Opinion-Policy Nexus

The last thing Justin Trudeau needs is to spend a king’s ransom on the renovation and rehabilitation of 24 Sussex Drive, the official residence where he lived as a child and where he would like very much to live again as prime minister.

For the moment, he and his family are tucked away across the street in Rideau Cottage, a 150-year-old, 22-room residence on the grounds of Rideau Hall, home to Governor General David Johnston. Meanwhile, the National Capital Commission, which is responsible for 24 Sussex, is beavering away on cost estimates for fixing up or replacing the old mansion.

The latest figure to emerge is $38 million, for repairs, reconstruction, enhanced security systems, and so on. This for a place appraised at under $10 million.

According to the Huffington Post last week, estimates ranging from $20 million to $250 million have been presented to the Prime Minister’s Office. But dreamers at the NCC have also come up with a grander plan – to create a White House North, so to speak, for a mere $561.7 million.

That plan, we are told, has not been presented to the PMO. And that’s just as well.

The money is one good reason why Trudeau may balk at spending even $38 million on 24 Sussex. The government is already locked into a massive, two-decades-long renovation and rehabilitation of the buildings on and adjacent to Parliament Hill; that’s going to cost at least $3 billlion.

If you think buildings are expensive, think again. Think warplanes. The government is planning to spend $10 billion to purchase a small “interim fleet” of 18 Boeing Super Hornets for the air force. (It’s “interim” because it buys the Liberals time to figure a way out of the Harper Conservatives’ plan  to purchase the even more costly and problematic F-35 stealth fighters. But as the Liberals are discovering, there is no graceful, or cheap, way out.)

Add to those expenses the billions in program spending that will be required over the years when Ottawa and the provinces reach a new accord on the financing of medicare.

There’s a second reason for Trudeau to balk at spending more than absolutely necessary on 24 Sussex. It is very visible spending that would reinforce the perception that the Liberals are again becoming seen, as in the past, as the party of big money and big spending.

Under Trudeau, the Liberals campaigned as the party of middle-class families. That image suffers every time the party holds one of those tacky cash-for-access receptions or dinners where wealthy supporters pay $1,500 or so to meet the PM or one of his ministers.

Yes, all parties hold fundraisers, but surely the public expects better from its new-thinking, “sunny-ways” prime minister.

And it doesn’t help the Liberal image when the PM is photographed yukking it up with Chinese billionaires at a fund-raiser for the Trudeau Foundation. A worthy cause, no doubt, but tacky all the same.

When Trudeau is reviewing the competing proposals for his fixer-upper at 24 Sussex, he might ask himself whether he really needs a “batcave” – a security command centre – like the White House situation room.  John Diefenbaker built one of those things outside Ottawa. The “Diefenbunker” was never used. Later, Justin’s father put the bomb shelter at 24 Sussex to practical use as his wine cellar.

Does 24 Sussex really need a new swimming pool or a modern addition for family living quarters?  Does it need offices for staff, like the White House?

Does Trudeau need reception rooms and facilities for large state dinners in his home?

Parliament Hill is a perfectly good place to receive visitors and will be even better when the restoration is complete. The prime minister is not head of state; let the GG or his boss, the Queen, look after that elegant stuff. Trudeau is the head of government. He needs a decent, safe place for him and family to live. That’s all. Go middle class!


Monday, November 28, 2016 - 07:58