A half joking meme that was started online has us thinking. For those who don’t know, 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, is the Prime Minister’s Residence. 10 Downing Street, or the White House are very much the seat of power, being the residence of the head of government and set up very much as the seat of government. 24 Sussex is a residence, that once in a blue moon might host some foreign dignitary. Usually Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor-General, conveniently across the street, is used for official receptions, like when Queen Betty the Deuce comes to town, or the Lord High Bisboth of Absurdistan makes an official visit. Rideau Hall is set up for that kind of party, 24 Sussex is not really built for it.
The real work of the PM is done downtown in the Langevin Block, right across the street from Parliament, and is called the PMO: 24 Sussex is where the Prime Minister hangs his or her housecoat and where the offspring run rampant. With the impending installation of our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who played in the trees and rooms of 24 Sussex as a kid when his Dad, Pierre Trudeau, ran the country, there is discussion about the state of 24 Sussex.
The joint sits on 4 acres (1.6 hectares) of the most beautiful land in Ottawa, overlooking the Ottawa River. Next door is the French Embassy and across the street is Rideau Hall. A condo developer would sell his extended family into slavery in North Korea to get his (or her) mitts on this parcel of land. The view is incredible, but the house is a shit hole.
Originally opened in 1868, it was built for lumber baron and Member of Parliament J. M. Currier. In 1943 the Feds expropriated 24 Sussex, divesting the owner at the time, Gordon Evans, also a lumber baron and MP, of his ownership. The Feds wanted to own as much land as possible around Rideau Hall and along the shoreline of the Ottawa River as they could. Evans was eventually awarded $140,000, but got even by dying in the place in 1946. 24 Sussex sat dormant for a few years and since 1951, every Prime Minister since Louis St, Laurent (except Kim Campbell) has lived at 24 Sussex Drive during their mandate. Justin Trudeau has just announced he won’t be moving into 24 Sussex when he is sworn in next week. He’s going to put his toothbrush into Rideau Cottage on the grounds of Rideau Hall.
How much of a shit hole is 24 Sussex? The last time we were allowed to ask, there is no central air conditioning, the heat works often, the roof looks like it saw its’ best day 1995 and probably leaks, the rooms are chopped up and are decorated with all the skill of bureaucrats at the National Capitol Commission on acid. There is probably asbestos in the walls. The wiring may date from 1920, so when the PM turns on the bathroom lights, the doorbell rings and the RCMP radios stop working. Want WiFi? Take your Prime Ministerial Blackberry over to the French Embassy next door and see if you can get some bars. There are security cameras galore and probably a safe room since Jean Chretien’s wife found an intruder in 24 Sussex at some ungodly hour in 1995. Aline Chretien talked the guy down, while the PM, Jean Chretien, armed himself with a Innuit sculpture to brain the intruder, Andre Dallaire.
The Auditor General determined, in 2008 (that’s seven years ago, or in Government Time, before the Birth of Christ) that 24 Sussex needs about $10 million worth of work.
To which we reply thusly. Hell yeah! No, seriously, Hell YEAH! Take our share of the tax dollars and give our PM a residence that is appropriate to the office.
But we want to do it differently. The CBC and Home and Garden Television (HGTV) Canada have stables of very well-known renovation, restoration and decoration personalities that do very good work. Do a deal with the CBC and HGTV and tape the whole thing. First off, Mike Holmes (Holmes Inspection) could do a reality check on the joint, then his crew would gut it out to the door knobs. Steve Grimes up on the roof, ripping off shingles, Sherry Holmes punching a sledge hammer through some plaster and lath in the master ensuite, while Mike Jr. and Carl Pavlovic try to fit a steel beam into the basement to keep the floors up. Then Brian Baumler comes in to de-screw the room layouts while Frank Cozzolino re-wires the place. Outside, Paul Lafrance and his crew of saw jockeys rebuild the decks and common spaces. As the walls go up, Steven Sabados (of Steven and Chris on CBC) goes back into harness with a few historical mooks from the NCC to furnish and decorate the public and private spaces with taste and the right mix of modern with historically appropriate.
Now, how long could this go on? The Auditor General guesstimates that it would take a year. Sounds about right, but with the delays that television production causes, call it a year and a half. That could easily be six hour-long shows, with a near-100% Canadian content in products, services and personalities. You could even wedge in some historical background and teaching moments. Would it be a good reno? Considering the A-G figures it would cost $10 million to do it on the government dime, which is about twice what it would cost if it was private money, we’d get value for the money. The worst that could happen is the NCC will talk to “This Old House” and convince Kevin and The Boys to come up to Canada for a year. Which would be horrible from a national pride point of view, but fascinating to see Tom Silva fighting with a real poutine over at Ti-Gus’ in Gatineau.
Is this just messed up enough to work? You know, it might be.