OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau will not be moving into 24 Sussex Drive, the prime minister’s official residence, right away.
In a statement Monday, the Liberal party said the prime minister-designate, his wife Sophie, and their three children would be immediately relocating to Rideau Cottage, a residence on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the governor general’s larged fenced-in property, “until further notice.”
Meanwhile, Trudeau is weighing what type of renovations should be made to the crumbling building at 24 Sussex Drive. The Huffington Post Canada has learned estimates range between $10 million and $150 million to fix the 34-room residence, which has asbestos in its walls.
The $150-million proposal from the National Capital Commission includes rebuilding 24 Sussex Drive into a working residence, similar to the White House with offices for the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Privy Council Office (PCO) staff.
“The prime minister-designate will make decisions regarding 24 Sussex Drive once he has been fully briefed by officials,” the Liberal party said.
Jean Wolff, a senior manager with the National Capital Commission, said the Crown corporation wanted to ensure that Trudeau and his family would be “accommodated in a comfortable and appropriate setting” while details on the official prime minister’s home were ironed out.
The two-storey brick Rideau Cottage was built as a residence for the secretary of the governor general, though it has also served as home for military attachés. It is a short walk from the main residence of Canada’s head of state, which is practically across the street from the 24 Sussex Drive.
In a 2008 report, then-auditor general Sheila Fraser warned the public that the NCC considered “rehabilitating” the prime minister’s residence an “urgent matter.” She said the work was expected to take 12 to 15 months if there were no complications, and only if the NCC had prolonged access to complete the work.
“Occupants will suffer some discomfort,” the report read, listing “serious” problems that include its lack of central air conditioning, a “deficient” plumbing system, and an electrical system running nearly at maximum capacity.
She also flagged how the house’s inadequately updated accessibility could not accommodate modern wheelchairs.
In a 2013 profile, Maclean’s magazine highlighted many ongoing issues, among them:
- A risk of the house sliding into the Ottawa River after an engineering report showed the cliff it rests on was eroding.
- A need for new insulation, as heat and hydro bill topped69,000 in 2012.
- An electrical system that had not been updated in 50 years.
- Windows that were installed in the 1950s needed updating.
The Sussex Drive house has been the prime minister’s residence since 1950. The two-hectare property that overlooks the Ottawa River was built in 1868 by American lumberman Joseph Merrill Currier as a wedding gift for his third wife. Every prime minister since Louis St-Laurent has lived there, though he was the first and last to pay rent.
Trudeau lived there with his brothers when his father was prime minister. His mother, Margaret, once described it as “the crown jewel of the federal penitentiary system.” Even back then, renovating the residence was a constant source of controversy.
The Trudeaus reportedly delayed renovations in the mid-1970s, though the prime minister did build a $200,000 swimming pool, with adjacent underground tunnel to the residence, with the help of donors.
After winning the 1984 election, Brian Mulroney and his family delayed moving into 24 Sussex Drive for renovations funded by taxpayers and by the former Progressive Conservative Party.
But details of the renovations — including “nine metres of hanging space for blouses and suits” and large closets to fit the prime minister’s cast collection of luxury loafers — leaked to the public, marring the Mulroneys’ reputation.
Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday that he thought the home needed to be fixed. He recalled the electricity going off in the middle of the night, the roof leaking when it rained, and once hosting U.S. politician Al Gore at the residence with inadequate air conditioning in the middle of the summer.
“He had his vest, plus his coat, and I had in the window a little machine, you know, that you turn with your hand. That was the air conditioning of the prime minister of Canada. So it is about time to be reasonable about that,” Chrétien said. “It is not for him. It is for the state... If they can fix the problem, you know, we will look better because, you know, we're not, it's not very nice when you look like a bunch of cheap guys.”
In a 2014 interview with the CBC, Trudeau said he was going to listen to the experts at the National Capital Commission and others before making a decision.
"I'm certainly not going to try and second guess people who have been waiting a long time to do some repairs to a house that is apparently ... in poor shape. I think we need to respect various elements of our heritage, and that's where I will defer to the experts who actually run that house,” he said.
The decision to consider renovations drew criticism from Harper’s former chief of staff. Ian Brodie compared Trudeau's first order of business as prime minister to that of his former boss:
Harper govt's first decision - help for grain farmers. Trudeau's first? Blank cheq to renovate his new house.— Ian Brodie (@irbrodie) October 23, 2015
Though details renovation plans have yet to be revealed, others are also praising Trudeau, saying it's about time repairs are done to the heritage building.
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