Ontario legislature renovation ‘a touch’ delayed, minister says

Work to renovate Ontario’s legislature is still in relatively early planning stages, but it has already seen “a touch” of a delay, the minister in charge of the $1-billion-plus undertaking said Tuesday.

Legislative Affairs Minister Paul Calandra’s comments came after the committee he tasked with overseeing the rehabilitation heard from staff about a multitude of exterior considerations for the project — from the more than 30 statues, monuments and plaques on the grounds, to the three Japanese flowering cherries trees, to the subway and “abandoned and unknown” infrastructure that lies below.

The director of the precinct properties branch told the committee Tuesday that a historic structures report, which includes both the building and the grounds of the legislature, should be completed in a year and a half.

Calandra said it is looking like his hoped-for timeline, of having the next parliament convene for the first time after the 2026 election in a temporary location while legislative renovations are ongoing, likely won’t happen.

“It was a touch delayed,” Calandra said of the historic structures report. “I’m hoping we can keep it on track, but the reality is, I don’t think we’ll hit the 2026.”

Calandra said he is still moving forward to secure a location for a temporary legislature while the renovations are ongoing, but he has kept the possible spots a closely guarded secret. Staff had looked into whether doing piecemeal renovations while closing one wing or one half at a time would be possible, but concluded it’s not, Calandra has said.

The building is more than 130 years old and while the extensive repairs and upgrades needed for the now “hazardous and severely deficient” infrastructure have been discussed for decades, Calandra is determined to push it forward.

There are 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.

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.

Calandra said last year that the project would cost at least $1 billion. He could not provide an updated estimate Tuesday, but noted that large-scale renovations often see costs accumulate.

“The more you dig into it, the more comes up,” he said.

“I think the overriding principle is we want to restore the place and we want to bring it back to the fashion that can be used by parliamentarians for 100 years following this and, we’ll do what it takes to ensure that we can do that .”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2024