Feds look to build goodwill for Hill projects


OTTAWA – The federal government is considering outsourcing documentaries, travelling exhibitions and interactive displays as part of a push to build public support for a multibillion-dollar overhaul of the Parliament Buildings.

The plan presented to Public Services Minister Judy Foote late last year also suggests the government consider allowing more public access to work sites through tours, webcams and public demonstrations by trades workers, along with regular tours of projects for parliamentarians and the media.

Since November when the Liberals took office, officials have taken parliamentarians and political staffers on five tours of the construction sites, not including a tour for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Nov. 3.

Other ideas presented to Foote included sound-and-light shows on hoarding and tarps around parliamentary buildings, school contests, interactive displays for visitors to Parliament Hill, and “media partnerships” that could also be connected to next year’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.

No costs were associated with the plan and the department says no decision has been made.

Foote’s officials believed the initiatives would help the government cultivate more “positive and factual media coverage” about the renovations, instead of reacting to stories that come about as the result of access-to-information requests.

The details of the proposal are contained in documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

Foote’s department, Public Services and Procurement Canada, said the communications plan was created to “identify potential future opportunities” over the next year-and-a-half to “engage” Canadians, parliamentarians, media and industry in the construction project. Outsourcing some of that work is not unusual, the department said: In 2011, the government paid a Halifax-based production company to create a documentary on the rehabilitation of the Sydney Tar Ponds.

The plan for the parliamentary renovations is not “specifically intended to correct inaccurate media coverage,” spokesman Nicolas Boucher said in an email. “Rather, we are focusing on ensuring that this complex, long-term project is clearly and accurately explained to Canadians.”

The $3-billion renovation will take years to complete, with aging structures being given new life and brought up to modern building standards.

Boucher said the government has spent about $2.2 billion in the past 15 years, which includes 21 different projects, and expects to spend $424.8 million this fiscal year.

Boucher said all projects are on time and on budget.

The work on Parliament Hill is focused now on the West Block building that will house a temporary House of Commons in the courtyard, covered with a glass ceiling. Workers have already laid the concrete floor of the temporary Commons chamber. Masonry work on the building is almost done and new windows are now going in.

Once work is done there, the Centre Block is next on the agenda with its closure scheduled for 2018.

Workers will also rehabilitate the exterior of the East Block at the same time.

The Centre Block will be closed for a decade, after which the interior of the East Block will also be renovated.