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Politics 24 Sussex repairs may be followed by work on Opposition Leader’s house

Movers carry items from 24 Sussex, the official residence of Canada's prime minister, in Ottawa on Oct. 27, 2015.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Long-awaited plans to renovate 24 Sussex Dr. have been put on hold as the federal government explores a bigger and more expensive strategy that would also include repairs to the official residences of the leader of the opposition and the speaker of the House of Commons, federal sources said.

Renovating the official Ottawa residence of the prime minister has long been a hot potato in Canadian politics, with successive governments hesitating to invest public funds in high-end accommodations.

However, it is also seen as a necessity given the poor state of 24 Sussex, as laid out in a number of expert reports. In 2008, the auditor-general found the building to be in poor shape – with cracked windows, aging wiring and deficient plumbing – and in need of $10-million worth of repairs. The same report said that four other official residences in the Ottawa area needed nearly $2-million in renovations.

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The estimated price tag to renovate 24 Sussex has since gone up four-fold, in large part because of security requirements. It is not known what is the estimated cost at this point of renovating Stornoway (the residence of the leader of the opposition, in Ottawa's Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood), Harrington Lake (the prime minister's secondary residence, in the Gatineau Hills of Quebec), the Farm (used by the speaker of the House, and also in Gatineau Park) and 7 Rideau Gate (used by official visitors).

Instead of simply putting together a final plan to renovate 24 Sussex Dr., sources said the National Capital Commission – the government agency that oversees federal properties in the National Capital Region – has been considering a broader strategy that would also include the residence currently used by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

For the government, the strategy would have the political advantage of redoing the residences of both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the same package.

The NCC refused to lay out its strategy at this point, stating it is still preparing options for the government.

"I can only confirm that the National Capital Commission is working with its federal partners to develop a plan for the future of 24 Sussex Dr. that includes all facets of the project to ensure the federal government is able to make a prudent and informed decision," NCC spokesman Jean Wolff said. "Further information, including how this plan may or may not serve plans for the other Official Residences, will be made available in due course."

After starting to live at 24 Sussex in 2006, former prime minister Stephen Harper refused to move out to allow wide-ranging renovations until the end of his tenure.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, did not move into 24 Sussex after winning power in 2015, preferring to install his family at Rideau Cottage on the grounds of the governor-general's residence.

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Still, Mr. Trudeau – who lived in the residence when his father was prime minister in the 1970s and 1980s – has yet to approve a renovation package for the official residence.

"Anything that a prime minister decides that they can potentially benefit from – that's one of the reasons that that house has gone into the ground since the time I lived there – is that no prime minister wants to spend a penny of taxpayer dollars on upkeeping that house," Mr. Trudeau said in an interview with the CBC this week.

The Conservatives support the eventual renovation of 24 Sussex and will encourage Mr. Trudeau, if he is still Prime Minister when the residence is ready, to move back there.

"The residence belongs to Canada and it should be maintained," said Conservative spokesman Jake Enwright.

One senior federal official said the Prime Minister – and his successor if someone else wins the 2019 general election – will be expected to continue using Rideau Cottage until 24 Sussex is renovated. Afterward, Rideau Cottage could be used by the leader of the official opposition of the day while construction crews take on Stornoway, the official said. The speaker could then use Rideau Cottage while the Farm is being renovated.

The NCC is the lead agency on the file, but other federal organizations will also have a say in the final plans: the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council, the RCMP, Treasury Board and Finance.

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Brian Mulroney and his family delayed moving into 24 Sussex after the 1984 election to allow for renovations, which were paid for with a mix of public and party funds. Details of those renovations, including a large closet for Mr. Mulroney, designed to accommodate 30 suits and 84 pairs of shoes, dogged the Mulroney family for years.

Bruce Carson, a former senior aide to Mr. Harper, wrote a book in which he noted that prime minister Paul Martin and his wife had found 24 Sussex to be "cold and drafty" and that the NCC wanted the Harpers to delay their move into the residence following the 2006 election. "Harper's response was that the Martins were a lot older than his family, and if it got cold, his family would wear sweaters," Mr. Carson wrote.

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