The National Capital Commission (NCC) warned that further delays on the fate of the Prime Minister’s Official residence would put the whole structure at risk. Vacant since last December, 24 Sussex Drive is the site of serious disrepair, with the dwelling also the epicentre of a rodent infestation.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his family last resided there but left in 2015 after 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. The property has been mainly used for outdoor receptions since 2015.
Other than two staffed guard huts, no staff remain on site after the Prime Minister’s Office ordered significant repairs and upgrades scheduled for this spring. Contractors commenced the $4.3 million repairs two weeks ago.
“It is limited in its ability to support official functions and day-to-day activities, with poor accessibility, insufficient-sized rooms and lack of support spaces, such as barrier-free washrooms,” reads one document The Canadian Press received through an access-to-information request.
Last July, NCC chairman Marc Seaman informed the feds of their intent to close the residence entirely. He said the work that needed to happen “by no means preempts any future decisions by the federal government regarding the use and purpose of the residence.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family moved to Rideau Cottage, where they have lived for eight years. Trudeau remarked that no prime minister wanted to spend taxpayer dollars on 24 Sussex in 2018.
A 2021 NCC report said the 12,000-square residence with 34 rooms and a supplementary pool house would require $36 million in deferred maintenance, not including security or other infrastructure upgrades.
In a separate but related draft report, the NCC recommended different approaches for Cabinet to take, with a list of pros and cons enclosed. However, it is fully redacted.
The discovery of a rodent infestation last fall expedited its closure to staff amid many other issues. 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 wrote the disrepair of 24 Sussex Drive is so urgent that it “must be completed regardless of any future decision on the residence.” Trudeau’s Cabinet may eventually tear it down and replace it entirely.
In a partially redacted letter penned by Seaman, he wrote, “Continued deferment…carries real risks to both the physical integrity of the building itself and our ability to execute our fiduciary responsibility as stewards of this most important classified heritage building on behalf of all Canadians.”
According to an access-to-information request by the Ottawa Citizen, 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.
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. It is notoriously drafty and inefficient.
Taxpayers also covered another $3,153 on gas in January, and $568 for water, billed over two months. The vacant 24 Sussex Drive had more than $8,000 in utility bills in January.