Only in Canada could it be considered an extravagance to bring the wiring in your house up to code. But that is, of course, exactly the reaction in some quarters to the news that Justin Trudeau and his family will not immediately move into 24 Sussex Drive, so that the official residence of the prime minister can undergo much-needed maintenance.
The condition of 24 Sussex is laughably poor. It has not been renovated since the 1950s, when it was transformed from a lumber-baron mansion into the home of the PM. The wiring is dangerously out-of-date and overloaded. The plumbing needs upgrading. The air-conditioning is a joke, there is no sprinkler system in case of a fire, and there is still asbestos in the walls. Many of the interior walls will need to be opened in order to do the needed upgrades. The windows leak heat in winter and must be replaced, and the foundation is in poor condition.
All of these problems have been at a critical point since 2008, when the Auditor-General released a report on the state of the official residences owned and operated by the National Capital Commission. The AG said the needed repairs would cost $9.7-million and require 12 to 15 months to complete.
In reality, 24 Sussex Drive would never have fallen into such disrepair but for two related facts: it houses politicians, and politicians are rightly wary of being seen as spending public money on themselves. But that's just optics, and misinformed at that. The PM's residence does not belong to its always-temporary occupants, and its upkeep is never done on their personal behalf.
The building belongs to Canadians, and it is much more than a home. The prime minister and his or her family live in part of the 34-room mansion, but much of it is reserved for official functions, such as greeting foreign heads of state. To allow it to disintegrate sends the signal that the Canadian government isn't willing to invest in its heritage, and that it isn't stalwart enough to argue against the hammy parsimony of populist rhetoric.
No one is talking about turning the place into a crystal palace for the glory of the prime-minister-designate. Good for Mr. Trudeau for being willing to endure such nonsense so that the needed restoration can finally be done.