>Beep beep beep beep beep<
It’s the sound of the excavator moving to knock flat the official residence of the prime minister, 24 Sussex Drive. Or at least, it should be.
You know, I used to run excavators. I’d be willing to do it for a very reasonable price. That would probably be on the only reasonable price one might get in the whole debacle.
A CBC story on July 22 noted that a National Capital Commission report of April 2018 said, “The building's replacement value at $38.46 million. At the same time, it determined the cost of maintaining the structure at nearly what it's worth: $34.53 million. That figure did not include necessary upgrades to security and grounds maintenance, nor repairs to the nearby pool building, which the NCC described as ‘rotting.’”
Now, that may be some bureaucrat’s report, but consider the opinions of people who lived there. The same story said, “Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin has argued 24 Sussex is a historical landmark that merits preservation. Kim Campbell, who was prime minister for four months in 1993, has suggested it be knocked down.
“So has former prime minister Joe Clark's wife, Maureen McTeer. She argued in 2015 the building lacks architectural value and should be bulldozed and replaced with a building that could show off Canada's best architects and designers.”
Current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lived there as a child, and when he got the top job, he decided to not move in this time around. They’re using the kitchen to cook his meals and deliver them across the road to Rideau Cottage, where he’s living. But nothing in the last four years has been done to rehabilitate 24 Sussex Drive. If that isn’t a metaphor for the current government’s actions, I don’t know what is.
Although that might be unfair to Trudeau. Stephen Harper lived in the drafty, asbestos-laden, poorly wired dump for 10 years, and refused to do anything significant to improve the place. Trudeau, Harper, and those before them all recognized that spending any money on their home, despite it belonging to the people of Canada, is incredibly toxic to their brand. Remember “gold-plated pensions?” Fixing up 24 Sussex would make that pale in comparison.
The reality is that nations have official residences for a reason. It’s not about the occupant. It’s about the office, representing the nation as a whole. There’s always a London Bobby standing beside the door of 10 Downing Street. The White House is the very symbol of Washington, and to a greater extent, America. In Paris, it’s Élysée Palace.
It’s not just a place to lay your head, at least for these other nations. It’s the office of the executive. In Canada, we do things a little differently, in that the Prime Minister’s Office, located in the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council Building (formerly the Langevin Block), is where he does most of his work. Maybe that’s more of a function of our parliamentary rather than presidential system, with an office close to the Commons.
But it doesn’t mean that his home isn’t that important.
One thing we, as Canadians, seem to forget is that a nation’s leader needs access to secure communications at all times. We might not have intercontinental ballistic missiles to fire back at the bad guys, but we are a G7 nation, a member of NATO and NORAD. Yet 24 Sussex’s wiring is so bad, who knows if plugging in a few more iPad chargers will blow a fuse?
We also living in an era of terror attacks in major capitals, not the least of which was a lone wolf gunman who made it right into the centre of Parliament before he was shot, just on the other side of the door of the Conservative and Liberal caucuses while they were meeting. Security is a paramount concern for the official residence. It may be thee paramount concern today.
It is time to start fresh. Why can’t we, as a nation, build something new for once? Something that reflects not the 19th century, but the 21st? A modern building that is not stuck in the past, but reflects the greatest architecture we can build today? Maybe it’ll have a roof made of solar panels (which I would advise against, because it’s doubtful they’ll be good for the next 100 years). Maybe it’ll be a showcase of energy efficiency and building design? Future proof it, with conduits for new and future technologies.
Whatever you do, if you’re going to spend $40 million, and likely much more, at least get something new for that money.
There’s been a subgenre of movies about attacks on the White House – White House Downand Olympus has Fallen.
Canada doesn’t need to spend much to make its own contribution to the genre. 24 Sussex Has Fallen Down is going to be real life in short order. Get the movie cameras ready.
Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.