Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Rehabilitating the Parliament Buildings

(Chapter 3—2010 Spring Report of the Auditor General)

15 June 2010

Sheila Fraser, FCA
Auditor General of Canada

Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to meet with the Committee to discuss Chapter 3 of our 2010 Spring Report, Rehabilitating the Parliament Buildings. With me today are Sylvain Ricard, Assistant Auditor General, and Edward Wood, Principal, both responsible for this audit.

We had two objectives in conducting this audit:

  • first, to examine if Public Works and Government Services Canada, within its mandate, and in cooperation with others, had put in place a sound governance framework for the overall rehabilitation project; and
  • second, to look at whether the Department had sound project management practices for rehabilitating the Parliament buildings.

The importance of the buildings on the Hill cannot be overstated. The Parliament buildings are the centrepiece of our national political life. The site, the architectural style, and the building layout were designed to convey an image of ceremony and order. With time, the buildings and the grounds have become a symbol of Canada’s parliamentary democracy and the federal government.

The Parliament buildings have been in need of major repairs and upgrading for over two decades. Through its assessment of building conditions, Public Works has identified serious risks that could affect the continued operations of Parliament.

The heritage character of some buildings is also threatened. Furthermore, the Senate and the House of Commons have indicated that their current and future needs cannot be met by the buildings in their present state.

Mr. Chair, the governance arrangements are hindering rehabilitation work while the buildings continue to deteriorate. We found that decision making and accountability are fragmented. We also found that the current arrangements do not allow for reaching consensus on priorities and committing resources to implement long-term plans.

These weaknesses, which cannot be attributed to any organization alone, result in delays in making decisions and implementing projects, and contribute to increasing project costs and risks.

We believe that unless governance is fixed, only limited progress will be made on the rehabilitation of the Parliament buildings. Three critical issues need to be dealt with:

  • accountability relationships;
  • long-term planning to rehabilitate buildings and meet the requirements of their main users; and
  • stable and long-term funding to complete planned work.

The ultimate purpose of these buildings is to support Parliament’s unique operations. In our view, the Parliament buildings are a special purpose space and the control and responsibility for these buildings need to rest with Parliament.

Mr. Chair, we recommend that the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, in cooperation with the principal players, should develop and propose mechanisms to ensure that the responsibility and accountability for the Parliament buildings rest with the Senate and the House of Commons.

On the question of project management, we noted that the rehabilitation projects on Parliament Hill are unique and complex. We found that once rehabilitation projects were agreed to, the Department had in place generally sound project management practices. These practices took into account the unique nature of this work such as the heritage character of the buildings, their age, and their condition.

We are pleased to report that the Department acknowledges the recommendation and has undertaken, within its mandate and authorities, to work with other stakeholders to strengthen governance.

In conclusion, Mr. Chair, the longstanding governance problem, which we and others have raised over many years, has to be resolved.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions. Thank you.