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The renovation debate at 24 Sussex

Repairs to the Prime Minister’s official residence come down to politics, not faulty plumbing


 

Blair Gable / Reuters; Louis McPherson and Studio Hetmes / The Noun Project

When Stephen and Laureen Harper’s daughter, Rachel, was in primary school, she’d lock her bicycle to the front railing of 24 Sussex, oblivious that her house was enclosed by a security fence and about the safest place in Canada to park your bike. The official residence of the Prime Minister in Ottawa is by no means a normal childhood home, with bodyguards and staff milling about. But it is a wonderful perk of the job, with lots of space to romp around in the 34-room, 12,000-sq.-foot home with an indoor pool and sauna (famously installed by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau). The 145-year-old, three-storey limestone house sits on a two-hectare property in the desirable New Edinburgh neighbourhood and backs onto the Ottawa River.

It’s also an old home in urgent need of repair. Last year, a building on the property was saved from falling into the river after an engineer’s report showed the cliff was sliding away. This summer there’s ongoing maintenance work and some rooms are being repainted. But there are far bigger problems. The home is in need of extensive renovation, a situation that hasn’t changed since 2008 when a report by former auditor general Sheila Fraser suggested the Harpers move out for more than a year so the home could be overhauled.

Click the image below to view a larger version.

 

The Harpers have never complained publicly about the state of 24 Sussex and are happy living there, say sources close to them, who also note the family has fairly modest needs—their Calgary residence is a typical suburban home. Every summer, the Harpers move to the PM’s official summer residence at Harrington Lake in Gatineau Park, Que., and the National Capital Commission carries out structural work, safety updates and landscaping.

But there were new calls last week for the Harper family to leave 24 Sussex for a much longer stretch, after the Ottawa Citizen reported the NCC was “unable to perform substantial renovations” and, according to Access to Information documents, taxpayers spent more than $69,000 last year on heat and hydro for the aging property. That was a 20 per cent increase since the Harpers first moved in, largely due to rising energy rates. The Citizen ran an editorial calling on the Harpers to “Vacate the premises at 24 Sussex,” while a National Post headline declared: “It’s time to oust the Harpers from Sussex Drive.”

In her 2008 report, Fraser said that repairs at the official residence could take up to 15 months to complete, at an estimated cost of at least $10 million. She warned that delaying work would cause further deterioration, increase future costs, and risk embarrassing Canada when foreign dignitaries come to town. The NCC has tried to relocate the Harpers and proposed Rideau Gate, the house across from 24 Sussex, where the royal family stays. Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff also offered up Stornoway, the Opposition leader’s house. But the Harpers have made it clear they won’t move out long-term. Any major renovation is bound to go over budget, and there are political implications to spending so much to upgrade the house.

The Harpers declined to comment for this story, but those close to the family point out that moving long-term to Harrington Lake, a 30-minute drive north of the city, is impractical with teenagers, when they’re at school and involved in numerous activities.

Over seven years in office, the Harper family has vacated a total of 14 months during the summers, allowing various repairs to be done. “The NCC does maintenance every summer,” said Andrew MacDougall, the PM’s director of communications. He added that “the Prime Minister and his family find the home adequate to their needs,” repeating the same comment the PMO has used since the AG’s report first came out.


 

The renovation debate at 24 Sussex

  1. “…a 30-minute drive north of the city, is impractical with teenagers, when they’re at school and involved in numerous activities.”

    why don’t the Harpers simply move across the street to 7 Rideau Gate (one of the NCC’s “Official Residences”, guesthouse next to Rideau Hall.

    Problem solved, at no additional expense to Taxpayers.

    • ‘The NCC has tried to relocate the Harpers and proposed Rideau Gate, the
      house across from 24 Sussex, where the royal family stays. Former
      Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff also offered up Stornoway, the Opposition leader’s house. But the Harpers have made it clear they won’t move out long-term.’

      • Vote him out and he will have no choice.!

        • LOL I figure in that event they’ll have to pry him out of there…..crowbarring his fingernails out of the doorjambs.

    • what it really says about harper and his family is, they are dinosaurs !

  2. Hydro $69,000 last year? Anybody check the basement for grow lights?

    • Now, now. This isn’t councilor Ford we’re talking about.

      • That is a really freaking huge heat and hydro bill though, wouldn’t you agree? Kind of inexplicable.

        • True, but I expect any hydroponics set-up maintained by Stephen and Laureen Harper would contain tomatoes and cucumbers rather than plants covered under Section 7 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Just an impression, mind you.

    • It takes a lot of power to charge up robo-steve every night. you didn’t think he was human did you?

  3. He’ll be moving out permanently in a couple or years or less

  4. They’ll have to pry Harp’s fingers off the door jambs eventually. LOL

    Justin, however, has lived at 24 Sussex before so he isn’t dazzled by it. He probably won’t bother moving in until it’s renovated.

    • Justin won’t be moving in unless he rents a room from the sitting prime minister.

      • Have we ever had a standing prime minister?

    • You couldn’t be more wrong! PM doesn’t get dazzled.

      • You’re not paying attention I see. He’s been too dazzled to get anything done.

