The prime minister’s official residence, 24 Sussex Drive, is to be cleared out and closed because of the declining state of the decades-old property, the commission that manages official residences in the Ottawa region says.
Until Justin Trudeau became prime minister in 2015, the property had been the residence of prime ministers since 1951. However, Mr. Trudeau and his family have lived at a cottage on the nearby grounds of Rideau Hall, where the governor-general is based, over concerns with the Sussex Drive residence.
In announcing its plans on Thursday, the National Capital Commission said it is moving employees from the property and closing the 2.15-hectare site because of its decrepit condition.
That is supposed to allow for access to plan for the clearance of substances such as asbestos, and remove obsolete mechanical, heating and electrical systems. The NCC said in a statement that procurement for the project will occur over the winter to ensure the work begins in spring 2023.
However, the NCC was not explicit about what’s going to happen to the property once it’s emptied out.
“The current project is only meant to carry out the work that must be addressed regardless of the decision taken on the future of the residence,” Valérie Dufour, senior NCC manager of strategic communications, said in a statement.
“In doing so, it will address the health and safety and asset integrity concerns identified by the NCC. The site will remain closed until a government decision is made on a permanent solution for the future of the Prime Minister’s residence.”
The NCC cited continuous aging, and “worsening materials and systems,” to explain why significant actions must be taken to mitigate potential fire hazards, water damage and air quality issues.
In January, Mr. Trudeau said 24 Sussex Dr., where he lived as a child when his father Pierre was prime minister, was in “terrible condition” and he and his family did not plan to live there while he was in office.
“I have no intention of living in 24 Sussex regardless of how long my mandate or mandates may be as prime minister.”
He said the government was assessing its options regarding the property.
The residence at 24 Sussex Dr. was built in the 1860s by lumber baron Joseph Currier, and in 1949 the government decided to adapt the house as a residence for the prime minister. The first prime ministerial occupant was Louis St-Laurent in 1951.
But the property has fallen into a state of serious disrepair. The NCC has said it would cost at least $36.6-million to restore 24 Sussex Dr.
According to a 2021 NCC report on the official residences of Canada, 24 Sussex Drive has not seen significant investment in more than 60 years. “It requires extensive and urgent repair. All buildings on the site require major interventions and recapitalization,” the report said.
“The building systems at 24 Sussex Drive have reached the point of imminent or actual failure and require replacement.” The report noted the age and condition of the electrical systems pose a fire hazard, plumbing systems “have failures on a regular basis,” and the possibility of repairs or upgrades are complicated by the presence of asbestos, lead and mould throughout many interior finishes.
“The building has no permanent air conditioning system; window air conditioners are run in every room in the summer, which poses a security risk and is disruptive and costly,” said the report.
Also, the report said, the RCMP has recommended a number of “significant security upgrades” because the “threat environment has changed drastically” since the last major renovation in 1951.
The NCC manages six official residences in the Ottawa region. They include Stornoway, home to the leader of the Official Opposition, as well as Harrington Lake, which is the country residence made available to the prime minister, Rideau Hall, 7 Rideau Gate, a home for guests of the government, and the home of the House of Commons speaker.
In calling for action on issues at the various properties, the report said, “Based on current practices, it would only be a matter of time before certain assets reach the same level of disrepair as 24 Sussex Drive.”