One Building, Shared Jurisdiction: Prince Edward Island’s Province House

Article 9 / 12 , Vol 44 No. 2 (Summer)


One Building, Shared Jurisdiction: Prince Edward Island’s Province House

Will Stos is the Editor of the Canadian Parliamentary Review.

The art of federal-provincial diplomacy is a pervasive and recurring part of Canadian politics and governance. For almost 50 years, Prince Edward Island’s Province House has shown how co-operation between levels of government has worked on a small scale. Since 1974, PEI’s Assembly building has been jointly managed by Parks Canada and the provincial government in recognition of its importance to Canada’s national history. The partnership has permitted Parks Canada to invest in restoring some of the building’s features to their appearance at the time of the Charlottetown Conference. In this article, the author explores how the cooperation between these parties is faring during a current multi-year $91.8 million conservation project.

Since 1847, Province House has served as the seat of Prince Edward Island’s Assembly. In 1864, it also achieved national significance as the host site of the Charlottetown Conference which resulted in Confederation. In 1974, Parks Canada entered into a 99-year lease agreement for joint management of the structure to help facilitate a restoration project. The four-year project restored the Confederation Chamber and other rooms in one end of the building to their 1864 state. Joint management allowed the federal and provincial governments to co-operate as they sought to preserve the building’s historic elements while maintaining its function for contemporary parliamentarians and Assembly staff.

This unique arrangement has worked well during the initial restoration and subsequent “one-off” projects to fix whatever was broken at the time. However, the current conservation projects dwarves all others before it. The $91.8-million project has caused significant disruption to daily operations for both Parks Canada’s heritage displays and interpretation, and the Legislative Assembly.

All of the Legislative Assembly’s operations have been moved into temporary spaces since 2015. The Chamber is now housed in the Coles Building, next door to Province House, and the Speaker’s and Clerk’s offices have moved to an additional building. A return to Province House is anticipated for 2023.

Although Assembly management has learned lessons from past projects, they explained that the scale of this undertaking was unique. “Probably the biggest lesson is that renovations like this take longer than expected,” said Joseph Jeffrey, Clerk at PEI’s Legislative Assembly. “Old buildings hold many surprises. It taught us about patience and business continuity.”

Both parties recognized a deterioration in the building and advocated for a major renovation, Jeffrey adds, noting this took the better part of a decade to achieve. While Parks Canada is funding most of the renovation budget, the provincial government (which officially owns the building) is contributing $4 million includes investment in the interior of Province House to meet the needs of the Assembly when it returns to Province House.

Although there have been some differences of opinion early on in the process between the partners during the project, most have been minor and usually focussed on the use of space in the building. Jeffrey explains that these differences have been well managed through careful negotiation among both parties. Good communication has been a key factor in keeping everyone informed and troubleshooting emerging problems. Currently, the partners communicate daily via Zoom, Microsoft Office and conference calls.

Jeffrey says the cooperation of both all parties (Parks Canada, provincial government and Legislative Assembly) in the building has benefitted everyone, and the provincial government and Assembly staff have appreciated Parks Canada’s interpretation and conservation expertise.