Decision on renovating Rideau Cottage remains in limbo: report

As it stands, 24 Sussex Drive is destitute after decades of neglect, requiring at least $37 million in renovations to correct its 'deferred maintenance deficit.' Rideau Cottage is one of three options under consideration to house future prime ministers and their families.

Decision on renovating Rideau Cottage remains in limbo: report
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
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A decision to convert Rideau Cottage into the prime minister’s permanent residence remains pending amid years of ongoing dialogue.

It is one of three options under consideration to house the prime ministers and their families, reported The Canadian Press.

As it stands, 24 Sussex Drive is destitute after decades of neglect requiring $37 million in renovations to correct its “deferred maintenance deficit.” 

According to a 2021 report by the National Capital Commission (NCC), the building is no longer up to standard. It would need modernized security, additional staff offices and other "residential infrastructure" to house the Trudeaus, who currently reside on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the Governor General's residence.

"Any decision for the future of 24 Sussex Drive will not be taken lightly. We have an obligation to preserve landmarks of national importance," said a spokesperson for Procurement Canada.

"Under this option, the [NCC] would invest to address the lack of residential infrastructure … kitchen, laundry, garage and staff offices," reads a heavily redacted "secret" briefing note prepared for Privy Council Office staff last May.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a 2018 interview said his predecessors had no political will to renovate Rideau Cottage, which closed in fall 2022 to address outstanding health and safety concerns. 

According to the briefing document it languishes in "critical condition and poses numerous risks to users," including "high risk of fire" from an aged electrical system, and "pest control issues." 

"We have removed all the plaster and drywall in the residence, leaving only the framing, as it contained designated substances such as asbestos and lead paint," said Commission spokesperson Valérie Dufour on February 2. 

"Prior to this abatement, heritage fabric, such as doors and mouldings, was carefully removed, cataloged and stored for possible future reinstatement," she added.

Should the feds rebuild 24 Sussex altogether, they would need to construct a new "modern facility with limited heritage elements," reads the note. Another recommendation includes building a new residence in the Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood.

If the NCC proceeds to renovate Rideau Cottage with the intent of resetting the prime minister’s family, its $37 million price tag would notably exclude security modernization costs — an additional expense that would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

"In 1951, it was a good choice to install our prime minister here, but now the building is no longer up to standard," said Pierre-Yves Bourduas, a former RCMP deputy commissioner once responsible for detailing the security on the premises. 

It has remained without a tenet since prime minister Stephen Harper and his family last resided there in 2015.

"Security has changed enormously over the past ten years, and in this context, we need to rethink the location of the prime minister's residence," added Bourduas. They would need to reinforce the residence with steel plates on the roof to prevent drone attacks, turning it into a "bunker."

While the federal government came close to reaching a decision in 2016, Trudeau’s cabinet ultimately decided against proceeding, reported CBC News.

Andrew MacDougall, former director of communications to Stephen Harper, said a small window exists for a sitting prime minister to renovate their home.

"Obviously, early in a mandate — when you're fresh off a win and people are feeling good — is the best time to do it," he claimed.

During Harper’s tenure, he formed a minority government in 2006, with a majority government later formed after the 2009 global financial crisis. "That's not the kind of time you want to go and spend money on things like renovating the house," said MacDougall. 

He said the former prime minister never had the opportunity to consider renovations, whereas Trudeau’s administration squandered the chance.

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