Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday February 6, 2018
Drop the politics and fix 24 Sussex Drive
Few things better symbolize the stupid, counterproductive, hyperpartisan atmosphere that pervades Canada’s federal political scene than the on-again, off-again debate over what to do with 24 Sussex Drive.
It’s not new. The tempest in a teapot over investing in the residence intended to house the leader of the country has been blowing hot and cold for years.
Everyone agrees, this mansion is a dump. It has asbestos. Heating and cooling systems are out of date. While no national leader wants to live there, swarms of mice do. It has literally been dubbed unfit for human habitation by architectural and safety experts. Most recent estimates suggest Sussex needs $10 million in renovations and upgrades. They could have been done for much less in years past, but because no one had the guts to make the commitment, the situation has gone from bad to worse.
And even in its current unoccupied state, it’s costing taxpayers money. Between November 2015 and March 2016, it cost $180,000 to keep it heated, lit up and clear of snow. The hydro bills alone for that five-month period weighed in at $38,881. And the National Capital Commission, in charge of the residence, has let something like $133,000 in contracts related to the house since 2016.
Why? Because no political leader wants to be seen as feathering his or her own nest by investing the necessary money to make Sussex safe and respectable. The opposition would have a field day, which they did when Brian Mulroney raised the prospect of improvements. Paul Martin had the same experience. Kim Campbell said she wouldn’t touch the subject with a pole.
Justin Trudeau is much the same. But he’s trying, to his credit, to get an independent overseer to take charge and make non-partisan decisions in the best interest of preserving the monument. Even that effort is politically risky. The NDP has agreed to not go all-partisan on the matter. The PCs did too, and then broke that pledge by insisting they want something from the government in return for approving the plan.
In the scheme of things, the fate of Sussex is a trifle. But think about what our inability to maintain and preserve the official residence says about Canada. Can you picture the Americans devolving into partisan sniping over ensuring The White House is maintained?
Sussex may not be especially historic. It was built as a lumber baron’s home in 1868, and didn’t start serving as the official residence until the early ’50s. But since then, a dozen or so prime ministers have lived there. It is, after all, the official residence for Canada’s top elected leader. It’s a piece of living, if not healthy at the moment, history.
If there is collective national will, and we would argue there is, all three parties should agree to allow the National Capital Commission to make the necessary investment. It’s time to put this small but telling embarrassment to bed once and for all. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)