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Delays increased Rideau Hall project costs by $200,000

Author: James Wood 2021/06/10

Work delays at the governor general’s official residence ran up costs by about $200,000 in 2019, according to exclusive documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

The National Capital Commission, the agency responsible for official residences, declined to comment on the nature of the delay.

However, the documents show the governor general’s office under Julie Payette often delayed NCC workers’ access to the property, with the NCC working around Rideau Hall’s desire to avoid disruption.

In one exchange from Sept. 10, 2018, the NCC’s vice president of official residences Greg Kenney wrote to now-former CEO Mark Kristmanson about approved projects at Rideau Hall, expressing frustration about the pace of work at the property.

“For context we have now on three different occasions, in writing indicated to [redacted name] that these projects were planned to be undertaken during the summer,” wrote Kenney. “As access was denied, they have now been delayed until next fiscal year.”

The NCC said construction costs for an on-site service storage and maintenance facility at Rideau Hall rose by about $200,000 during the 2019 construction season due to delays.

The NCC also had serious concerns about Payette’s Rideau Hall renovation spending.  

From the time Payette took on the role in 2017 and left in 2021, renovation projects her office requested cost taxpayers $464,395.

Despite the expensive upgrades and enormous bills, Payette refused to move in to the mansion and chose to live in another official residence nearby.

 

“You know Payette’s spending spree got out of hand when Ottawa bureaucrats raise red flags,” said Franco Terrazzano, Federal Director for the CTF.  “Taxpayers were left picking up the tab for nearly half a million dollars’ worth of renovations and Payette never even moved into her free, taxpayer-funded mansion.”

Tensions between the NCC and Payette’s office flared around May 9, 2019. That day, Kenney sent an email to current CEO Tobi Nussbaum before a meeting with Rideau Hall officials.

In his email, which was titled “RE: Above and beyond the call of duty,” Kenney refers to Payette’s office “demanding” a five-year capital plan for work at the residence.

Kenney recommended delivering two key messages in response to the governor general’s demands.

“The NCC is an independent, Crown Corporation at arm’s length from Government,” wrote Kenney. “This is to ensure the objective selection and implementation of projects based on operational requirements, thereby avoiding even the perception of influence by residents.

“The Financial Administration Act and the Treasury Board Policy on Financial Management seek to ensure ‘public resources are used prudently and in an economical manner.’ As a result, we require sound rational to appropriately justify the use of tax dollars.”

“Let’s get this straight: Payette demanded all kinds of renos for a residence she wouldn’t even live in,” said Terrazzano. “It got to the point where the bureaucrat in charge is saying it’s time to read her the Financial Administration Act about not wasting taxpayers’ money.”

NCC spokesperson Valérie Dufour said the NCC was proud of the “effective and collaborative relationship” with the governor general’s office. Regarding Kenney’s concerns in the released documents, Dufour would only say the emails spoke for themselves.

Through her assistant Lise Boyer, Payette declined to comment.