After coming to power in November 2015, several Canadian media outlets stated that Justin Trudeau would return to live at number 24 Paseo Sussex in Ottawa, the address where the official residence of the country’s prime ministers is located. Trudeau spent almost his entire childhood in this mansion, when his father, Pierre-Elliot Trudeau, was at the head of the Government. However, he, his children and his wife have not inhabited it for a single day since that electoral victory six and a half years ago. The reason is the poor condition of the residence. According to a report by the National Capital Commission (the federal agency that manages various historic buildings in Ottawa), a Canadian premier requires a domicile more in keeping with his functions and investiture.
The Trudeau-Grégoire family lives in Rideau Cottage, a property located on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General of Canada. The problems suffered by the 24 Sussex have been known for decades, and despite this, maintenance has not been up to par. For example, leaks abound, electrical installations are disturbing, several windows need replacement, heating is inadequate and asbestos —a material prohibited in many countries due to its health risks— is still present in some parts of the building. The document of the National Capital Commission, obtained by the newspaper The Toronto Star, figure at 36.6 million Canadian dollars (28.5 million Americans) the cost of the required renovations, despite the fact that 6.5 million have already been allocated between 2009 and 2019. Demolishing it and rebuilding it would be around 40 million (about 31.2 million from the neighboring country). Another option that appears is to build it on another site. The members of this body consider that a deep renovation would be the least recommended scenario.
The document mentions that the residence is “unsuitable for receiving official visits” and that a new venue dedicated to government affairs, diplomatic activities and visits would project “a better image of Canada as a member of the G7 and a global player”. The report indicates that the mansion at 24 Sussex “is severely limited in its ability to support official functions, with poor accessibility, undersized rooms and a lack of support spaces,” thus forcing the federal government to rent other sites already address logistical and security issues. The National Capital Commission suggests a building that would occupy about 1,400 square meters. 76% of the space would be dedicated to official government use and the remaining 24% to the private residence of the Canadian premier.
Symbol of power in Canada
The mansion was built in 1868 by a successful businessman. The federal government expropriated it in 1943 and seven years later it began to house the prime ministers. The property thus became a site of importance for political life and the gossip news of the country. Many of the images in newspaper archives that testify to the activities in this mansion have Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Margaret Sinclair as protagonists; also to the three children of the couple, whether swimming in the pool, playing in the gardens or browsing on dates with leaders from half the world. The last Prime Minister to live in the residence was the Conservative Stephen Harper; he did it between 2006 and 2015.
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The commission pointed out that the document is only a guide for possible future tasks, since other studies are necessary to examine issues related to the location and design of the property, and that no official decision has been taken so far in this regard. In early 2019, Justin Trudeau insisted that he would not live in the residence during his tenure. “No prime minister wants to spend a taxpayer’s penny to keep that house,” he noted. Various analysts expressed that the political cost would not be light for any ruler who announces a greater economic injection for 24 Sussex.
Trudeau took up the subject again in January of this year. He confirmed that he would not move to the residence in his years at the head of the Government and reiterated that it has been neglected by several prime ministers, although he underlined its historical importance. The Liberal leader added: “We are evaluating several options. When we reach a decision, we will make it public.” A survey by the firm Nanos Research, carried out in December 2016, showed that 54% of those consulted preferred a new property, 34% opted for renovations and 12% did not have a definite opinion. Three years later, another Dart-Maru Blue survey showed that 39% opted for a brand new residence for prime ministers, while 61% favored work to renovate one of the most emblematic houses in the country.
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