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The Canadian prime minister's official residence, 24 Sussex, seen from the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa Oct. 26, 2015.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The residence at 24 Sussex Drive is where more of this country’s history has been plotted than any other, where decisions ruinous and wonderful took shape, where the world’s high and mighty have hobnobbed.

But that it is one of Canada’s most famous landmarks doesn’t seem to matter. It’s been vacant for eight years now, just sort of left to die because politicians are afraid that if they spend taxpayer money to refurbish it, Canadians will be up in arms, calling them all sorts of terrible things.

The home, built in 1866, has been the residence of prime ministers since 1951, when Louis St. Laurent moved in. In recent decades, successive prime ministers let it fall into disrepair. When Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015, it was deemed uninhabitable and so he has been living in Rideau Cottage, a residence next door to the Governor-General’s mansion. Like previous PMs, he hasn’t put up public money to fix it out of fear it would be a gift to political opponents.

But such fears are becoming irrational, especially now that there’s a plan to rebuild that would take partisanship out of the equation.

Former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper have volunteered to lead a campaign to raise the money to do a restoration of the building. They would do so with donations from individuals and businesses who want the embarrassment to end. There would be limits on contributions so no one could claim credit as a prime driver.

They would do the work for $1, with the goal of having the renovation completed within two to three years.

How could anyone object to that? Two giants of the Liberal and Conservative parties joining hands to preserve a prime piece of our heritage. In this era of knee-jerk partisanship, what a fine example of non-partisanship it would be.

But object they did. Mr. Chrétien took the proposal to the Prime Minister’s Office a few weeks ago. At first the response was enthusiastic. But a few days later, the answer came back that it was a no-go. No explanation was given.

That’s where it stands now. But that’s where it shouldn’t be allowed to stand. Every effort should be made to get the project back on the rails.

The National Capital Commission, which has jurisdiction over the residence, would likely welcome the Chrétien-Harper initiative. It has considered options, such as a completely new residence on the current site. Alternatively, it has put forward a restoration plan for the edifice for an exorbitant $37-million. As expected, that Taj-Mahal-like tab got a chilly reception. For that amount, you could build three new residences.

But Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Harper would get the job done for half that amount, says Bob Plamondon, a former NCC board member who recently toured the site with Mr. Chrétien and NCC head Tobi Nussbaum. The insides of the building have been gutted, stripped of asbestos, mould and rodents. But the exterior can be maintained.

Former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps, who was the one who got the ball rolling on a multiparty initiative for a restoration, says political sensitivities still appear to be the roadblock for moving ahead.

Those sensitivities likely stem from the controversy over the national housing shortage. A refurbished new home for the PM wouldn’t be a good look. But if private donations as opposed to taxpayer dollars constitute the funding, what’s the problem?

Ms. Copps first approached former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, who drafted a letter to be co-signed with other leaders. He passed away earlier this year, as did former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who would have pitched in. But Ms. Copps’ old boss Mr. Chrétien, now 90, was keen and came up with a plan to raise the money, and got Mr. Harper to join the initiative.

As Ms. Copps says, there still could be concerns about where the donations come from and whether the donors expect anything in return. But Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Harper have reputations for fiscal probity, and would alleviate that concern.

As for the opposition Conservatives, it’s hard to imagine Pierre Poilievre having any hissy fits when his mentor, Stephen Harper, would be jointly running the project.

The way public opinion is trending, Mr. Poilievre has a very good chance of being the next occupant of the prime ministerial residence. He would no doubt prefer a renovated 24 Sussex to the cottage.

He and Mr. Trudeau can’t agree on much. But surely they can agree on the plan from the former prime ministers to stop the mothballing of one of our most storied landmarks.

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