Prime minister’s cottage reno includes thousands for window mock-ups, planting plans and photography

Author: James Wood 2020/08/17

Thousands of dollars for window mock-ups, planting plans and photography services are some of the eyebrow-raising bills that have added up to more than $10 million to renovate the prime minister’s official residence at Harrington Lake, according to exclusive documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“What is a ‘window mock-up’ and why on earth does it cost nearly $20,000?” said Aaron Wudrick, the CTF’s Federal Director.  “I’m not sure there’s too many Canadians spending millions of dollars right now to touch up their cottages. They definitely don’t have thousands of dollars for planting plans and photo shoots.”

Wudrick isn’t the only one questioning the expenses. Conservative MP Michael Barrett has been demanding answers in Parliament regarding the renovations.

“Photography services, planting plans, window mock-ups, this is all for one of the prime minister’s many mansions that he has at taxpayers’ expense,” said Barrett. “Essentials don’t include things like window mock ups and planting plans. It’s a question of priorities, and frankly I don’t think these are the right ones.”

The National Capital Commission has spent more than $10 million renovating Harrington Lake, according to documents obtained by the CTF. The 13-acre property in Quebec is used exclusively by prime ministers and includes a 16-room main house and a newly built farmhouse, remade from a relocated caretaker’s cottage.

The CTF asked the NCC for clarification regarding the unusual bills.

The NCC stated that the $19,989 window mock-ups, which were meant for the main cottage, are “an important part of any quality control process.” The mock-ups were meant for the “heritage windows” of the building.

The NCC did not provide an explanation for the $10,499 planting plan costs at the main cottage. It remains unclear why taxpayers paid for what appears to be a garden plan.

The NCC also explained the $2,712 for photography services at the newly-built farmhouse as being a customary part of construction.  

“It is customary for the NCC to do a comprehensive photographic documentation and capture all the interior and exterior spaces for future needs,” read the NCC statement.

The documents also shed light on some recurring maintenance costs associated with the prime ministerial cottage property.

The NCC disclosed a $95,029 expense for turf maintenance at Harrington Lake between 2018 and 2020.

It also disclosed $293,402 for window cleaning. An NCC spokesperson stated the window cleaning contract covered multiple properties for multiple years, but did not provide details as to which properties and which years.

The NCC justified the cost by pointing out that Harrington Lake is “somewhat remote” and the works has to be done by specialized professionals holding security clearances.

“It cannot be compared to the average urban private residential construction,” the NCC statement read.  

The property is 26 km from the prime minister’s official residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa.

The description of Harrington Lake being “somewhat remote” didn’t sit well with Barrett.

“I think that characterization of a property in the National Capital Region as being remote is pretty rich,” said Barrett. “There are many parts of our country that are hard to access and have legitimate concerns for being able to access services, and I don’t think that a property that’s able to be accessed by car, year round, within an hours drive from Parliament Hill is reasonably considered as remote.”

There’s growing opposition to the Harrington Lake renovations with Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay saying he wouldn’t hesitate to sell the property if elected.