Rob Moore, who is also the minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, says the federal government has already said it won't build any more prisons and he doubts that will change.
Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's dates back to 1859 and provincial Justice Minister Darin King says it needs to be replaced.
Ottawa pays the province to house several federally sentenced inmates at the jail.
King said earlier this month the province would issue a public request for proposals to companies with correctional expertise.
He said it would allow the government to consider detailed project costs next year and a construction schedule.