REGINA— Those who believe Canada’s official residences are crumbling due to a lack of funding may have missed something: the numbers.
The National Capital Commission spent $135 million renovating and maintaining the official residences from 2006 to 2022, according to a Canadian Taxpayers Federation analysis of official reports.
“It’s a myth that official residences are falling apart because politicians are too thrifty,” said Franco Terrazzano, CTF Federal Director. “From luxury limos to extravagant hotel suites, the feds haven’t met a single thing it isn’t willing to spend big on and the official residences are no different.
“Here’s the real problem: the agency in charge is too incompetent to take care of these properties despite blowing millions on them each and every year.”
Yet, somehow, the myth persists that there’s a lack of funding for Canada’s official residences.
The Toronto Star reports prime ministers are shamed if “even a red cent” is spent on upkeep and a guest column in the Globe and Mail claims Canada is “too complacent (and cheap) to have nice things.” Countless other reports express similar sentiments.
The NCC manages the mansions for the prime minister (an official residence and a cottage estate), the governor general, the leader of the opposition, the speaker of the house and visiting foreign officials.
The government spent $11 million on “major capital projects” at the official residences in 2020-21, according to its latest annual report. It spent $5.6 million in 2021-22.
And that’s not the exception, it’s the rule going back a decade-and-a-half.
According to NCC records, the government spent $36.9 million on maintenance and $81.5 million on renovations from 2006 to 2022. That’s $135 million or about $8.5 million per year.
To put that in perspective, every year the government could buy this “palatial mansion” on the banks of the Rideau Canal, described as “Ottawa’s most opulent home,” and still have about a million bucks left over.
Despite this, the NCC rarely misses an opportunity to complain of “decades of underfunding” or the “lack of timely investment” into Canada’s official residences.
“The NCC is so incompetent it could have bought a mansion every single year and still have money left over,” Terrazzano said. “There’s no way the NCC should be begging struggling taxpayers to fork over more money so it can pretend to host some kind of extravagant real-estate show on Netflix.”
The NCC’s appetite for spending is growing fast.
In its April 2018 report on the state of the official residences, the agency said it needed an additional $83 million – over and above what was already spent – for “deferred maintenance” costs.
In its June 2021 report – which updated the prior report’s findings – the NCC said the cost of “deferred maintenance” had grown to $89 million.
That’s an average of nearly $15 million per official residence.
But between 2017 and 2021 – roughly the time between the two reports – the NCC dumped another $26 million into renovations.
Nevertheless, the NCC claimed deferred maintenance costs grew by $6 million.
But it isn’t just big-ticket items that ballooned costs in recent years, smaller purchases have, too.
The CTF obtained access-to-information records for “upkeep” and utility costs at the official residences from 2018 to 2023. The records indicate annual upkeep costs of about $2 million across the properties.
At Rideau Hall, home to Canada’s governor general, $9,900 was spent renting a tent with a chandelier, $4,800 went towards a set of mahogany doors and more than $30,000 was dropped on multiple renovations of the “Rose Garden fountain.”
The NCC also spent $140,000 studying and designing a private staircase at Rideau Hall that never got built. It spent another $117,000 for the installation of a series of doors and a gate near the governor general’s office to enhance privacy.
At Harrington Lake, the prime minister’s country estate, the NCC spent $2.5 million on a back-up cottage, while it spent another $735,000 renovating the kitchen in the main residence. Smaller purchases included new appliances ($30,000), wine and beverage coolers ($3,500), a boat rack ($8,500) and a golf cart ($5,000).
In its latest report on the state of Canada’s official residences, the NCC characterized all of this as “severe underfunding.”
As a result, the NCC wants $175 million for major renovations and another $26.1 million every year for ongoing maintenance. About $36 million would be earmarked for the prime minister’s official residence, 24 Sussex Dr.
The Historic Ottawa Development Inc. is a non-profit group of architects, conservationists and project managers. Its president is Marc Denhez, who used to serve on the NCC’s official residences advisory committee.
Denhez recently told CBC that when it comes to 24 Sussex, he believes “reports of the home’s state of decay have been exaggerated and the [NCC’s] suggested price tag to fix it is out of step with industry norms.”
“It can be done for a lot less money if you know how to kick the tires,” Denhez said.
“If entrusting the NCC with $135 million wasn’t enough to manage six residences, what will giving those same bureaucrats another $175 million accomplish?” Terrazzano said. “The problem isn’t that politicians are being stingy with our money, the problem is the NCC is too good at wasting our money, but bad at managing properties.”
The data shows the oft-repeated story of Canada being too cheap to properly fund its official residences is a myth. But here’s the thing: you don’t even have to crunch the numbers to realize that. All you have to do is ask yourself a simple question.
When’s the last time you heard of a politician in Ottawa refusing to spend taxpayers’ money?
Spending on Canada’s official residences, 2006-07 to 2019-20 (may be slightly off due to rounding).
• Governor general’s residence (Rideau Hall): maintenance - $27M, renovations - $65.3M; total $92.3M;
• Prime minister’s residence (24 Sussex); maintenance: $3.3M, renovations - $6M; total $9.3M;
• Prime minister’s cottage (Huntington Lake): maintenance - $2.6M, renovations - $6.9M; total $9.6M.
• Opposition leader’s residence (Stornoway): maintenance - $1.8M, renovations - $1M; total $2,8M;
• The speaker’s residence (The Farm): maintenance - $1.8M, renovations - $65.3M; total $92.3M;
• Official guest house (7 Rideau Gate): maintenance - $939K, renovations - $1.43M; total $2.4.
• The latest annual report shows the NCC spent an addition $16.7 million on “major capital projects” in 2020 and 2021, bringing total investment since 2006 up to $135 million.
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