  5. There is a simple solution for this.

    Authorize the repairs or rebuild to begin once Harper is no longer PM. The next PM, whoever it is (Conservative/Liberal/NDP) will be forced to find alternate accommodations until complete. This way no one can be accused of the bad optics of authorizing public funds to “over-improve” their own residence, which is what seems to be holding Harper back from enacting these much needed repairs.

    • Well that’s a good thought. But I wish this Prime Minister & his family would stop wasting tax-payer $$$ & do the right thing – what they are engaging in now is false economy.

    • John your suggest has the veneer of a rational thought but is ridiculous at its core. How could an “authorization” ever be be binding on the next PM?
      Why would Harper make such authorization since it would make him look like a silly, weak kneed non-leader; putting politics above good governance in even the most trivial situation.

      There are two solutions given that Harper is not likely to grow a pair at this stage. Wait for a new PM, problem solved. If you want a solution faster, forget about the short pants crew in the PMO and the guy hiding behind the curtain giving them orders. Make a direct appeal to Laureen; she seems to be the keeper of common sense in the family. (Not to mention all of the financial assets)

      • Why would Harper make such authorization since it would make him look like a silly, weak kneed non-leader; putting politics above good
        governance in even the most trivial situation.

        Interesting. I’d argue that making it binding on the next PM takes the politics entirely out of it.

        My assertion is that the PM is not doing these needed repairs for no other reason than the bad optics of “over-improving” the residence where he lives. The newspapers/evening newscasts/etc. running stories about millions being spent on opulent finishings at 24 Sussex doesn’t make for good press with the middle class that Harper et al is courting.

        If you wait for the next PM to decide to do it, then *he* gets saddled with the bad optics of doing the same, and is again maybe hesitant to do what needs to be done. If the decision is made before he gets there, he can’t be blamed for it.

        Giving the go ahead to Laureen doesn’t fix these optics. She lives there too. You want to solve the problem? Take the authorization for something like this away from the government entirely and give it to some other authority whose spending is not accountable to Parliament.

        • An all-party resolution to this effect just before the HoC adjourns for the next election could make this feasible. Especially if a list of intended repairs is tabled, so whoever moves in won’t be accused of taking advantage of the motion.

  6. The Liberal media elites just cannot bear the thought of Stephen Harper in Pierre’s pool! -).

    And they want the place all fixed up before the Dauphin get there.

    Justin is just going to have to find some place else to live when they renovate.

    • ‘Justin is just going to have to find some place else to live when they renovate.’

      So you’re saying Trudeau’s going to win the next election? You’re starting to sound like you’re part of the Liberal media elite.

    • “And they want the place all fixed up before the Dauphin get there.”

      I knew Sheila Fraser was good, but I didn’t know she went full Nostradamus on us predicting both that Justin Trudeau would be Liberal leader, and would become Prime Minister.

  7. Harper: ‘Get offa my crappy lawn!”

  8. A money pit. Yep, Canada’s most expensive home to own and operate.

    Anyone surprised it is government?

    For $69,000 of electricity, is there a hidden datacenter under the building?

    At $10 million, and will probably cost $30 million by the time it is done, wouldn’t it be cheaper and faster just to bulldoze it and build the new one out of concrete? Just save the old granite for facia on the outside for posterity.

    And scale it down, 6,000 sq/ft is plenty. Skip the pool, for the 3 days it is used its cheaper to fly the family to Aruba on a executive jet. That way it is further back from the river and will not fall in in 5 years after we go spend crazy.

  9. How about a trailer park for Senators whose principal residence is not in Ottawa? Canadian taxpayers will save a bundle on rent and be able to keep an eye on them at the same time.

    • Good one :-)

  10. I only hope there are no unhealthy situations there due to the state of disrepair, like mould . . . In that case I would hope Mr Harper would not want to affect the health of his children, house staff and, yes, even the cats because of that.

  11. After the furore over some senators charging taxpayers for a second home in the Ottawa area, the furore caused by the fact that the other home was not lived in enough, the last thing Harper wants to do is move into a second Ottawa home at taxpayer expense so his first Ottawa home can be repaired at taxpayer expense.
    Wherry would devote 10,000 posts to the greed of the PM.

  12. Well, how would he explain to the Sussex house contractors the lack of women’s clothes in the CLOSET?

    CLOSET ☻CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻ CLOSET ☻

  13. Stephen Harper lives in public housing.

  14. If the house needs such extensive repairs why isn’t it being done already. It doesn’t matter if they (Harper) have never complained publicly… who lets their house fall into such disrepair that it is dangerous? How can you make decisions for a country when you can’t even make the logical decision to keep your house in order?

  15. Why don’t they fire a few people at NCC and get them off the payroll.

    Obviously there’s not enough work for them to do so let’s get rid of them. Sunshine List bozos first.

  16. The Laytons have been bleeding the taxpayer dry for years over housing.
    How about a story on that?

  17. Build a new house west of Ottawa on some acreage, with a helicopter landing pad and let the old barn sink into the Ottawa River. It appears to be a “money pit” for taxpayers.

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