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Closed for renovations: The home of Canada’s democracy

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OTTAWA—It has been home to Canada’s democracy, the scene of momentous debates and landmark decisions that shaped the nation. And now it’s heard its last political debate, at least for a decade.

Centre Block, the heart of Parliament Hill, is closing its doors for a massive — and costly — renovation.

When MPs and Senators return from their holiday break, it will be to new homes in West Block and Ottawa's former train station.
When MPs and Senators return from their holiday break, it will be to new homes in West Block and Ottawa’s former train station.  (Bruce Campion-Smith / Toronto Star)

Parliament has recessed for the holidays. When MPs return on Jan. 28, it will be to a new home in West Block, itself transformed with a $863-million renovation to build a Commons chamber in what used to be a courtyard.

Senators are moving as well. Ottawa’s former train station, transformed once into a conference centre and the scene of past political drama itself, has been repurposed again at a cost of $219 million into a temporary Red Chamber and Senate offices.

For many employees and politicians, the Centre Block closing is bittersweet. By the time it reopens in a decade or more, their time on the Hill will be over.

“Every day when you come into this building, you pinch yourself and say, ‘How the heck did I get here?’ It is hard to believe,” House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan said.

“There is so much history here and so many decisions, so many famous debates … So many things that make up what we consider as fundamental parts of our country today that were decided upon here,” he said in an interview.

There’s no price tag yet for the renovation. There’s not even a full outline of the work to be done.

Public Works officials say they can’t estimate the cost until they have a plan for the renovation and get a handle on the building’s current condition. For example, Centre Block was one of the first steel-frame structures ever in Canada and there are worries whether water infiltration has rusted the steel.

“We’ve already started invasive openings to get a better understanding of what’s behind the walls and floors and ceilings,” said Rob Wright, assistant deputy minister, parliamentary precinct branch, with Public Works and Government Services.

The refurbishment is meant to overhaul the mechanics of the century-old building, such as the electrical and heating systems, and install air conditioning, new IT systems and seismic protections.

But any work beyond that, such as a rethink of the interior spaces, the committee rooms and offices, remains a question mark.

Throughout Centre Block, intricate stone carvings tell stories of Canadian people and places. Spaces were deliberately left blank so that future generations could add their own tales.
Throughout Centre Block, intricate stone carvings tell stories of Canadian people and places. Spaces were deliberately left blank so that future generations could add their own tales.

At a recent Commons committee meeting, MPs made clear they want a say in how Centre Block is redeveloped. And NDP MP David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre) said Canadians deserve a voice as well.

“As everybody else has given their professional input, how about one step back, put the whole thing out there to the nation and say, ‘OK, Canadians, what do you think?” Christopherson said.

At a recent committee meeting, Liberal MP David Graham (Laurentides-Labelle) wondered if the renovation could extend to a dramatic reimagining of the Commons itself.

“Is it important that we keep the chamber in the same physical shape as it is today or is it the opportunity to rethink how chamber itself is structured?” he asked.

It’s a question others are asking too. Writing in Policy Options, editor-in-chief Jennifer Ditchburn lamented the lack of discussion about the future of Centre Block or the possibilities for a new Commons seating arrangement to replace the current adversarial design that has politicians facing off across an aisle.

Regan said that decision will rest with MPs.

“If members decide they want a different shape chamber, the House could decide that. I don’t expect that. I think it would be very difficult to change it,” he said. “But we have to leave that to the future.”

Another possibility is to keep the chamber in West Block when Centre Block eventually reopens, using it for so-called “parallel debates,” as happens now in Australia and the U.K. parliament.

Following the example of those jurisdictions, it would operate in concert with the Commons, allowing more time for debate on private member’s business and committee reports.

As people making nostalgic last visits crowded Centre Block hallways on one recent day, Regan stressed that the House of Commons isn’t a physical space. Rather, it’s the idea of representatives, elected by Canadians, to run government, he said.

“That’s a very important idea in democracy and it’s one that continues, whatever building you’re in,” he said. “However, this is a beautiful building and we’re going to miss it.”

Centre Block and the Peace Tower were built between 1916 and 1927, replacing the ruins of the previous building that had been gutted by fire on Feb. 3, 1916. It was conceived by Toronto architect John Pearson at a time when a younger Canada was coping with war, its aftermath and emerging nationhood.

“I think it’s really stood the test of time and I think those kind of ideals about what we are and what we want to say still resonate today,” said Johanna Mizgala, curator of the House of Commons.

There is history at every turn here.

The Commons chamber has seen speeches by British prime minister Winston Churchill, Nobel Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai, U.S. presidents Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy; Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India; and South African president Nelson Mandela.

The Speaker’s wood-panelled office is where photographer Yousuf Karsh plucked a cigar from Churchill’s mouth and captured the now-famous image of a scowling prime minister.

In the Centre Block's second-floor cabinet room, successive prime ministers have met with ministers debating and deciding national issues of their time.
In the Centre Block’s second-floor cabinet room, successive prime ministers have met with ministers debating and deciding national issues of their time.

In the second-floor cabinet room, successive prime ministers have met with their ministers. The cabinet table is surprisingly scratched and worn by the politicians who have sat around it debating and deciding the momentous decisions of the day.

Throughout the building, intricate stone carvings tell stories of Canadian people and places. Spaces were left blank so that future generations could carve the tales of their time.

“The history of our country and of this place is carved into its very walls. But I think the intent of the architects was to remind members of Parliament of the people of Canada … to remind us who we work for,” Regan said.

During the renovation, some of the memorable experiences will be lost to visitors — going up the Peace Tower, taking in the majestic surroundings of the Library of Parliament, seeing the Senate chamber and its eight large paintings that depict scenes from the First World War.

Officials hope to keep other parliamentary symbols accessible as the work unfolds. The Peace Tower bells will ring until at least 2022. It’s hoped the flag atop the tower will continue to flap in the breeze, apart from one brief interruption when the flagpole is replaced.

Workers began cleaning out the House of Commons Friday, getting ready to move MPs desks to the new chamber.

“I will miss this building. I will miss everything that it signifies,” Mizgala said as she walked the building’s Hall of Honour.

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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