While democracy in Canada has seen better days, Centre Block which holds the House of Commons and the Senate is struggling as well.
The Centre Block of Canadaâ€™s three-part Parliament Buildings â€” which houses the Senate, the House of Commons and prime minister Stephen Harperâ€™s office â€” is â€œseriously deterioratingâ€ and will â€œreach the end of its life cycleâ€ in seven years, according to the man in charge of renovations on Parliament Hill.
Itâ€™s a nail biter because work on a temporary home for the House of Commons in the West Block isnâ€™t expected to be finished until 2017 and, in the meantime, tape, wood and netting are holding together parts of the iconic structure.
This past February, water leakage in Centre Block caused one of two transformers providing power to the Hill to explode â€œbecause it came to the end of its useful life,â€ Assistant Deputy Minister Pierre-Marc Mongeau told the Government Operations Committee Thursday.
The neo-gothic stone building â€” the only one in the world to be so well conserved â€” was re-built in 1922 after a fire destroyed the original building.
But, despite the ongoing efforts of maintenance staff to â€œdo all they can,â€ Mongeau told the committee that the buildingâ€™s aging structural, mechanical and technical systems are at â€œa critical risk of total failure by 2019.â€
Mongeau said if the systems fail, the building could become unsafe for use requiring it â€œto be shut down.â€
In 1994 and 1995, the faÃ§ade of the building was repaired, but Mongeau said the other three less-visible sides were not.
Ventilation towers are â€œtaped,â€ with wood pieces around them and pieces of stained glass windows in the House of Commons are beginning to fall out, he said.
â€œThat means that we need to put in a net protection around those windows and visually that doesnâ€™t look so good,â€ he said.
â€œClearly itâ€™s not likely to get better until itâ€™s fixed,â€ said Liberal MP John McCallum, â€œbut, I think (Mongeau) felt that it was manageable.â€
â€œIâ€™ve been there for 12 years and Iâ€™ve never had the feeling that itâ€™s falling apart,â€ he said. â€œThere are things that need repair, and itâ€™s unfortunate that itâ€™s going to take so many years before itâ€™s done, but Iâ€™ve never been sitting in Parliament or walking around Centre Block thinking that Iâ€™m in a crumbling building.â€
However, he said the building is the â€œcentral block of our democracyâ€ and heâ€™d â€œrather wait a few more years… and have a building of which we can be proud than do it faster and make mistakes.â€
Conservative MP Mike Wallace wasnâ€™t surprised to hear about the problems due to the sheer age of the buildings, although he said he hadnâ€™t noticed any obvious signs of the deterioration.
â€œIt is a fair age and, if you look around your own home, the older it gets, the more work it needs,â€ he said.
Mongeau was not available for comment Friday.
The House of Commons is expected to be re-housed in the modernized â€œenergy efficientâ€ West Block â€” complete with a three-layer glass ceiling, which will trap heat and supply 10 per cent of the buildingâ€™s energy needs on sunny days, â€œeven in winterâ€ â€” before its end-of-life date in 2019.
The Senate will be moved to the East Block.
Painstaking rehabilitation work began on the West Block in earnest in 2007 after workers finished completely overhauling both the exterior and the interior of the 130-year-old Library of Parliament Building in the spring of 2006.
For those of us who call Saskatoon home and watched the almost painfully slow rehabilitation of the Peter McKinnon Building knows how long it takes to bring back a building to life. Â Renovations change the way a building works, materials interact differently then expected, and then you have to decide what it is going to have to in the future and make it work in the context of the original architectural vision. Â It’s harder than it looks.