Margaret Trudeau, who once described herself as the chatelaine of 24 Sussex Dr., says the Prime Minister's official residence needs a reno before her prime minister-designate son and his family move in.
The condition of the large grey mansion overlooking the Ottawa River has long been a source of political headaches for incoming prime ministers. The 147-year-old structure is forever in need of expensive repairs, and it appears that at least some will be made before the Trudeaus take up residence.
The National Capital Commission, which is responsible for the building's maintenance, provided a cryptic statement Friday. "The National Capital Commission's Official Residences division is ensuring that the Prime Minister-designate and his family will be accommodated in a comfortable and appropriate setting while details regarding the 24 Sussex Drive residence are finalized," said NCC spokesperson Jean Wolff.
As Mr. Trudeau prepares to become prime minister when the new cabinet is sworn in on Nov. 4, his spokesperson Dan Lauzon confirmed that the state of 24 Sussex is one of the many topics on his agenda. "We're in the process of being briefed and will make a decision shortly," Mr. Lauzon said in an e-mail.
But in a radio interview Friday, Margaret Trudeau indicated that Justin, his wife Sophie and their three young children may not be moving in right away.
"No, they're not," she said. "Twenty-four Sussex is in need – has been in need since I was there 40 years ago – of major infrastructure repair, and it simply hasn't been done," she told CBC Fredericton's Information Morning in an interview recorded Friday that will not be broadcast until Monday. Quotes from the interview were reported on the CBC website. "They'll live somewhere else while – not decor, not fancy stuff – just plumbing and roofs and all the things that keep a house standing [are repaired]."
The Ottawa Citizen reported later Friday that Ms. Trudeau was less precise than in the CBC interview as to what her son's family is planning. "I don't know which residence they are going into," she told the Citizen.
The needed repairs aren't cosmetic. The Auditor-General has said major work is required to remove asbestos and upgrade the ventilation, plumbing and electrical systems to the residence, which was previously owned by a lumber baron and acquired by the government in 1949. In 1951, Louis St. Laurent became the first prime minister to live there.
But no prime minister in Canadian history has had a more personal connection to the official residence than Justin Trudeau. It was his first home. He was born on Christmas Day, 1971, nine months after his mother Margaret, then 22, married his father, prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who was 52.
Pierre Trudeau was the prime minister of Canada from April, 1968, until June, 1979, and then again from March, 1980, until June, 1984. Pierre and Margaret divorced in 1984.
Margaret has long held strong views on the residence. In her 1979 autobiography Beyond Reason, she said the home had one of the best views in Ottawa, but needed work.
"From the day I first set eyes on the house, long before I married Pierre, I had an overwhelming itch to get at it, tear down its sombre decorations. It was hideous, it was shabby and it didn't begin to reflect our taste. There was nothing to be proud of in this dim, gloomy establishment," she wrote. "Quite simply, I hated it."
The Trudeaus used a planned 1973 visit by the Queen as an excuse to update the residence, but expenses occasionally became fodder for the opposition in the House of Commons. A pool was installed two years later at a cost of $200,000, mostly paid for by private donors.
Prime minister 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, would dog the Mulroney family for years.
Mr. Mulroney had said at the time that officials recommended much more extensive renovations, but that he decided to keep any upgrades to an absolute minimum.
A 2008 auditor-general's report found that parts of 24 Sussex were in "poor to critical" condition. The report said the electrical system was about 50 years old and operating at maximum capacity, and that the plumbing system was deficient. It recommended housing the prime minister's family in a secure temporary residence while the work could be completed.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected that recommendation. 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 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 in 14 Days, published in 2014.
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe criticized Mr. Harper's decision as "misplaced puritanism" that would lead to more expensive problems down the road.
In a documentary interview with the Cable Public Affairs Channel that aired in June, Laureen Harper, the Prime Minister's wife, had nothing but good things to say about the residence. She said her two children and their friends enjoyed the home and there was a room on the third floor that has been used exclusively for foster pets such as kittens and guinea pigs.
"It's a wonderful house," she said. "I know it's a big old house, but it's very conducive to families."