Rehabilitation of Parliament’s Centre Block—Public Services and Procurement Canada

Opening Statement before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Rehabilitation of Parliament’s Centre Block—Public Services and Procurement Canada

(Report 3—2023 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada)

24 October 2023

Andrew Hayes
Deputy Auditor General

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our report on the rehabilitation of Parliament’s Centre Block, which was tabled on March 27th, 2023. I would like to acknowledge that this hearing is taking place on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. Joining me today are Susan Gomez and Elsa Da Costa, who were responsible for the audit.

In this audit, we looked at whether Public Services and Procurement Canada effectively managed the scope, schedule, and cost during the early phases of the rehabilitation program and whether the department, in cooperation with key partners and stakeholders, put in place a governance framework to support timely decisions.

Based on a 2021 estimate, the cost of rehabilitating Parliament’s Centre Block and of building the new Parliament Welcome Centre is expected to be between $4.5 and $5 billion. This vast program involves many stakeholders and partners, including the House of Commons, the Senate, the Parliamentary Protective Service, and the Library of Parliament.

Overall, Public Services and Procurement Canada used flexible approaches to effectively manage costs and schedules during the planning, design, and early construction phases of the rehabilitation program. The department also balanced the requirements of the parliamentary partners, the heritage character of the building, sustainability, and equitable access for parliamentarians and the public.

We found that the department assessed the Centre Block building and site to fully understand the building’s structural and mechanical conditions, and it consulted and worked with experts to integrate environmental sustainability and accessibility elements. The department also consulted with experts and stakeholders to develop the scope of the program and adjusted workflows when faced with delayed planning decisions on important user requirements, such as office space.

In our 2010 audit that looked at the rehabilitation of the Parliament buildings, we recommended changes to the governance framework meant to guide the overall program. In the current audit, we found that decision making by parliamentary partners remained fragmented.

Though Public Services and Procurement Canada established a governance framework for the implementation of the program, parliamentary partners were slow to endorse key decisions on some user requirements. At the end of our audit period, some important decisions remained outstanding, such as on the security requirements for Centre Block. However, to support timely decision making from parliamentary partners, we recommended that the department submit a progress update to both the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Speaker of the Senate at least twice a year.

We found that Public Services and Procurement Canada had processes in place to manage the costs of the program in its early phases and to mitigate the risk of rising costs. For example, the department had methods to estimate and monitor costs, manage changes and risks, and provide quarterly reports to departmental committees. We also found that the department used a flexible approach to manage the schedule and timing of activities—for example, it went ahead with moving equipment and relocating utilities, monuments, and trees. This helped to mitigate the impact of delayed decisions and to keep the program on schedule in its early phases.

At the time of our audit, the department kept spending below the 2016 approved funding. As of July 2022, the department had spent more than $880 million. Of that amount, $450 million was spent on planning and design activities, and approximately $430 million on early construction activities, such as the excavation of the visitor centre site and the removal of hazardous material from the Centre Block building.

Given the size and complexity of this program, a streamlined decision‑making process is needed to effectively manage the costs and timelines of the rehabilitation program. It is also important to maintain rigorous cost management processes and to monitor the risk of cost increases as the program moves further into the construction phase and as spending increases between now and the planned completion date of 2030 to 2031.

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