The issue of official residences is back in the news. The folks in Official Ottawa Justin Trudeau’s people, were caught
lying, again being “economical with the truth.”
Let’s be clear: Canada is a G7 country, by almost every sensible measure we are one of the world’s “top ten” in almost everything. Our elected leader, even the stumbling, bumbling, inept, intellectual featherweight we have today, is a “somebody” and deserves official residence which (s)he and her/his family can use for both living and official purposes, including entertaining other leaders. We don’t need a Buckingham Palace or a White House. In fact, we have an equivalent …
… Rideau Hall is the modestly palatial home of our de facto head of state, the Governor-General.
But we have both a head-of-state, the GG, and a head-of-government, the prime minister. Our American neighbours combine the two offices into one … maybe it’s a wee, tiny bit more economical, I’m not convinced it’s constitutionally as sound as our system. Neither, by the way, do democracies, all around the world, like Australia, Germany, India and Japan who all have separate heads-of-state (emperors, presidents and governors-general) and heads-of-government.
Other countries provide their heads-of-government with official residences, too. Sometimes, as with 10 Downing Street, the residence and the PMO and cabinet office are all in the same building. We have in the Blackburn Building (which used to be the Langevin Block until we got politically correct), right across from Parliament Hil for the PMO and PCO. But, trust me, while the cabinet room is in Number 10 and while the British PM’s Permanent Secretary (equivalent to our Clerk of the Privy Council) has a small office in 10 Downing Street, most of the work is done in large buildings in Whitehall.
The official residence of the prime minister of Canada is a somewhat ramshackle old mansion at 24 Sussex Drive built in the 1860s by an Ottawa lumber baron and originally named Gorffwysfa (which I am certain is Welsh or, maybe, Gaelic for something or other). Many prime ministers, including Louis St Laurent, it’s first official tenant, have disliked the old place. Everyone seems to agree that it needs an awful lot of (almost certainly very expensive) work to make it suitable to be the official residence of the head-of-government of one of the world’s top-ten nations. The sad states of repair of 24 Sussex Drive and the “cottages” at Harrington Lake are not Justin Trudeau’s fault. Generations of Canadian prime ministers have lacked the political coverage to say “fix them up … properly.” And it’s hard to blame them, a large and loud minority of Canadians hate the idea of looking after political leaders they don’t like. One large, loud group didn’t want 24 Sussex repaired when Stephen Harper lived there, they would have preferred that he lived in a barn; now another equally large and equally nasty group doesn’t want it repaired just because the guy who defeated Stephen Harper would live there now … if the roof didn’t leak.
Decent housing for prime ministers is not uncommon. Prime Minister Modi live at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg in New Dehli, a complex of five elegant bungalows on 12 aces of land …
… and Australia’s prime minister lives in The Lodge, in Canberra, a Georgian Revival home built in the 1920s …
… the Australian prime minister also has a secondary residence in a nice suburb of Sydney. Other heads-of-government, including the US president and the UK prime. minister have secondary residences like Camp David and Chequers, which can be considered as being akin to Harington Lake.
So, point one: despite the moaning and groaning from a large minority of Canadians, there is nothing at all wrong with having official residences for the prime minister (and for the leader of the opposition and for the Speaker of the House of Commons, too).
Point two: those residences are public property and should be properly and regularly maintained to a good standard.
Point three: that costs money. We all know that; many of us maintain our own homes; we know that the structure and the plumbing and the electrical system all need regular maintenance … especially in an older home.
We need to grow up, as a nation and take a wee bit of pride in providing our elected head-of-government with decent, appropriate official residences which are maintained, at public expense, in good condition. It’s not about Stephen Harper or Justin Trudeau and whether some of us think that one or the other or both should have been elected. It’s about the public, official ‘face’ of Canada, and it’s about simple good fiscal management.