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OTTAWA -- Additional costs associated with the repair of Parliament Hill's crumbling West Block have pushed the project's overall price tag past the billion-dollar mark, newly released documents show.

The work estimate for the project to fix the heritage structure appears on a single line of the federal public accounts for the fiscal year 2011-12, released this week.

The cost of the renovation project has soared since 2005, when Treasury Board approved $769 million to restore the building.

In February 2011, the Public Works Department said the cost had grown to $863 million -- what was then an increase of $94 million.

The same day the government revised its initial estimate, former auditor general Sheila Fraser said she "would not be at all surprised if the cost estimates increase over the project."

Now the public accounts document shows the latest estimate for the whole project is $1.17 billion.

However, Public Works and the office of the minister in charge of the department insist the cost of the renovation work itself remains the same -- and the billion-dollar estimate simply factors in other costs, such as moving MPs' offices to other buildings.

The repairs to the historic, three-storey structure -- built in three phases between 1859 and 1906 -- involve masonry restoration, removal of asbestos, seismic upgrades and a new roof and windows. The work is scheduled to be finished by 2017.

The billion-dollar estimate for the West Block project does not include a separate, $425-million renovation of the Wellington Building across the street from Parliament Hill.

In its 2012-13 report on plans and priorities, Public Works said by March 31, 2011, "all major projects were all on schedule and on budget." The department reiterated that statement Thursday.

Public Works said there have been no increases to the approved budgets for the parliamentary precinct projects, including the West Block.

"The public accounts include the estimated costs of various projects," spokesman Sebastien Bois said in an email.

"It is important to note that the estimated costs indicated in the public accounts are updated annually to include projects that are underway as well as new approved projects."

He added the West Block work involves other costs, such as temporary accommodations and rehabilitation projects for other buildings, "and as a result the changes to amounts that appear in the public accounts reflect the projects that have been added over the years under that umbrella."

New Democrat MP Linda Duncan said she doesn't have a problem with the renovation itself, but she wants to be sure taxpayers don't get stuck with the bill if the cost rises any further.

"I don't think it's an outrage that we are renovating historic buildings. I think Canadians would appreciate that," she said.

"I think what Canadians would be deservedly outraged about is everybody's being told to cut back. One would have expected that this government would have managed a contract where the cost overruns are not borne by the Canadian taxpayers."

The West Block figure in the public accounts also includes work on the former Bank of Montreal building, now called the Sir John A. Macdonald Building, which is estimated at $99 million, Bois said.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 A7

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