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Politics Ottawa warns Parliament building contract bidders to stay out of Canada 150’s way

Fireworks light up the sky behind the Peace Tower during a New Year’s Eve celebration on Parliament Hill, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016 in Ottawa. Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government has tendered a $31-million contract to manage construction on the outside of Parliament Hill's East Block building, but potential bidders are warned not to get in the way of this year's Canada 150 celebrations.

The government is partway through a $3-billion, multidecade renovation of the parliamentary buildings and associated offices of MPs across the street.

East Block, which overlooks the Ottawa's Rideau Canal and Château Laurier, was first constructed shortly before Confederation in 1867. It housed the offices of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, from 1866 to 1873, and again from 1878 to 1883.

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In the government tender, potential contractors are warned the building will be occupied for the foreseeable future. Members of Parliament packed up their offices and moved elsewhere in the precinct but senators remain.

Repairs to the structure were delayed last year, and Public Services and Procurement Canada confirmed that the Senate requested construction effects be kept to a minimum while politicians are working inside.

Crews will begin on the outside of East Block this year and interior work will happen sometime after 2028.

As well, the tender warns that with an "increase of activities and visitors on the Hill in connection with Canada's 150th birthday celebrations in 2017," work should be limited to less-visible areas, such as East Block's interior courtyard.

Over on the other side of the Hill, masonry work wrapped up this week in West Block, where the Prime Minister is expected to move his office in another year. Justin Trudeau, clad in a neon safety vest, hard hat and safety goggles, toured the site on Wednesday and chiselled the initials JT into one of the stones. He was accompanied by House Speaker Geoff Regan, Public Services Minister Judy Foote and her parliamentary secretary, Steven MacKinnon.

All construction work on West Block is scheduled to be completed later this year.

The City of Ottawa is worried about keeping up appearances when construction begins soon on Centre Block. That building, which contains the House of Commons and Senate, is set to be vacated in 2018, with renovations that will stretch on at least a decade.

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Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he's concerned that construction on Parliament Hill could affect tourism to the city – particularly if unsightly scaffolding were to mar the iconic Peace Tower.

"Given the importance of our tourism industry, we have a duty to work together to ensure that we mitigate the impacts of the renovation project," Mr. Watson said in a statement.

Jessica Turner, a spokeswoman for the Public Services Minister, said the Liberals are working with the city and other partners on options for a tarp to cover Centre Block when exterior work begins in 2020.

"The Parliament Buildings belong to all Canadians and part of our responsibility is to engage them on the significant rehabilitation work needed to preserve our symbols of national heritage," Ms. Turner said in a statement.

The contract for managing construction on Centre Block has not yet been awarded, but the government served notice in the fall that it only had one qualified bidder: a joint venture by the firms PCL and EllisDon. Both companies have separately managed the construction of the other buildings undergoing renovation in the parliamentary precinct.

Feedback from other contractors that was posted to the government's procurement website suggest rival firms may have been turned off by the massive scope and time commitment of the Centre Block project.

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