The Library of Parliament says groups of visitors, including students, will still have access to the House of Commons galleries during debates when the chamber moves buildings, by reserving seats through their members of Parliament or by showing up on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Library, which has provided guided tours of the Parliament Buildings for years, told a parliamentary committee last week that, starting later this year, there will be no public tours of the building that contains the House while the chamber is sitting.
The House is temporarily moving to the West Block from the Centre Block, so the latter building can undergo a decade-long renovation.
When asked by The Globe and Mail after the committee meeting about access to the public galleries in the new House, Parliamentary Librarian Sonia L’Heureux said the space cannot accommodate tour groups.
“The way it’s designed, the way the sound may or may not travel, there’s all sorts of considerations that make it very difficult,” Ms. L’Heureux said on Thursday. She said, for example, a group of 12-year-olds could not be brought into the House to watch the proceedings.
On Monday, Benoit Morin, senior director of public-information programs at the Library of Parliament, said there was some “confusion” about public access to the galleries and to the tours.
He said members of the public should still be able to watch the activities of the House, regardless of changes to the tour program.
“There will always be access to the public galleries for debates and [Question Period],” Mr. Morin said.
Mr. Morin said that school groups can reserve seats through their local member of Parliament, or they can show up on the day of, and go through security to line up for a seat. Access will depend on the availability of space in the galleries that overlook the activity of the House of Commons.
West Block – the building where the House is moving – is smaller than Centre Block, and will have less space in corridors and fewer seats in the gallery.
“It’s just, we can’t give the absolute guarantee … There could be a time when a teacher wants to make a reservation through their MP’s office and it’s already full,” he said.
The Library said Ms. L’Heureux was not available for an interview on Monday.
School visits are a fixture of life on Parliament Hill. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, the Library provided 2,000 tours that included 58,000 students. Of those, 4,000 reserved seats to watch Question Period.
Mr. Morin said tours will still be provided when the House is not sitting, such as Friday afternoons after MPs have risen, on weekends or during break weeks.
The House usually sits for about 26 weeks a year.
The move by the House of Commons and Senate out of Centre Block is scheduled to happen this summer, but may be delayed. MPs on the Board of Internal Economy are set to decide on June 14 whether to delay the move to December or the following summer.
The Globe and Mail, May 28, 2018