But while our union is still sound a century-and-a-half later, the foundations of its cradle are falling apart – and the government is working furiously to save it.
Province House is in bad shape. Inside, mortar between Maritime sandstone has turned to dust, timber is rotting and plaster has fallen off the walls. The Prince Edward Island legislature moved out two years ago after decades in the east wing, and the building is closed for renovation work until at least 2020.
“It is a sick building, you might say,” Greg Shaw, a project manager at Parks Canada, told The Globe and Mail.
In 2013, as PEI got ready to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown conference, crews began some cosmetic masonry work on the outside of Province House. They soon discovered that minor blemishes were actually symptoms of deeper problems. Investigators were dispatched to peel back the layers of the building, and they found that decades of water damage and past stopgap repairs had taken a greater toll on everything from the roof to the floors than anyone had thought.
“You don’t know, really, what you have until you open the thing up,” Mr. Shaw said.
Thanks to an agreement reached when Justin Trudeau’s father was prime minister, Province House is the federal government’s responsibility to fix – even though the building is still owned by PEI. When the memorandum of agreement between Ottawa and Charlottetown was signed in 1974, Parks Canada was using most of the available office space, and agreed to be responsible for maintenance of the building for 99 years. Since then, though, the needs of PEI’s legislature grew and it took over two-thirds of the space.
The imbalance has led the federal government to rethink the deal. In 2014, senior public servants at Parks Canada recommended Ottawa figure out how to get out of its Province House obligations, according to briefing material obtained through Access to Information laws. The PEI government says it has no interest in renegotiating the deal, and points out it covered the cost of relocating the legislative chamber while the building was closed.
In a statement, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna would only say that the federal government “is committed to [the building’s] long-term conservation and has invested $41-million towards this goal.”
That bill – roughly the same cost as a proposed plan to fix up the Prime Minister’s Ottawa residence at 24 Sussex Dr. – may not be enough.
Also kudos to the PEI officials that managed to talk the Government in Canada to pay for the restoration of their legislature building. The rest of Canada salutes you.