Politics

Gov. Gen. Payette won't be moving into Rideau Hall for now

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette won’t be moving into Rideau Hall, the home and workplace of every viceregal going back to Confederation, until further notice, according to her office.

Her office had said she would move into the main residence this summer

Governor General Julie Payette greets French President Emmanuel Macron at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on June 6, 2018. She's the first viceregal representative not to live at the official residence since 1867. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette won't be moving into Rideau Hall, the home and workplace of every viceregal going back to Confederation, until further notice, according to her office.

Since taking the job in October 2017, and while the main residence has been undergoing renovations, Payette has been staying in Rideau Gate, a two-storey house near Rideau Hall and 24 Sussex Drive that's usually reserved for visiting dignitaries.

The renovations to the private quarters finished in March 2018. Then, a new round of renovations began to make the building more accessible.

In November of last year, Payette's office told the Globe and Mail she would move into the official residence "in the summer of 2019."

However, that's no longer the plan.

Valérie Gervais, Payette's press secretary, said the Queen's representative is spending the summer at the Citadelle (another official residence in Quebec City) and won't be moving into Rideau Hall until further notice.

The Governor General's office is working with the National Capital Commission on a "long-range vision" for 2067 for the official residence which addresses privacy concerns, said Gervais.

The plan, which was developed by the NCC and the former governor general's office, notes that the residence is a "less-than-private space for the vice-regal family" and promises to redesign the private quarters to give a "sense of privacy and intimacy."

Most of Rideau Hall's 95,000 square feet are reserved for state affairs, while about 5,000 square feet of that space is used exclusively by the Governor General.

Sources close to the file told CBC News they believe Payette has been reluctant to move because she prefers the privacy of Rideau Gate and doesn't like the idea of having staff and visitors walking in and out of Rideau Hall.

"Her excellency has agreed to stay in the government-owned quarters that she has been living in since October 2017, which are located within the Rideau Hall precinct," said Gervais in an email.

The delayed move into Rideau Hall has become a topic of criticism already. Media reports have raised questions about the appropriateness of the Governor General living at Rideau Gate.

The famously private former astronaut has battled media reports suggesting she's not a good fit for a job rooted in tradition and pomp — and has been forced to respond to questions about high turnover in her office and the frequency of her public events.

PCO met with NCC about Rideau Hall

That media pressure led to a meeting last September between then-Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick and the National Capital Commission, the federal body that oversees official residences, according to a briefing note obtained through access to information.

The topic of the meeting, which was attended by officials from Payette's office, was her "decision to not move into Rideau Hall for the foreseeable future."

Governor General Julie Payette hosts a video conference with Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Payette also has said on the record she was troubled by the lack of an emergency exit at Rideau Hall.

The NCC referred most of CBC News' questions to Payette's office, adding only that "there is no outstanding work required to be completed in the private quarters of Rideau Hall."

Rideau Hall's apartment isn't the only official residence sitting empty.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided not to move into 24 Sussex Drive — noted for its problems with asbestos and vermin — when he took office four years ago.

A 2018 report by the NCC found that Rideau Hall (which actually consists of more than 20 buildings and 175 rooms) is considered to be in "good" condition, while Rideau Gate is in "fair" condition.

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

The NCC has asked for $83 million over 10 years to fix up all six official residences.

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