Time to tear down 24 Sussex
(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)
Taxpayers have a message for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Mr. Trudeau, tear down this house!”
The house in question is a century-and-a-half old, and hasn’t been renovated in decades. There’s still asbestos in the walls, cracks all over the place, water damage, ancient electrical wiring and dodgy plumbing.
If it was put up for sale, you can bet the words “real fixer upper” and “sold as-is” would have to feature prominently in the listing.
Welcome to 24 Sussex Drive, the official residence of Canada’s prime minister.
Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t actually live there – instead, Trudeau and his young family live just down the street at Rideau Cottage, on the grounds of the Governor General’s residence, Rideau Hall.
The problem, though, is that while 24 Sussex sits empty, it still costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just for basic upkeep – including heating it and clearing the snow in the driveway.
After years of successive governments kicking the can down the road, it’s time to finally do something – and that something is to raze the place altogether.
But isn’t it an important part of Canadian history? Not really. For starters, there’s a strong case that architecturally, it’s nothing special. In fact, a former resident of the house, Maureen McTeer – wife of former prime minister Joe Clark and an author of a book on official residences – has described the building as “completely lacking in architectural value.”
But where, you may ask, will the prime minister live? The Trudeau clan seems perfectly happy living at Rideau Cottage. Perhaps it could become the permanent prime ministerial residence.
Alternatively, both the opposition leader and speaker of the House of Commons currently get to live in official taxpayer-funded residences. Maybe one of them could give up their residence (in exchange for a housing stipend like other MPs) and one those homes could be used for the prime minister instead.
Or maybe – if the price is right – we could build something new at 24 Sussex instead.
After all, according to the latest estimate, fixing 24 Sussex would cost at least $34 million. Canada could build a lavish new home for the prime minister for a fifth of that cost, and even then, it would still be worth three times more than the grand prize for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Foundation home lottery.
Imagine setting a reasonable budget and holding a competition open to the architects from around the world, giving them a rare opportunity to present a vision for a residence befitting the leader of our great country. Canadians could even participate in the process by giving feedback, or maybe even voting for the winner from a group of shortlisted finalists.
We would be seizing the opportunity to put an unloved, unremarkable and money-draining building out of its misery and replacing it with something iconic and uniquely Canadian – a unifying project in a country that could probably use a few more unifying symbols.
The bottom line is that doing nothing for decades has cost taxpayers a bundle for nothing. It’s time to bite the bullet, tear 24 Sussex down, and move on – one way or another.