Good morning, Madam Chair.
I would like to acknowledge our presence on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples.
Let me begin by thanking all of you for being here and for giving me this wonderful opportunity to speak with you today.
Thank you for inviting me to discuss the long-term vision and plan for Canada's parliamentary precinct in my role as Minister of Public Services and Procurement.
Joining me today is Bill Matthews, my deputy minister, who leads an outstanding team of professionals and whom I am proud to work with every day. Also joining me is Rob Wright, assistant deputy minister for the science and parliamentary infrastructure branch, whom I believe you have had the pleasure of getting to know over the last week or two. Thank you both for being with me today, and thank you for the excellent work you do at PSPC.
Madam Chair, the buildings and grounds on and near Parliament Hill are symbols of our democracy and part of our history. We need to ensure they meet the needs of a 21st century Parliament. At the same time, these buildings should reflect the values of Canadians and be places where all Canadians are welcome. That is why our focus is not only on functionality, restoration and preservation, but also on making these spaces more accessible, sustainable and secure. You will hear me speak today about these values.
As you well know, our work in the precinct extends beyond the Hill and includes revitalizing the city block facing Parliament Hill, specifically the buildings between Metcalfe and O'Connor and Wellington and Sparks, also known as “Block 2”.
Officials from my department have already told you about the works we've completed so far in these areas and our plans going forward.
To date, the department has delivered 24 key projects in the precinct on time and on budget.
Our biggest milestone was the historic transition of Parliament from Centre Block to the newly restored West Block and the Senate of Canada Building, but there are also other milestones, such as the successful renovation and addition to the Sir John A. Macdonald Building and the extensive renovations on the Wellington Building.
As my officials mentioned at this committee, this milestone was the culmination of well over a decade of work restoring and modernizing facilities in the precinct to now moving to undertake our most significant project, the rehabilitation of Centre Block.
All Canadians can take pride in the fact that our achievements thus far are earning acclaim and recognition around the world. It is worth noting that Canada's work to restore and modernize the parliamentary precinct has received over 57 awards in the areas of architectural excellence, sustainability and heritage conservation.
This work is complex, balancing restoration with modernization. As my officials outlined for you, that complexity will only increase now that we are turning our collective attention to Centre Block, the largest project of its kind ever undertaken in Canada.
Madam Chair, I know that you and this committee have had the pleasure of touring the exterior and interior of Centre Block to see first-hand the important work being done. I had the pleasure of doing the same with Rob Wright in one of my first activities as minister. I think we can all agree that the magnitude of the place and the work ahead of us are extraordinary, to say the least.
Beyond the difference in scope and scale, Centre Block has another major difference when compared with projects to date.
With Centre Block, we are now shifting from projects serving a single partner—the House of Commons or the Senate, for example—to those serving multiple partners.
lnstead of meeting our needs as members of Parliament, Centre Block must work in a way that meets the needs of all parliamentarians as well as those who support us, namely, the Library of Parliament and the Parliamentary Protective Service.
Several key decisions are required in the months ahead, including some that have the potential to impact the way Parliament has traditionally operated.
The particular challenge is this: Governance and decision-making within the long-term vision and plan is unique, complex and very important to the success of this plan. With two chambers and two branches of government, decisions affecting the home of our democracy cannot be made unilaterally or by one single person.
My responsibility as minister, with the support of my department, is the day-to-day operation of the buildings and the planning and delivery of major restoration and modernization projects, as well as managing the associated budgets and seeking approval from cabinet and Treasury Board.
Each chamber is responsible for the identification of long-term goals, objectives and outcomes. They are also responsible for ensuring and coordinating engagement with their respective arms of Parliament, as well as securing the endorsement of MPs and Senators. The parliamentary administration, for both House and Senate, is the lead for engagement with parliamentarians.
PSPC is responsible for delivering the built environment that meets the needs of both chambers, as defined by their respective administrations in consultation with MPs and senators.
Integrated, stable decision-making is critical to ensuring the success of projects that will shape our country's most important national symbol of more than 100 years. I am so honoured to be here today to speak with you about this shared national symbol.
The reality facing us is that a number of key decisions will need to be made in order for current and future projects to progress. Most of these decisions, particularly around Centre Block, are arguably now more important than ever. Now is the time to take collective and collaborative leadership and ownership and explore new avenues for effective decision-making.
As you know from your discussions with the professionals in my ministry, the department has developed options for consideration by MPs and senators to support key decision points relating to the parliamentary precinct, in particular, Centre Block.
During this committee study, officials from my department and the House administration, accompanied by partners from the Library of Parliament, all working closely together over many months, outlined these decision points. They are now asking us to consider the path forward. They are asking parliamentarians what they require of a rehabilitated Centre Block. These are the critical decision points that have to be addressed before we can move forward, before our officials can finalize design, costing and timelines.
For example, decisions are needed on whether to increase the size of the chamber, or to modernize the chamber within its existing footprint and to make other adjustments to the way in which the chamber functions. We need to make decisions regarding the core functions of the visitor welcome centre, which is a facility that plays a number of roles, but most critically it provides the connection that transforms the parliamentary triad, which consists of the West, Centre and East blocks, from three buildings into one seamlessly linked complex.
We need clarity on the needs of the House and Senate for the block two redevelopment as well. We need decisions on parliamentary participation in the jury for the international design competition. This project will reshape the city block directly across from the Peace Tower, blending heritage and function for the future and further advancing the creation of our parliamentary canvas.
In conclusion, in the time that I have been minister, it has become clear to me that the dedicated employees of Public Services and Procurement Canada take great pride in their work.
From the work of this committee in the last session of Parliament, to the prescient work by parliaments dating back nearly half a century calling for the creation of a visitor welcome centre and securing the blocks opposite Parliament Hill for future requirements, both of which will now be realized, I am so proud of the role my department plays in the long-term vision and plan for the precinct. I am grateful for the talented public servants, architects, engineers, project managers and construction workers who are seeing it through every single day, as well as the parliamentary administration, which is working with the very same degree of professionalism, commitment and expertise.
I am most heartened by how very well all of our teams are coming together on this massive collaborative undertaking. I can tell you that they are all ready to move forward on the next phase of our plan.
We are at a critical juncture in our plan. It is important, imperative, that we get this right. Our challenge now is how we can best come together as one Parliament to make sound, enduring decisions.
I hope this committee will work with my officials on the decision-making process by exploring ways to fill the gaps in the current governance structure and resolve the outstanding items we have raised so that we can continue our success.
As always, I welcome your views, your ideas and your discussion on any and all of these matters. After all, the work we are doing today will serve Canadians, regardless of political party, for generations to come. I look forward to working with you and with the rest of our fellow parliamentarians to revitalize the heart of our democracy by making these historic buildings more functional in a modern world, greener and accessible to all Canadians.
Thank you so much.