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Parliament tours fall prey to budget cuts

Japanese tourists pause to take pictures as they visit Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on August 17, 2011. More guided tours of the historic Parliament Buildings are being chopped in the latest round of federal budget cuts. Summer visitors to Ottawa will no longer be able to peek into Sir John A. Macdonald's office, or the first office of the Governor General, when tours of the East Block are eliminated beginning next July.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

More guided tours of the historic Parliament Buildings are being chopped in the latest round of federal budget cuts.

Summer visitors to Ottawa will no longer be able to peek into Sir John A. Macdonald's office or the first office of the governor-general, when tours of the East Block are eliminated beginning next July.

The announcement follows word last month that evening tours of the Centre Block, home of the House of Commons, are being cancelled this summer.

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The cuts are being made by the Library of Parliament, which is responsible for the tours, even as the Public Works Department ponies up $49-million for a visitors' centre to open by 2017.

Library officials must find at least $1-million in direct savings, in addition to absorbing the rising cost of salaries and benefits of its 355 full-time staff.

Between July and September, about 12,000 people take the free guided tours of the East Block, which was completed in 1866, one year before Confederation.

Ending the tours will eliminate eight jobs for the bilingual guides, saving about $80,000 annually, said spokeswoman Cynthia Cusinato.

The end of evening tours of the Centre Block, which attracted 20,000 people each summer, chopped four guide positions or about $40,000.

"Like our partners in the Senate and the House, we're all doing our part in terms of reduction measures," Ms. Cusinato said in an interview.

Some 355,000 visitors take Parliament Hill tours each summer, but demand for the precious first-come, first-served tickets is up to twice that.

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The new visitors' centre planned for 2017 is intended to give some of those disappointed tourists a taste of the parliamentary precinct anyway, with informative historic displays. The building will also improve security screening on Parliament Hill, and feature a souvenir shop.

Ms. Cusinato says the Library of Parliament, with an annual budget of about $42-million, is facing other cost pressures as services that were provided without charge by other government departments must now be paid for.

They include the cost of security personnel, including commissionaires, and even postage that previously was provided free by the House of Commons.

The library is also suspending an intern program for four aspiring researchers each year, saving about $150,000, and is discontinuing a printed press-clipping service called Quorum, saving another $57,000.

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