Politics

Vacant residence at 24 Sussex Drive requires costly upkeep

Maintenance costs for the official residence of the prime minister were $180,000 for a five-month period, even as 24 Sussex Drive sits empty awaiting long-overdue repairs.

Records show 5-month maintenance tab is $180K to heat, light up and clear snow from empty house

The prime minister's official residence at 24 Sussex Drive is now vacant, but it cost $180,000 to keep up the property for a five-month period. (Canadian Press)

Upkeep costs continue to mount for Canada's crumbling official residence of the prime minister as it sits unoccupied awaiting long-overdue repairs.

The price tag to keep the vacant property at 24 Sussex Drive heated, lit up and clear of snow cost $180,000 for a five-month period from November 2015 to March 2016, according to records obtained by Radio-Canada through Access to Information.

That tab included $5,695 to install a new diving board in the indoor pool and $1,350 for pest control, including a $550 service call to clean up mice droppings in the basement bathroom.

Hydro bills weighed in at $38,881, installation of a new rustic fence cost $21,250 and the snow removal price tag was $14,657.

The home, built in 1868, is in need of major repairs and renovations. Justin Trudeau opted to move his family to the nearby Rideau Cottage after he took office to allow the long-overdue work to finally get done.

A spokesman for the National Capital Commission, which is in charge of maintaining official residences, said the facilities at 24 Sussex include five separate buildings.

"To keep these buildings operational and to avoid further degradation to the buildings, they require regular maintenance, heating and lighting. These costs are in line with previous years," said Jean Wolff in an email. "It should also be noted that while the Prime Minister and his family do not currently live at 24 Sussex, the buildings continue to be essential to the operations of the household staff and RCMP security detail and are used 365 days a year."

Wolff also said the Trudeau family regularly uses the swimming pool, requiring continued regular maintenance.

A PMO spokesman said long-term plans for the residence are still in the works.

"The official residence requires significant repairs. No decisions have yet been made, but the government will provide an update in due course, and render the relevant information public," said Cameron Ahmad.

'Urgent' repairs needed

An auditor general's report in 2008 called for "urgent" repairs to the stone mansion, which was Trudeau's childhood home when his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was prime minister.

The report said the residence hadn't had major renovations in 50 years and pegged the repair bill at $10 million. It found the windows, plumbing, electrical systems, heating and air conditioning in poor to critical condition, and noted the home had no fire sprinklers and contained asbestos.

It suggested occupants would have to move out for at least 12 to 15 months, but at the time, then prime minister Stephen Harper's office said he had no plan to relocate.

Pierre Nantel, the NDP's culture and heritage critic, accused the government of literally throwing money out the window.

"We knew that Mr. Harper was not advocating for any repairs on the house, but I'm actually ashamed that for the last nine months nothing has been planned," he said.

He said it's up to Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly to ramp up the pressure to get a renovation plan in place. He called it "unfortunate" that the official residence will likely be shuttered and under reconstruction as visitors flock to the capital to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday next year.

Spring renos?

Leslie Maitland, past president of Heritage Ottawa, said the priority will likely be to seal and stabilize the property over the coming winter as she expects renovation work will not get underway until spring at the earliest. 

"An occupied building is always in better shape than an empty building, but there's not an awful lot they can do other than move in a caretaker, which is always a possibility," she said. "Somebody might like free rent for a while as long as they don't mind putting up with a few drippy taps."

While there have been some calls to rip down the building and construct a more modern, efficient replacement, Maitland said it is historically important to maintain it as part of Canada's "foundation."

The National Capital Commission, which maintains Canada's official residences, said there are no firm plans in place yet for the building.

"The government has not yet made a decision concerning 24 Sussex, but we continue to work with our professional team on plans for developing the project. I am satisfied with the progress but we will have more to say in the future," said NCC CEO Mark Kristmanson.

The NCC's Plan for Canada's Capital, 2017–2067 says it will "renew and transform" 24 Sussex Drive. That plan is now receiving public input.

"Once completed, the residence will integrate modern security features to protect the prime minister and visiting dignitaries, and enhance the official state and private functionality of the residence, including universal accessibility," it reads. "It will preserve its unique heritage characteristics and improve the environmental sustainability aspects." 

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      The Trudeau family's temporary home at Rideau Cottage was built in 1867, nestled in a private area with no public access. It has traditionally served as the residence of the secretary to the Governor General. 

      The NCC completed major renovations to that building in 2013, fixing cracked and rotting foundation, and repairing the roof and ceiling.

      The $400,000 rehabilitation also included major upgrades to mechanical and electrical systems and interior finishes.

      Corrections

      • An earlier version of this story said the maintenance costs of $180,000 covered a four-month period. In fact, the figure covers a five-month period.
        Aug 04, 2016 5:33 PM ET

      with files from Louis Blouin

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