The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has obtained new documents showing Governor General Julie Payette’s Rideau Hall renovations cost taxpayers just over half a million dollars, but Payette still hasn’t moved in. That renovation bill is nearly double the amount previously reported by media.
“Her Excellency managed to spend over half a million dollars on Rideau Hall renovations, but still isn’t actually living there,” said Aaron Wudrick, the CTF’s Federal Director. “Why are taxpayers paying so much for no apparent reason?”
Rideau Hall serves as the official residence of the Governor General and is maintained by the National Capital Commission. Since 2017, renovation projects at the request of Payette’s office have cost taxpayers $502,395. Despite the expensive work, Payette still does not live at Rideau Hall. Public Works and Procurement Minister Anita Anand is the minister responsible for the NCC.
In August, the CBC reported the NCC spent more than $250,000 on renovations at the request of the Governor General.
The documents obtained by the CTF reveal 15 projects handled by the NCC at the request of Payette’s office, including a nearly $60,000 space exhibit and a “mission control boardroom.”
The most expensive project cost $139,000 for the design of a private staircase for the Governor General that was never actually built.
The second most expensive project was a multimedia study of Rideau Hall’s ballroom, which cost $108,000.
A security project was also undertaken for $104,000 in the building’s Monck Wing.
“Mission Control Boardroom? Space exhibit? Is this the official residence of the Queen’s representative in Canada, or the USS Enterprise?” said Wudrick.
The CTF contacted the Office of the Secretary of the Governor General and the NCC, and both parties shifted responsibility to each other.
Ashlee Smith, Payette’s press secretary, said the NCC is responsible for overseeing the renovation projects and that Payette has not requested any changes to accommodate either herself or her family at Rideau Hall.
“The NCC retains all responsibility and oversight of the projects, including design, construction, and the budget,” said Smith. “If the project is at the request of the OSGG, and the scope is outside of the mandate of the NCC such as security, then the final cost will be covered by the OSGG.”
Smith said the $139,000-staircase design was managed solely by the NCC after Payette’s office made the request. The OSGG cancelled the work after a problem came up in the design which didn’t address a safety issue. Payette was never made aware of the design cost, according to Smith.
Smith also said the “mission control boardroom” was a pre-existing boardroom in Rideau Hall, which was given its title internally. The room has been given additional wall calendars and white boards for planning purposes, as well as technology upgrades in the wake of COVID-19 to help “facilitate events and review panels,” according to Smith. Other boardrooms in Rideau Hall received similar upgrades, with the entire project costing $11,500.
The space exhibit, titled “Dare to Dream,” was put together during renovations in 2018, Smith said, at a total cost of $59,895.
The NCC confirmed that it handles the budget for the majority of spending on official residences in Ottawa after requests, such as those from Payette’s office, are made.
Asked how much consultation there had been with the OSGG about the project costs, all the NCC would say is that there had been “close collaboration.”
The $502,395 for renovations is not the first time Payette’s office has been linked to significant costs for taxpayers.
The large expenses started on Payette’s first day in office when her swearing-in ceremony totalled $649,000, surpassing the original budget of $500,000.
Media has also reported Payette’s “secrecy and resistance” to working with her RCMP protection details have resulted in nearly $700,000 in extra costs for her security.
“While various departments point fingers, the office of the Governor General has become a parade of wasteful spending stories,” said Wudrick. “Someone needs to be held responsible for this money being wasted. The Minister needs to stick up for taxpayers, and tell the NCC and the Governor General to get their houses in order.”
NOTE: An earlier version of this story had said Minister of Heritage Steven Guilbeault was responsible for the NCC. This error has been corrected.