OTTAWA — Turning Rideau Cottage into the permanent residence of the prime minister would have to include creating staff offices and other “residential infrastructure,” an internal government document says.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been living in the house on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence, since he came into office.
Making that situation more permanent is one of three options the government is considering as the historic home for Canada’s prime ministers, 24 Sussex Drive, sits in disrepair after decades of neglect.
The saga over what to do next lands in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, as the Liberals struggle to soothe Canadians’ anxieties about affordability and are chided by the Opposition Conservatives for their spending.
“Any decision for the future of 24 Sussex Drive will not be taken lightly. We have an obligation to preserve landmarks of national importance,” a spokesman for Procurement Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, said in a statement.
A decision has been pending for years.
The three options under consideration include “establishing Rideau Cottage as the permanent residence,” according to a heavily redacted briefing note prepared for Privy Council Office staff last May.
The document, labelled “secret,” was released to The Canadian Press under access-to-information law.
“Under this option, the (National Capital Commission) would invest to address lacking residential infrastructure … kitchen, laundry, garage and staff offices.”
The state of 24 Sussex caused Trudeau and his family to choose Rideau Cottage when he was elected in 2015, rather than the official residence where he lived as a child when his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was prime minister.
The National Capital Commission declined to say whether any renovations have been to done to address the lacking infrastructure at Trudeau’s current home.
Another option the federal government is considering is rebuilding 24 Sussex altogether.
That would mean constructing a new “modern facility with limited heritage elements,” such as the building’s stone facade, according to the briefing note.
A 2021 report from the commission on the state of its assets said there was $36 million worth of deferred maintenance to complete at 24 Sussex, not including security or other infrastructure upgrades.
The new document says staff are also looking at Ottawa’s ritzy Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood as a location for a new residence. Specifically, they are looking at a parking lot on land owned by the National Capital Commission.
Duclos’ office said it’s discussing options with the commission and stakeholders.
“Noting that there has not been any significant investment in over 60 years, this ambitious work is ongoing and will balance security needs with universal accessibility, historic preservation and aspects of environmental sustainability,” it said.
Trudeau said in a 2018 interview that no prime minister wants to spend a dime of taxpayer money on that site.
Commission spokeswoman Valérie Dufour says the NCC is waiting for the government to make a decision on 24 Sussex. In the meantime, workers are gutting the building, which closed in late 2022 to address outstanding health and safety concerns.
“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,” Dufour said.
“Prior to this abatement, heritage fabric, such as doors and mouldings, was carefully removed, catalogued and stored for possible future reinstatement.”
The commission maintains that the work needs to happen regardless of what decision is made about the crumbling mansion.
Workers are not touching the property’s 1975 pool and sauna house, which is “no longer in operation,” Dufour said.
The briefing document says it’s languishing in “critical condition and poses numerous risks to users,” including “high risk of fire” from an aged electrical system, and “pest control issues.”
It says the estimated cost of making the building safe again ranges into the millions.
©2024 The Canadian Press