Trudeau family getting its meals delivered from 24 Sussex to Rideau Cottage

Even though no one has called 24 Sussex Drive home for more than two years, staff have been using the residence's fully-operational kitchen to prepare meals for the Trudeau family, which are then ferried across the way to Rideau Cottage.

Both residences have racked more than $1M combined for repairs and maintenance

Meals are prepared for the Trudeau family at 24 Sussex and delivered to Rideau Cottage (shown here) by a messenger, according to the Prime Minister's Office. (Sarah Sears/CBC)

It's one way to do delivery.

Even though no one has called 24 Sussex Drive home for more than two years, staff have been using the kitchen there to prepare meals for the Trudeau family, which are then ferried across the way to Rideau Cottage.

It's not clear that there's anything wrong with the kitchen at Rideau Cottage, a red brick Georgian Revival heritage home on the grounds of Rideau Hall.

Neither the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) nor the National Capital Commission, which oversees the official residences, would answer CBC's questions about the state of Rideau Cottage's kitchen. The one at 24 Sussex has been described as fully functional.

While a personal chef has been a longstanding perk for Canadian prime ministers, Justin Trudeau is the first PM in decades to live with his family somewhere other than 24 Sussex.

"As per longstanding practice, meals are prepared for the family at 24 Sussex. All meals are delivered to Rideau Cottage by Raymond Daoust, the messenger employed by the household, at no incremental cost to the government," said PMO press secretary Eleanore Catenaro in an email. Daoust was appointed by order-in-council back in October 2017 and is paid within a salary range of $39,998 to $43,363.

Soon after winning office, the prime minister announced he'd be moving his family into Rideau Cottage. Trudeau recently said he has no plans to return to his childhood home during his term.

The PMO said Trudeau and his family reimburse a portion of their food costs. For the 2017 calendar year, the Trudeaus reimbursed nearly $21,000 for meals, internet service, caregivers' overtime and courier services.

The issue was raised in the House of Commons on Thursday, with the Conservatives trying to tie the issue to the government's plan to impose a price on carbon.

"Leadership starts at the top. Is it acceptable, Mr. Speaker, that while he tells families they have to make better choices, he chooses to have his food driven across the street?" asked Conservative MP Lisa Raitt.

Trudeau accused the Tories of looking "for any way to attack politically."

"But when it actually comes to the issues that matter to Canadians, they do not act," he said.

Soon after winning office, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he'd be moving his family into Rideau Cottage instead of the official residence at 24 Sussex Drive. (CBC/Google Maps)

The delivery system is a side effect of a conundrum facing Trudeau, one that past prime ministers grappled with as well: what do you do with a problem like 24 Sussex?

A 2008 auditor general's report called for "urgent" repairs to the asbestos-riddled stone mansion. The decade-old report said the 35-room residence, built in 1868, hasn't seen major renovations in 50 years and estimated the cost of repairing it at $10 million.

"There's a real challenge in this country. Anything that a prime minister decides that they can potentially benefit from — that's one of the reasons that that house has gone into the ground since the time I lived there — is that no prime minister wants to spend a penny of taxpayer dollars on upkeeping that house," said Trudeau back in February.

Home improvement 

Trudeau said he'll turn to experts and the NCC to make decisions on the future of 24 Sussex.

Despite repeated calls and emails from CBC News, the Crown corporation refused to say if there's been any progress on the file since Trudeau's statement back in February.

"We continue to work with our federal partners to develop a plan for the future of the official residences, including 24 Sussex Drive, to enable the federal government to make a prudent and informed decision," said NCC spokesperson Jean Wolff in an email.

Meanwhile, the home continues to pile up bills.

According to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, 24 Sussex was billed more than $101,000 for hydro and gas during the 2016/2017 fiscal year — despite the fact that no one was living in it at the time.

Both residences also have spent more than $1 million combined on repairs and maintenance.

A report for 2016-2017 shows the official residence racked up $345,072 in maintenance costs for, among other things, mould inspections, elevator maintenance, grounds repair, yearly safety inspections, weekly pool maintenance, monthly pest control and a service call for a "bad odour" in the kitchen.

Prime Minister Trudeau says it is unlikely he'll ever return to live at 24 Sussex Drive. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

During that timeframe, Rideau Cottage experienced more than $827,000 in improvements.

About half of the Rideau Cottage bill was spent on an item or service that's been redacted, while a few thousand dollars have been spent here and there for things like tree and bush removal, electrical upgrades, generator maintenance, leak repair, painting and cleaning services.

As previously reported, $2 million has been earmarked to beef up security at the historic home.

According to 2017 supplementary estimates, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will spend $1.6 million to upgrade security and the NCC will contribute $390,000 to the upgrades.

NCC officials were asked about 24 Sussex Drive during an already-scheduled committee meeting on Thursday.

CEO Mark Kristmanson said that, as far as he knew, the messenger system was the most cost-effective.

Kristmanson said 24 Sussex is safe to live in, but "the asset is in poor condition."

Earlier this year, both Conservative and NDP spokespeople told CBC News they believe the residence should be repaired and that they would support Trudeau if he went ahead with renovations.

The Conservatives later contradicted that position. MP Erin O'Toole said he would only consider supporting renovations and repairs once Trudeau had repaid the costs of his trip to the Aga Khan's island home.

With files from Ken Rubin