going forward is the possibility of a parallel chamber. The good news is that this would enhance our democracy; we've already had an initial study. We haven't made it yet, but my hunch is that there'll be a positive recommendation going to the House that we continue to look at this.
The downside is that it's not a decision that's going to be made right away, yet it may be an important ingredient because of the space. It has to be dedicated; it'll just be for that purpose if it's the way we're currently looking at it.
I'd appreciate your thoughts on how we would move forward with that, given the various timings here.
I would also encourage you to have a panel of former parliamentarians involved, because as we get further and further from 2019, there will be fewer and fewer people who remember what Centre Block is supposed to be like.
I'd say, “Call David”—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. David de Burgh Graham:—because he would be a good asset for you because he will soon be a former MP, sadly.
On the topic of the secondary debating chamber—this is more of a comment than a question—I would encourage you to look at a permanent space as an idea, not at a committee room that we can reassign, because the structure of the room would be physically different. It would have to be. With the galleries and the television, it would be a different structure. If you leave it as a committee room that gets reassigned, then one week it will have three days. The next week it will have two days. The next week it will just be forgotten. So, it has to have its own structure in place. I want to put that on record.
With regard to Linda's comments on the rang d'Oignon—which is a phrase I love—looking at the 400-seat arrangement you have.... I had the distinct pleasure of having the middle of the five-seat section in the last chamber, and while the chairs were way more physically comfortable than the chairs we have now, the actual egress and entry to those is an absolute royal pain in the ass. If we cannot do that, I would be much obliged.
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.
I didn't think so, but it would be really cool if there were. I leave that out there. Maybe there are some creative folks.
I have two things, one point and then a question.
The point is that I really appreciated knowing for the first time how you're looking at the parliamentary precinct differently. Right now, truly, we have a frankenparl. In the decade and a half that I've been on the Hill, we added a committee space here and grabbed offices there. It's been pulled together with duct tape and bale wire. It doesn't make any sense when you talk about flow. So I'm pleased to hear that we're going to get away from that nonsense, take a step back and look at all the facilities as they all start to blend, and the idea that we may still have to be off the Hill, whereas we weren't in the past. When I first got here, everything was nice and neat on the Hill. So I'm pleased about that.
I share some of the concerns that Mr. Reid has raised about the visitor welcome centre. When you're providing the committee with the list of decisions and the time frames, I assume this will be a part of that; that a detailed subset will speak to exactly where we are with the visitor welcome centre in the decisions that are made and are not being revisited versus those that, going forward, have not been made, and what your thinking is on when and how those decisions are going to made. I would ask that you include that in the report you provide to us.
There have been many lessons learned and I think we could have a deep conversation about that. There would be two that would be relevant to today's conversation that would be very important.
One is, as Ms. Garrett mentioned, the layered decision-making approach and to focus on those elements that we can get consensus on and to move forward on them. That lends itself to phased implementation. In the middle of the West Block we started to shift gears, in working between Public Services Procurement Canada and the House of Commons. We're going to apply that lesson learned fully for Centre Block.
It's the phased approach, really focusing on those structural elements, first and foremost, where we can get the greatest clarity early, and then, once we have the clarity of the functionality that we have, focusing the effort, from a construction perspective, on areas that need to be perfect for the operations of Parliament, the chamber being perhaps the most obvious of those, and committee rooms. They should be completed earlier and handed over to the House of Commons, which is the technical authority on the IT and broadcasting elements. The construction elements of the building and all of the critical IT elements should be finished at the same time, rather than being sequential, which is what we used to do previously in projects. The Wellington Building and the Valour Building and elements of that would have been more sequential. We think we can save time and enhance the quality by approaching it with a more phased approach.
I want to say a couple of things. First of all, I want to stress one area where I really admire the work you've done: your seismic work on this building to make it earthquake-proof. It was most emphatically not earthquake-proof before you started your work on it, so I congratulate you for that. I'm well aware of the challenges that Centre Block faces in that regard, and while I like to economize on many things, I'm not asking you to economize on that.
I think the fundamental problem that all of you face is that your parliamentary partners, as you describe the various groups that are submitting to you, have not told you what their needs are. They've given you a wish list, which is not quite the same thing. It's the difference between what I would like to have and what the economists talk about as supply and demand.
Demand is ultimately what I want to have and am prepared to pay for. None of us has made the hard choices. I'm not talking about you making hard choices; we haven't made the hard choices. We're imposing the arbitration job to a large degree on you, and that is profoundly unfair. I can see you attempting to deal with it and respond to everybody's needs.
We have to give you clearer guidelines, so I hope that what I've said so far is not understood as criticism of Public Works, the architects or the House administration. Au contraire, it is a critique of the process that we are part of, and we need to get our act together.
On another note, I gather that the idea of swing space beside the former U.S. embassy has not been approved by anybody. I think it is a good idea. Right now, that is an unutilized space. It's a parking lot that doesn't even have cars parked there anymore. It makes eminent sense to put something in there that could be used as space, and then in the long run, the obvious flaw with the current building is that it is too small for an indigenous heritage history museum. There's no way there is enough space. The swing space might serve that purpose.
I do have to ask this question: How long do you anticipate the big hole, as you've called it, in the ground for the visitor welcome centre being there? We know it starts in September 2019. When will it be filled in and the ground covered over and be back to being usable?
That's what I thought. I'll take this opportunity. I appreciate that. I only asked for the floor so that I can formally move my motion: “That the Committee study the following proposed changes to the Standing Orders and report back to the House”. The attached documents with the details of those changes have been circulated in both languages.
I don't know how much discussion we require here. I'm sort of going on the assumption that there's enough support in the back benches to at least explore, and give some air and time to, a lot of work that's been done by a lot of colleagues. I'm a little bit part of it, mostly just contributing thoughts as opposed to being a key player. My role is just that I'm on this committee, so I'm the one moving the motion.
I'd be looking for, either now or quietly afterwards, or at the beginning of the next meeting, but in some way, whether the study is going to become an issue or whether we can quickly deal with this motion and get on with having the delegation come in and start rolling up our sleeves and going through some of the proposals.
That's what I would be seeking going forward. The answer to that will dictate how quickly we can dispose of this motion and get on with the work, or if we're going to have to make a bit of a cause célèbre out of it, which I'm hoping is not the case.