A few days ago, I said, “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 … [and I suggested that] … 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.“
A few days later, in the Globe and Mail, Robyn Urback took up the cudgels, and she said, “When the wrong political party is in charge, it is outrageous how much the government spends on indulgences and perks for the executive branch. Limos, luxury hotels, personal photographers and stylists – they’re all too much when the prime minister is wearing the wrong-coloured tie. Yet these frivolous wastes of taxpayer dollars somehow morph into necessary government expenditures when parties switch places. Indeed, it’s funny how suddenly perspective changes and memories fade as soon as a party is seated to the Speaker’s right … [and] … The Progressive Conservatives under Brian Mulroney spent $56-million in 1992 for a “flying Taj Mahal,” as then-opposition leader Jean Chrétien called his upgrade of Can Force One, along with lavish renovations of the prime minister’s official residence at 24 Sussex Dr. and the country residence Harrington Lake, which became known as “Gucci-gate.” A more recent Conservative government was attacked for doling out taxpayer dollars for former prime minister Stephen Harper to bring his makeup artist along on international jaunts … [but] … This same Conservative party was aghast that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hired two nannies for his children on the taxpayers’ dime, and that Canadians had been billed $215,000 for the Trudeau family to vacation on the private island of the Aga Khan. The Liberals, having recovered from the trauma of learning of Mr. Harper’s stylist, defended the necessity of Mr. Trudeau’s taxpayer-funded expenditures … [and, now] … It is against this backdrop of cheap, hypocritical political shots that the issue of appropriate comforts for those in political service has morphed into something truly unseemly. It should be a non-partisan view that political service demands extraordinary dedication and personal sacrifice, and so small comforts – even perks – should be included with the job. Instead, it’s a see-saw of partisan bickering and shifting standards, where no one wants to be seen as overindulging, so they spend on themselves in ways that can’t be easily noticed from the sidewalk (which might explain the enduring neglect of the asbestos-filled 24 Sussex Dr.).“
Bingo! Both main parties (and the BQ, Greens and NDP) are beyond being simply hypocritical; they are a disgrace as they pretend to be outraged by relatively normal public expenditures.
But, she writes, things are just a wee bit different this time. “The quiet upgrades to the prime minister’s Harrington Lake retreat would seem,” she says to fall into the category of necessary maintenance, but she explains that: “As reported by The Globe and Mail’s Robert Fife and Steven Chase, restoration of the 16-room main cottage had been under way for $6.1-million, along with the construction of a $2.5-million rebuilt guest cottage, which was previously located across a main road … [then] … Bizarrely, a spokesman for the arm’s-length National Capital Commission (NCC) denied the construction of what is effectively a new, bigger building through the relocation of the “Caretaker’s House,” although he eventually conceded that, yes, the structure is a new, expanded residence with integrated heritage components.”
She remains us that “Weeks ago, prior to confirmation from the NCC, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre tweeted satellite images of the apparent before and after at Harrington Lake, asking, “Did Justin Trudeau secretly build himself a brand new lakeside mansion at Harrington Lake with our money?” Mr. Poilievre was resoundingly mocked for conspiracy theorizing, including from fellow MPs such as Liberal Adam Vaughan – yet Mr. Poilievre was indeed right (although he conspicuously did not mention the role of the NCC in these decisions, and glazed over the fact that the “lakeside mansion” isn’t exactly Mr. Trudeau’s to keep). And while the information on the new build was not entirely secret, it did require parsing, particularly after the NCC’s denial.“
That’s the only real problem with the “mansion” at Harrington Lake: the Trudeau regime lied. It tried to keep it a secret. because they know that the Conservatives will fake outrage and they also know that a large minority of Canadians will actually be outraged a the notion of politicians being treated as human beings.
“If the political ecosystem in Canada was one in which we could have measured, grown-up conversations about reasonable accommodations for leaders,” Ms Urback says, and I agree, fully, then “perhaps the partisan bickering could make way for something of a middle ground. That is, perhaps we could settle upon a shared understanding that, no, the prime minister and his family should not live in an asbestos-filled official residence. That ministers who spend an inordinate amount of time in the air should not have to fly budget airlines. That we want our prime minister focused on international diplomacy abroad – not whether he packed the right suit or proper hair products. And that, of course, we should not let Harrington Lake fall into disrepair.“
Now, I am more partisan than most Canadains. I detest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau almost as much as I detest almost everything his father did to this country. But I hope that my partisanship is reasoned and contained because Ms Urback has it exactly right. We, Canadians (but Americans, too, for sure) have let partisanship run amok. We let our personal distaste for Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer and whoever else overrule our sense of propriety. I am dismayed at Prime Minister Trudeau’s almost unbearable fluffiness, but I accept that he is our elected leader and that he represents Canada to the political world … even if I wish he didn’t. I sincerely hope that we will soon see then end of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but, until we do, let us, please, ensure that he and his family have (temporary) use of appropriate accommodation and facilities to conduct the high office we have entrusted to him.
In the meantime, I remain highly, vigorously partisan … as you will see if you come back tomorrow.