Monday, August 06, 2007

Repair Or Bulldoze?

Probably blasphemy to even suggest this, but would Canada be better off with a new national building, as opposed to throwing money at a lemon:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet have approved an extensive new long-term plan for renovation and reconstruction of the aged and decaying buildings on Parliament Hill.

But the Department of Public Works says the plan will remain secret until September, when the government will also reveal a new timetable for vacating MPs and Commons staff from the crumbling and asbestos-ridden West Block.

Meanwhile, as tourists flock to the Hill this summer, even the deteriorated conditions of pedestrian areas have proven dangerous. A section of stone sidewalk directly under the Peace Tower is now blocked off with a steel fence after an elderly woman recently stumbled on a section that had become loose and struck her head.

The government has now budgeted $13.4 million for an "emergency" stabilization and restoration project for the southeast tower of the West Block alone, Ms. Brosseau said in another e-mail.

A further $6.5 million has already been spent simply erecting scaffolding and protective wrapping -- to protect pedestrians and cars from falling rock or mortar -- on three other West Block towers. The reconstruction is yet to begin, and the cost of the scaffolding and wrapping nets alone, along with supportive steel cables around the towers, suggests the eventual cost of reconstruction will be enormous.

Key word "enormous" cost. The last time I was in Ottawa, I remember the Parliament building being shrouded in scaffolding, which apparently lasted for quite some time. As a student of history, I can appreciate the automatic desire to repair, renovate, re-tool, update, re-model, modernize, afterall the building is a key national symbol. However, if you can detach yourself from the romantic for a minute, I think it an open question whether the nation is better served by a new building, that is naturally equipped to deal with the modern circumstance.

Much of the history could be salvaged within a new structure, not to mention the practical, with a government building able to accomodate growth. Is it better to have structures in perpetual repair? I'm just throwing this opinion out there, should we start fresh?


Mark Dowling said...

Steve - my impression on visiting the Hill was that it was the most open legislature I had then seen, with open gates, a pro-weed demo on the lawns...

Any new building would be surrounded by concrete and razor wire.

Jeff said...

We're a young country with so little history. Having lived in Europe, they have a whole other definition of old, and have managed to maintain buildings for many hundreds of years. Let's hang-on to the little history we do have. It's worth the price.

Steve V said...


It is very open, which is part of the attraction.


This might be a bad analogy, but many of the new ballparks have been able to meld modern amenities with a sense of history. Besides, where are we going to put all those new MP's slated for 2011? ;)

Oxford County Liberals said...

Sorry.. I'm with Jeff (and I'm a bit of a traditionalist and a fan of this type of architecture) Having been to Ottawa and being in awe of the place, I say we try to keep what we have.

A liberal blogger up there who was a staffer for a rather influential Liberal cabinet minister at one point said we as Liberals allowed the Reformers to go after s on repair costs.. and we let the things decay.. and now we're paying for it... and he had no real objection to the Conservatives trying to repair these.. and I certainly don't either.

Steve V said...


I don't necessarily disagree, I'm just throwing the idea out there. The building has a great presence, no question.

Olaf said...


At first reaction, I have to admit that I agreed with Jeff and Scott. But then I thought to myself, "I'm agreeing with Jeff and Scott!!!", needless to say I freaked out a bit, and have decided to soften my position and consider the thought.

But first, what would you have us do with the parliament buildings? Would we knock 'em down? Or would we use them for other purposes (for tours, museums, etc.)? And if we didn't knock them down, and did use them for other other purposes, wouldn't they cost just as much to repair and refurbish in order for they to be used in that capacity? Or would you just let them sit there and gradually be eroded away (a nice metaphor for the country under Stephen Harper, perhaps?)?

Anyways, while starting "fresh" is an interesting idea, put some meat on those bones and we'll talk.

Olaf said...


And ps, you didn't write this weekend, as promised. I waited by the computer all night, constantly hitting refresh. I was worried sick about you.

Canajun said...

I think Mark hit the nail on the head - build new and what we'll get is the same kind of ugly monstrocity that is the US embassy. Nope - I'm all in favor of repairing, or rebuilding if necessary, what we have now. It's a classic building, steeped in history (such as it is for such a young country). Besides all that work on the Library would be wasted.

Steve V said...


We should move the capital to Calgary- I'm half serious :)

It's a long weekend buddy ;)


If there was a commitment, you could keep the same feel to some degree.

Anonymous said...

The other thing about getting too deeply into the "knock 'em down and rebuild" conversation is that it would pry the lid off the "let's move the capital" snake pit.

Somewhere between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg would be the most logical place from a geographical standpoint.

Toronto of course from a financial perspective.

Ideologically Calgary would stake out a claim.

Vancouver would moan and groan through the fog of cannabis smoke about being not even being considered.

Then Ottawa could be privatized out to Disney as a beautiful historical tourist attraction cum shrine to the country formerly known as Canada that rent itself asunder over a debate that began about whether to rebuild the existing Parliament or build a new one from the ground up.

I'm all for it.

Olaf said...


Fair enough, I'll remain patient...

ps Dana's capital sounds like fun! I love rides...

Jeff said...

If office space is the issue, very few MPs actually have their offices in the Centre block. They're dispersed around a host of buildings in the area, including many off the hill itself.

And if you mean space in the Commons chamber itself, well, a little renovation could fix that. I'd suggest using that large, empty red-colured space down on the east end of the centre block for something useful. I'm sure the senate wouldn't be missed, would it... :)

Steve V said...

Abolish the Senate in the name overcrowding!


Sounds like a great scenario.

Steve V said...


You have mail :)