Mike Holmes ponders if PM's asbestos-filled house should be a museum
Save it or scrap it?
That’s been the crux of the debate over 24 Sussex, the official residence of the prime minister, which currently sits empty. Asbestos has been found inside the 12,000 square-foot stone mansion, and the electrical system poses a fire hazard.
Renovating the historic homestead, built in 1868, would cost taxpayers $34.5 million, according to a new report. It’s even more expensive to tear down the home and rebuild it, estimated at $38 million.
But TV host and professional contractor Mike Holmes says a third option should be on the table: turn the house into a public institution.
“When it comes to this home, another question should be: Should it be a museum?” Holmes told CTV’s Question Period in an interview airing Sunday.
“Should we turn it back to history for all the prime ministers that were there, for the public to walk in and see it? Or should it be for the prime minister, and the next prime minister, and continue this cycle? That is a big question. I’m not sure what to do about that.”
No one has lived inside the Ottawa house since Stephen Harper moved out in 2015. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – who grew up in 24 Sussex when his father was prime minister -- currently lives across the street at Rideau Cottage, a four-bedroom home on the grounds of Rideau Hall.
When Stephen Harper lived in the home from 2006 to 2016, about $6 million was spent on capital improvements and $2.8 million on operations at the residence. The National Capital Commission has said that wasn’t enough to fix the property, which it described as in “critical condition.”
The government has not made any plans to rebuild 24 Sussex.
Holmes, who once put in a bid to renovate the house, estimates that it would take about two years to renovate. He says he could build a “simple house” of the same size for $5 million to $7 million, but that this project is “totally different.”
“One, there’s heritage. You have to respect the heritage. That stone that’s around the building – that’s limestone. Is that to be replaced? Is it to look the same? Are the windows to look the same?” he said.
“This is going to take so much of real professionals out there, and I’m talking old-school professionals, not young, just to bring it back to the way it used to be.”
The issue isn’t simply about a renovation. Any decision about the future of 24 Sussex inevitably carries political implications, Holmes said.
“Who wants to say we foot the bill? The last prime minister, this prime minister, the prime minister afterwards?”
But the fact that nothing has been done yet, Holmes said, is “an embarrassment.”
“It shouldn’t be about the prime minister, it should be about Canada. We should be doing this for our country, for the history, and for the future prime minister and even the existing prime minister right now.
Whatever happens, there’s no escaping one simple fact, Holmes said.
“This is going to cost a lot of money no matter how you look at it.”
With a report from CTV’s Question Period