"Renovation of Senate's new home $29M over budget."
- CBC News, July 7, 2015
First it was going to cost $190 million to convert the Conference Centre in downtown Ottawa into a temporary Senate for 10 years while the real Senate gets a much-needed overhaul starting in 2018. But now engineers and architects have discovered that the old train station needs an additional $29 million in repairs.
In addition to the now $219 million required to move the Senate a couple of blocks, there is the cost of providing temporary offices for all the displaced senators. Public Works has reportedly found convenient digs for our unelected representatives nearby but the senators say they don't want to walk the extra block past Sparks St. which could cost the government an extra $24.5 million.
Since we're now potentially on the hook for more than a quarter of a billion dollars just to keep the Senate going, it might be time to start thinking outside the box and come up with some less expensive options. Options such as:
1. Rent out a local movie theater on an ongoing basis as a temporary meeting chamber. Any theater nearby isn't likely being used during the day so we should be able to negotiate a pretty sweet deal. Plus, our senators would automatically have access to all the soft drinks, popcorn and candy they wanted.
2. How about having our senators work at home for the next 10 years? Telecommuting is all the rage now and there's no reason our appointed legislators couldn't work out of their home offices for awhile especially since many of them are claiming for a secondary residence in Ottawa as it is.
3. Teleconferencing is another workable option. Surely it would be cheaper to have our senators meet weekly by Skype and do their business by laptop. In fact, there's really no reason they even have to see one another so everything could be done by e-mail.
4. Maybe it's time to convert the conference centre back to its original purpose, namely as Ottawa's central train station. Most major cities have a train station right downtown which makes for convenient rail travel. It also would make it easier to send our senators home when needed.
5. Why not leave the senators in the Senate building during the 10-year renovation? Lots of government workers have to make do while repairs are made to their workplace. Presumably our senators could be just as flexible. As for the extra noise and congestion of construction activities, it's probably not going to have much of an effect on the work of the Senate.
6. If all else fails, perhaps we can just shut down the Senate for 10 years and send the senators home on a leave of absence. Even if we continued to give them full pay, we'd still be financially further ahead. Since they'd be on hiatus for a decade, there would be no expense claims, no travel claims and few office expenses. Plus we'd avoid the millions needed to create an ersatz Senate. Who knows? This might turn out to be a permanent answer to our ongoing "what to do with the Senate" quandary.
MORE ON HUFFPOST: