$83M needed to repair 'fire hazard' 24 Sussex and other official residences, commission says

It'll take tens of millions of dollars over the next decade to restore and maintain Canada's official residences — including the "fire hazard" that is 24 Sussex Drive — due to chronic underfunding, according to a new report by the National Capital Commission.

24 Sussex Drive and Harrington Lake residences are in 'critical' condition

A gardener works on the grounds at the prime minister's residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

It'll take tens of millions of dollars over the next decade to restore and maintain Canada's official residences — including the "fire hazard" that is 24 Sussex Drive — due to chronic underfunding, according to a new report by the National Capital Commission.

The audit, based on a 2017 in-depth assessment of the NCC's portfolio, concluded that 24 Sussex Drive, the official home of the prime minister, and Harrington Lake, the prime minister's country residence, are in "critical" condition — meaning they need "frequent emergency maintenance and repair."

The report found that Rideau Hall — home and workplace of the Governor General of Canada — and Stornoway, home of the leader of the Opposition, are in "good" condition, while the home of the Speaker of the House of Commons in Gatineau Park is in "poor" condition.

Rideau Gate, where Gov. Gen. Julie Payette is living, is in "fair" condition. Rideau Cottage, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family actually live, was excluded from the in-depth building condition report since it's considered part of the Rideau Hall grounds.

The NCC says a one-time injection of $83 million over 10 years is needed to address the "deferred maintenance deficit for all six official residences, as a result of chronic underfunding over many years."

24 Sussex reaching 'actual failure'

The commission said the funding would bring all the residences up to "good" condition, but would not modernize them.

Beyond the one-time spending request, the NCC's report also asks for an increase in annual appropriations of $24.6 million for ongoing maintenance, repairs and renovation projects.

  An official with the commission said that, on average, the NCC spends $5 million annually on capital projects — repairs to the official residences and other projects in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. 

"Without sustainable funding, the deferred maintenance deficit will continue to grow and more assets will resemble the current state of 24 Sussex Drive," says the report.

From pests to asbestos, the issues with 24 Sussex are well documented. 

Tuesday's report noted the buildings on the grounds of 24 Sussex "have reached the point of imminent or actual failure, and require replacement," notes the report.

"The age and condition of the electrical system poses a fire hazard and the plumbing system has failures on a regular basis."

Harrington Lake, located in Pontiac, Que., needs a chunk of money to fix the rot in the wooden structure.

And the report notes the caretaker's home on the property "has been closed for several years due to instability and other health and safety concerns. It requires a major recapitalization, at an estimate of $1.9 million."

  Even Rideau Hall — which is decent shape compared to the other properties — will need to replace its electrical system in the coming years.

Rideau Gate, located between 24 Sussex and Rideau Hall, isn't universally accessible, which doesn't suit its function of hosting visiting dignitaries, notes the audit.

The NCC's "long range vision" for the area, obtained by CBC through access to information law, suggests the vice-regal's family could at one point move into Rideau Cottage as their primary residence, instead of Rideau Hall.

"The choice of living space could differ from mandate to mandate," the report says.

The NCC says its goal for the official residences is to "ensure that they are furnished, maintained and rehabilitated to safeguard their national heritage, provide safe and appropriate accommodations for Canada's official leaders, and serve as inspiring properties and grounds for the conduct of state events and ceremonies."

A spokesperson for the minister of Heritage made no funding commitment.

The main house at Harrington Lake. The NCC says the wood is rotting in the main structure. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

"The funding announced in Budget 2018 will allow the NCC to begin to address some of its asset maintenance issues and ensure the health and well-being of visitors," said Simon Ross in an email to CBC.

"We will continue to support the NCC in their important work."

Trudeau has said he doesn't see himself returning to his boyhood home at any point.

"I've made the decisions to talk to experts and to look at the NCC and allow them to make the determinations on what the future of 24 Sussex will look like," he said.

"No prime minister wants to spend a penny of taxpayer dollars on upkeeping that house."


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