Construction of four temporary meeting rooms for MPs in a federal building next to Parliament Hill in Ottawa cost over $24 million, CBC News has learned.
The rooms are being used for Commons committee meetings while other buildings on the Hill get a $5-billion, long-term restoration.
The House of Commons classifies the four $6-million rooms as "interim," meaning they may have to be renovated again for other uses after the committees move back to their original locations.
Kevin Gaudet, head of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, called the pricetag of the meeting rooms "crazy — you could build a whole new building for that."
Gaudet wondered how the government could spend that much public money to provide MPs with a room, tables, chairs and translation services for their meetings.
"I think the ordinary taxpayers will be disappointed the government has taken its eye off another spending file," Gaudet said.
Plans for new Parliament building
The CBC has also learned that plans to construct a new Parliament building, cancelled five years ago, have been resurrected by the Conservative government.
The scheme to erect a new building on the Hill to house some senators and Commons committee rooms was axed by Paul Martin's Liberal government in 2005 after projected costs hit $325 million, an increase of almost 60 per cent in three years.
Senior government officials say internal discussions about constructing a new building are no longer about whether it will happen, but how soon.
Meanwhile, architects are working on plans to construct a new home for the daily Commons proceedings once renovations begin on the existing chamber sometime after 2013.
All of this has turned the Hill into a massive exercise in musical offices as parliamentarians are shifted into temporary quarters while their own digs are getting a facelift. The four new committee meeting rooms are part of that process, constructed in a small building that used to house the Museum of Contemporary Photography.
Current restoration work on the Hill is focused on the West Block, which houses 50 MPs, seven committee rooms and the food production facility for the Hill.
Projected restoration costs for that one building are now over $1 billion, an increase of $349 million since 2005. The costs of creating alternative accommodations during West Block renovations have already passed $100 million.
The costs, including the $24 million for meeting rooms, are all part of the massive restoration project at the Hill, which was originally projected to cost $465 million in 1995 but has risen to over $5 billion .
Moving rooms 'instrumental': public works
Nathalie Betote Akwa, spokesperson for the federal Department of Public Works, said moving four committee rooms from the West Block to a building just off the Hill was "instrumental" in the process.
The site, she said, was "a perfect fit as the building was unoccupied, close to Parliament Hill and its layout easily converted from the functions of the former museum."
The government spent just over $3 million on the building after the museum shut down and $21 million more up to completion this past August.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser recently reviewed the overall Hill restoration. Among other findings, Fraser reported the planning process was overrun with too many departments, agencies — and politicians.
"For example, the Senate found that the space allocated to committee rooms and senators' offices was inadequate and did not meet its standards.
"The House of Commons indicated a need to build a new facility to house committee rooms that meet its standards. It also identified a need for additional space for members' offices."