The Prime Minister's vacant residence bled over $8,000 in monthly utility bills: report

Canada is adamant about reducing its carbon footprint, yet the country’s most famous house remains an energy guzzler despite being vacant since December.

The Prime Minister's vacant residence bled over $8,000 in monthly utility bills: report
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According to an access to information request, the vacant 24 Sussex Drive had more than $8,000 in utility bills in January. 

Nobody lives and works there, but the house runs sky-high bills for heat, hydro and water — largely thanks to Pierre Trudeau’s indoor swimming pool and sauna, built in 1975 and paid for by anonymous private donors. But taxpayers foot the bill for its continued upkeep.

Last winter, the home had monthly hydro bills in the $6,000 to $7,000 range, on top of gas bills of around $2,000.

The house has 34 rooms and covers approximately 12,000 square feet. It is notoriously drafty and inefficient.

By the end of December, no one lived or worked in the house — other than two staffed guard huts — after the Prime Minister’s Office ordered significant repairs and upgrades scheduled for this spring. 

The repairs “will include the abatement of designated substances such as asbestos, as well as the removal of obsolete mechanical, heating and electrical systems.”

The commission said the disrepair of 24 Sussex Drive is so urgent that it “must be completed regardless of any future decision on the residence” — even if it must eventually be torn down and replaced — including “matters of great concern such as potential fire hazards, water damage and air quality issues.”

Moreover, the costs of running the mansion remained relatively high even after the staff moved out.

According to the access to information request, taxpayers spent $4,947 on hydro for the old house from December 31 to January 31 — compared to $6,710 for the previous hydro bill before everyone moved out.

Taxpayers also covered another $3,153 on gas in January, and $568 for water, billed over two months.

“The continuing high bills illustrate how achieving Canada’s climate goals may be much more challenging than people think,” said veteran energy analyst Tom Adams.

“It’s easy to sign a piece of paper committing the country to progress,” he said, adding that older buildings are hard to modernize and last long.

“Five grand!” he said of the hydro bill. “You can’t spend $5,000 for electricity on lighting.”

The last time a prime minister and his family lived at 24 Sussex Drive was Stephen Harper and his family, who left in 2015 after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau secured the first of many Liberal governments.

Until recently, staff from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) still used some of the building as office space in the daytime.

Kamran Siddiqui, a mechanical engineering professor at Western University, said the age and inefficiency of the house would increase gas consumption but should have little effect on hydro usage.

However, he said hydro use would rise if the electricity is used for heating — either for supplementary electric heaters in chilly parts of the house or for heating the pool. Siddiqui said heating water requires more energy than heating air.

Adams suspects there’s a patchwork of heating systems — a gas furnace backed up by electric heaters in rooms where the regular heating system isn’t enough, such as extra chilly rooms and pool heating.

“One explanation for these spectacular bills is that the NCC forgot to turn down the thermostat. They’re just running the place as though it’s going to be filled with people,” he said.

When asked who uses the sauna and pool, the NCC referred the question to the Privy Council Office, who referred it to the PMO, who ultimately did not respond to the question.

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