Ontario takes a step toward legislature renovations with proposal for new ministry
TORONTO — Ontario took another step toward renovations of the legislature Tuesday, proposing to create a new ministry to oversee them.
Legislative Affairs Minister Paul Calandra introduced a bill to establish a Queen's Park Restoration Secretariat, saying it will create the foundation on which a comprehensive and long-overdue restoration can be completed.
"It puts in place the framework that allows parliamentarians to ensure that they have a big say in how this building restoration unfolds, while ensuring the government has the financial accountability that is necessary to make sure that it happens," Calandra said in an interview.
The bill would also provide for the temporary relocation of the legislature to another building while renovations are underway.
Calandra said the location should still be in the same general area and work will begin to put out calls for available space.
"We'll ask city of Toronto, 'What do you have?'" he said. "There's a lot of others that are having return-to-work challenges, or they're moving into different directions."
There are a lot of considerations, Calandra said, not just the size required - security, accessibility, parking, for example.
"I think it'll be a big challenge," he said. "But we've got to do it. Our goal is to be in another building, a temporary building, when the next parliament convenes (after the 2026 election)."
The building known as Queen's Park is 130 years old and staff in charge of the building and the assembly have raised concerns with lead pipes and asbestos running through the walls, mountains of old cables and wires stacked on top of new ones, an inefficient steam heating system with parts that frequently fail and fire safety systems in need of upgrading.
It has been estimated that a project of this scale could take eight years.
The legislature has been getting by with repairs so far, but a report from more than 10 years ago concluded that a "full replacement of all major systems" is needed, including better fire protection, as well as electrical, IT, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems.
"Upgrades of this scale and complexity are further complicated by designated substances, which are present throughout the building, including asbestos, lead and PCBs," Jelena Bajcetic, director of precinct properties, told the legislative committee studying the issue during a hearing in November.
"These issues present significant challenges for us in staying ahead of the maintenance curve ... As we continue to maintain the systems, it doesn't change the fact that the infrastructure as a whole is both hazardous and severely deficient."
Under the legislation, Calandra as government house leader would also be in charge of the new ministry.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2023.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press