Renos kicking Canada Day party off the Hill

For the first time in more than 40 years, Parliament Hill will not be the centre of Canada Day celebrations on July 1.

Instead, the main stage will be set up behind the Château Laurier at Major’s Hill Park, where revellers will still have a view of the Parliament Buildings, but primarily the back of the East Block and the Library of Parliament.

The party is shifting because Centre Block is getting a massive facelift and restoration, and the staging and construction is eating up almost half of the front lawn of Parliament Hill. Already, a large fence stretching across the width of the lawn limits the view.

The white area on this aerial image shows how much of the front lawn of Parliament is affected by the construction project. (Google Maps/Laury Dubé/Radio-Canada)

“We can tell you today that there will be no stage on Parliament Hill for Canada Day celebrations in 2020,” Canadian Heritage spokesperson Amélie Desmarais confirmed in French in an email to Radio-Canada.

Revellers will still have access to the Hill on Canada Day, but the lion’s share of the planned events will be moved to Major’s Hill Park.

The space between the fence and Wellington Street will remain accessible to the public, according to Public Service and Procurement Canada (PSPC), not only for  Canada Day, but for activities throughout the year such as the Northern Lights sound and light show, Yoga on the Hill and the changing of the guard.

Workers build forms on the front lawn of Parliament Hill in February 2020. (Stéphane Leclerc/Radio-Canada)

“PSPC and Canadian Heritage are working together to ensure that Parliament Hill remains one of the iconic sites where visitors can come and celebrate Canada Day,” said PSPC spokesperson Michèle LaRose.

Work to renovate Centre Block began last year after MPs moved to a temporarily location in the West Block in 2018. According to PSPC, the front lawn of Parliament Hill will remain partially inaccessible for at least 10 years.

That’s not to say the big party will be banished to Major’s Hill Park for the entire time: according to PSPC and Heritage Canada, the situation will be reassessed each year.

Squeezing in more MPs

Meanwhile, the experts overseeing the massive restoration of Centre Block have to find out a way to cram more than 100 additional MPs into the House of Commons without compromising its architectural heritage.

A House of Commons committee Tuesday heard updates on the ongoing overhaul of Centre Block, which began more than a year ago and could last until well into the 2030s.

It needs to take into account that by 2060, the number of MPs Canada will require for its population will grow from 338 today to more than 460, if each one is to represent roughly the same number of people.

People celebrate on the Hill on July 1, 2014. (Chris Wattie/REUTERS)

There are three options for renovating the chamber. Two would keep it in its existing space but use different furniture and
configurations, while the third would require expanding the room inside the historic building.

Rob Wright, assistant deputy minister at PSPC, said the current chamber could hold about 420 MPs, but would likely mean the heritage wooden desks that seat MPs in pairs would have to be done away with in exchange for smaller seats, and maybe no desks at all. British MPs sit on long benches with no desks.

Expanding the chamber could increase capacity to more than 500 seats, using the existing heritage furniture, but would also cost a lot, he said.

Many MPs listening to the report were frustrated by a lack of detail about potential expenses. More than $770 million in contracts have already been awarded for the building, but there remains no overall cost estimate.


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