As It Happens

Sierra Club Canada wants to turn 24 Sussex green

The Sierra Club Canada challenges the Trudeau family to make the renovation of 24 Sussex Drive into an exemplary low-carbon energy retro-fit.
Diane Beckett, interim executive director of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, wants to turn 24 Sussex Drive into a truly net zero-energy house. (LinkedIn/Jonathan Hayward/CP)

"Charming historic residence, perfect for the do-it-yourselfer! Just needs some TLC!"

If you were preparing the listing for the prime minister's official residence in Ottawa, you'd need some handy euphemisms because you can't just say "money pit."

Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau and his family will not be moving into 24 Sussex Drive -- at least not yet. The prime minister's official residence, at 24 Sussex, is in desperate need of renovations. So the Trudeau family will move up the street to Rideau Cottage. The official residence is in such poor repair that some are calling for it to be torn down. But the Sierra Club Canada Foundation is proposing a less extreme and greener alternative.

"I think that we can turn it into a net zero energy house and have the best official residence in the whole world, in terms of it being environmental and sustainable and a symbol that we are going to do something about climate change,"  Diane Beckett, interim executive director of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

Beckett says the heritage home still has potential and is overdue for an environmentally-friendly energy retrofit.

"There are ways that you can renovate a heritage home so that it actually produces more energy than it consumes," Beckett explains. "Put in good insulation, make it airtight, put in radiant heating, maybe some solar panels discreetly, maybe even a small wind turbine off by the cliff where it's so windy."

The proposed renovations come with an estimated $10 million price tag but Beckett insists going green is ultimately a more efficient alternative to a complete tear down.

"It's expensive but to do the green part could even lower the costs and it would certainly lower the costs over the long term. This is the time to make an energy efficient, net zero energy, green building."

Business luncheon at 24 Sussex Drive (L-R) Jean Marchand, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Gérard Pelletier. (Duncan Cameron/National Archives of Canada)

Beckett toured the residence when Jean Chretien was prime minister and was dismayed by the state of the house.

"I was so disappointed when I walked in. It was really worn out," Beckett recalls.

Beckett says the building resembled a modest cottage rather than an official residence. She says an old patio door was covered with plastic sheeting to keep drafts out and the chandelier in the official dining room was off centre -- an afterthought in an early shoddy renovation.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper invited comedian Rick Mercer to 24 Sussex Dr for a skit on CBC's Rick Mercer Report. (Deb Ransom/PMO)

​Beckett thinks the renovation presents a great opportunity for Trudeau to make a statement on his commitment to the environment and a green economy.

"We have a lot of catching up to do but we can do it. We can turn it around. We can join the rest of the world."

Beckett says she has encouraged members of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation to email Trudeau in support of the green renovation.

"We'd be thrilled if we got a response!"


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