2018 was the year we learned Canada can't really build anything


National Post, 27 December 2018

Pipelines? Subways? 24 Sussex? Construction projects across the country have been fiascos

Can Canada build anything?

That’s the rather embarrassing question which lingers as these last days of 2018 trickle away. For the next decade at least, that question will be punctuated with an exclamation point in the form of the Peace Tower of Parliament, the Centre Block of which will lay vacant until literally God-knows-when. Certainly the government doesn’t know.

The literal closure of the House of Commons and Senate is an apt metaphor for a country that seems incapable of getting a crosstown train finished, let alone a transcontinental railway.

Can Canada build a pipeline? Apparently not. That question dominated Canadian politics in 2018. The federal government cancelled the existing pipeline proposals on offer, placing its bets on getting the Trans Mountain pipeline built. Given that it is an already existing pipeline, it’s actually an expansion, or twinning. The feds lost the bet, and so bought the pipeline when the bureaucratic and political obstacles to private-sector completion proved too great. The federal government ends 2018 owning a pipeline that it is not building, nor expanding.

Can Toronto build a subway? London and Manhattan have recently opened new subway lines, which is no small achievement given their population density and that they are both river cities, making underground construction more of a challenge. Meanwhile, Toronto dithers on future construction and the Eglinton LRT construction continues to snarl traffic as it heads toward (delayed) completion next decade.

The Ottawa LRT was supposed to open last May, but then was delayed until last November. It didn’t open then. Perhaps next year.

All of which does not even mention shipbuilding and military procurement.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces an election this year having never lived in the prime ministerial residence since his election in 2015. Renovations to 24 Sussex have been delayed for years, and there is as yet no plan on how to proceed. Estimates for the cost have been reported to be as high as $38 million, which of course would be more expensive than tearing it down and building a replica.

So with the prime minister bunking across the street on the Rideau Hall estate, it seems entirely fitting that the entire Centre Block of Parliament, including the House of Commons and the Senate, is now vacated, awaiting a renovation promised to take at least 10 years and cost a minimum of $1 billion.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons is moving to the West Block, itself renovated these last seven years at a cost north of $800 million. The Senate will decamp to the old railway station across from the Chateau Laurier, which was kitted out over six years at a comparatively cheap $219 million. So Canada will have the novelty of a bicameral parliament in two different locations. If only the new LRT could link the two.

There is a certain mad genius in the renovation “plans” for the Centre Block. The estimates of time — 10 years — and cost — $1 billion — are not even that. Not estimates in the sense of what a contractor might provide to bid on a contract. Rather, they are more like an official minimum, with promises from Public Works that they won’t know what needs be done until they rip the building apart.

There are plenty of old buildings in Canada, many of them quite a bit older than the Centre Block. It was completed in 1920, four years after the original was destroyed in the fire of 1916. It is quite likely that four years will pass before Public Works even knows what it plans to rebuild.

Continue reading at the National Post: https://nationalpost.com/opinion/raymond-desouza-2018-was-the-year-we-learned-canada-cant-really-build-anything