Fix the damn place, already

The Auditor General is making noise about repairs to Rideau Hall and 24 Sussex Drive, the official residences of the Governor General and Prime Minister, respectively.

“The official residences are more than housing provided to the country’s senior government leaders. They are part of Canada’s heritage and need to be preserved,” said Ms. Fraser.

…The Report notes, however, that there have been no major renovations to the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive for fifty years. The windows, the heating and air conditioning system, the electrical system, and the plumbing are all nearing the end of their life cycle and are in poor condition. This creates significant loss of heat and steadily rising heating costs, as well as discomfort for the occupants.

The NCC estimates that completely rehabilitating 24 Sussex Drive would cost about $10 million and would require full access to the residence for a minimum of 12 to 15 months.

— “Rideau Hall and 24 Sussex Need Extensive Repairs“, Office of the Auditor General of Canada, May 6th, 2008.

The bad news, though, is that the Prime Minister has no plans to vacate his homestead in order for the required repairs to be executed.

Although her report could be seen as giving a sitting prime minister the political cover needed to spend public money to fix the home he lives in, a spokesperson for Harper said he’s not leaving.

“The PM and his family find 24 Sussex adequate to their needs and see no reason for a substantial renovation at this time. The Harpers have no plans to vacate 24 Sussex between now and the next election,” Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, the prime minister’s press secretary, said in an e-mail message.

— David Akin, “Auditor says 24 Sussex falling apart; Harper will stay put“.  Canwest News Service, May 6th, 2008.

This is a little odd considering both the Governor General and Prime Minister have completely functional four-season alternate residences.  Why the reticence?

The GG’s alternate residence is the Citadelle of Québec.  According to M. Francois Leblanc, Chief Architect of the National Capital Commission, the residence is comprised of 153 rooms covering approximately 4,459 square metres (48,000 square feet), and there are private areas comprising ten rooms.  As you can see by the online tour, Her Excellency’s second official residence is nice enough, if a tad too modern (read: bland) in some areas.  The fort was actually the primary residence of the GG, back when they were British military governors and Québec a mere occupied French colony.

The PM’s alternate residence is Harrington Lake / Lac Mousseau, in the Gatineau Hills of Québec.  It’s far less regal and imposing than the Citadel, but then it was built as a summer cottage, not a fortified redoubt.  Once again according to M. Leblanc, the complex is spread out over 13 acres, has one main building with 16 rooms covering approximately 8,300 square feet, and eight outbuildings.  I highly recommend you check out the link to see the gaudily rustic and kitschy dining room, decorated in a style that is guaranteed to repel anyone not stuck in a 1980s-vintage Dallas re-run.

I realise that these locations will not be nearly as convenient as the primary residences in Ottawa, but let me suggest a few ways the PM and GG could liven up their potentially year-long stays at the alternates:

THE CITADELLE

  • New civil service dress code: powdered wigs, pantaloons and stockings for men.  Enormous headdresses, bonnets and whalebone corsets for women.  Snuff boxes for all.
  • Refuse Royal Assent to bills unless addressed by underlings as “My Liege”.
  • Vessels (of any size or nationality) passing the Citadelle must dip their colours or receive cannon fire.
  • Tourists may be press-ganged into vice-regal staff for any duty/role for any length of time.  Successful completion of duties may result in Senate or Supreme Court appointment.

HARRINGTON LAKE

  • Required dress: Hats with fishing lures stuck in them, and green hip-waders (applies to both genders).  The press must be given an opportunity to fixate on a photo more ridiculous than the one with PM in the ill-fitting vest and cowboy hat.
  • All non-Cabinet visitors and functionaries must present a personally-landed game fish (in season and within length/weight regulations) in order to conduct business of state.  Perch and small bass do not count.
  • Cabinet meetings by campfire.  Ministers must tell scary ghost story before their motion can be heard.  Lesser ministers not on the powerful Priorities and Planning Committee must bring ingredients for S’mores.

I am confident that with a little prodding, the Governor General and Prime Minister can find a way to relocate so that renovations to their primary residences may proceed.

(Hat tip to the vox populi, Mr. David Akin).

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