Margaret Trudeau, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mother, called 24 Sussex “the crown jewel of the federal penitentiary system.”
Marion Pearson, the wife of Lester Bowles Pearson, the 14th Prime Minister opined that “it might have been more practical to tear it all down and begin again.”
Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin has argued that 24 Sussex is a historical landmark that merits preservation.
Kim Campbell, who was prime minister for 132 days in 1993, has suggested it be knocked down.
Former prime minister Joe Clark said he didn’t have a comment, but his wife, Maureen McTeer has been vocal of her distaste for the home.
“An old, crumbling building with asbestos, which we know is poison, really is so lacking of vision, if you will, and [does not reflect] who we are as Canadians,” she said.
There is one point that stood out, the residence needs a total make over.
A little history
For more than 80 years, Canadian prime ministers were expected to handle their own accommodations. 24 Sussex Drive was built originally by a wealthy lumber baron between 1866 and 1868.
This private residence was brought in 1943. The Government of Canada had an extensive renovation on it between 1949 and 1951 to make it an official residence. The first occupant was Louis St-Laurent. This 1,000 square-metre official residence has three-story and 34 rooms.
A 2008 report from Canada’s auditor general said the 24 Sussex, which has not undergone a major refit in more than 50 years, was in “urgent” need of a substantial renovation, with the cost pegged at 10 million Canadian dollars.
The 2011 Major Risk Report
In 2011, the National Capital Commission had already prepared a lengthy list of reports, studies, and construction documents addressing issues needing attention at 24 Sussex.
According to the report, The “major life safety risk” to occupants arose from the presence of significant quantities of RH-BX cable, now 65 years old, “which poses the distinct potential for arc faults and a possible fire.
“No one can predict accurately when the cables will fail and if such an event will lead to a fire,” the report says. “In our opinion, due to the age and condition of the wiring, the percentage likelihood of a failure is unacceptably high and increasing, the longer this wiring remains in service.”
24 Sussex Drive is basically a fire trap that posed a “serious” safety risk to former prime minister Stephen Harper and his family, says a 2011 report done for the National Capital Commission.
Stephen Harper’s Response
Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister, ignored the advice, eager to uphold his image as a deficit-fighter and unwilling to move out for the 15 months needed for a renovation as reported
The agency was reduced to Adhoc electrical maintenance during brief periods when Stephen Harper and his family were temporarily absent, the report says.
Justin Trudeau’s decision
The conditions got so bad that when Justin Trudeau was elected in October 2015, he decided not to move into the mansion with his wife and three children.
Instead, Trudeau decamped down the road to another government-owned home on the grounds of the governor-general, Queen Elizabeth’s representative in Canada.
That home, known as Rideau Cottage, is not quite as grand as 24 Sussex but still has 10,000 square feet of space and has been recently updated.
The Politics behind 24 Sussex
Both Conservative and NDP spokespeople told CBC News they believe the residence should be repaired and that they would support Trudeau if he went ahead with renovations.
The Conservatives later contradicted that position with Ontario Conservative MP Erin O’Toole saying that he would only consider supporting renovations and repairs once Trudeau had repaid the costs of his trip to the Aga Khan’s island home.
Conservative Party spokesperson Jake Enwright, who had given the original statement, later told CBC News that O’Toole’s comments reflected the party’s updated position on the prime minister’s official residence.
On Monday, Andrew Scheer and the conservatives pick on the Prime Minister’s resident at 24 Sussex Drive perhaps it will score them a point but history does not really favours them.
Nevertheless, none of the federal party leaders are willing to opine on whether the building should be torn down or renovated, or whether they would live in the residence if it were upgraded.
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