How the PM's residence became a nightmare at 24 Sussex - 2015-11-21
Given the tortuous history of 24 Sussex Dr., there's delicious irony in the fact that Margaret Trudeau—whose disdain for the country's most famous address is legend—was the one to announce that her eldest son was not moving his family into the Prime Minister's official residence. A "large, cold, grey mansion," is how the former wife of prime minister Pierre Trudeau described the place in her 1979 memoir, Beyond Reason, which chronicled the claustrophobia of life in the heavily guarded 34-room house. She was more caustic this summer, calling it the "crown jewel of the federal penitentiary system" on The Residences: Inside 24 Sussex—Home of Canada's Prime Minister, an upbeat documentary hosted by Catherine Clark, daughter of former prime minister Joe Clark.
It's a good line, if overly generous. For if Canadian prison inmates were expected to live in a firetrap with no fire-suppression system, next to asbestos, radon gas and mould, human rights groups would protest, and rightly so. Yet for years, it's been no secret that the home of 10 prime ministers was not merely deficient but dangerous, a property standard insurance companies would not typically cover. Maureen McTeer, Joe Clark's wife, spoke of electrical circuits overloading. Paul Martin's wife, Sheila, reported severe drafts in winter. That complaint, and word of similar problems in the Chrétien years, inspired political satirist Rick Mercer to film a segment in 2005, in which he goes to Canadian Tire with prime minister Paul Martin to buy plastic window insulation.
The house's decrepitude became public in 2008, when then-auditor general Sheila Fraser announced that renovations to the heritage-designated building, a federal government-owned property managed by the National Capital Commission (NCC), were urgently required to repair cracked windows, 50-year-old knob-and-tube wiring, deficient plumbing, a leaky roof, old window air conditioners, a lack of universal disabled access, and "not functional" laundries. The work, estimated to cost $10 million, required the "residents," as the NCC calls them, to move out for at least 18 months, something then-prime minister Stephen Harper refused to do. The state of the house now is unknown. Photographs of the Harpers' moving boxes labelled with mould warnings do not bode well.