Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant says she has "legitimate concerns" about a "leaked" plan to demolish 24 Sussex Drive, the official residence of the Prime Minister of Canada, and replace it with what she describes as a "palace."
The MP for Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke made the startling claim about the potential gentrification of Sussex Drive in a column on electoral reform published in the Pembroke Daily Observer this week.
In the middle of explaining why she thinks the "current electoral system has served Canada well," Gallant told constituents about a plan to "tear down" the prime minister's house and replace it with a $150 million presidential-style "palace":
"There are legitimate concerns about the secretive role american political advertisers played in electing the Trudeau Liberals. That, and the leaked discussions shortly after the election to tear down the Prime Minister's taxpayer-subsidized residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa to be replaced by a home that could only be called a palace. Dubbed 'White House North' by the media, with an initial cost estimate by the National Capital Commission (NCC) at $150 million, the quick denials were political spin at its best."
But how legitimate are Gallant's concerns?
Those "leaked discussions" appear to refer to a Huffington Post Canada report one week after the election on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to vacate 24 Sussex to allow for renovations of the "crumbling" heritage building.
The report does indeed allude to a "$150 million proposal" to rebuild 24 Sussex as a "working residence, similar to the White House," including "offices for the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and the Privy Council Office (PCO) staff."
However, the report mentions that in the context of a range of options "between $10 million and $150 million" the NCC previously brainstormed about the future of the prime minister's official residence.
.@BarrieFriel Range of options. $10M to $150M. $10M is minum they think to fix what NCC deems essentials. $150M to rebuild big new thing.— Althia Raj (@althiaraj) October 26, 2015
In December, Mark Kristmanson, head of the NCC, explicitly denied there are any serious plans to rebuild 24 Sussex as "a massive new complex of some kind."
As the Ottawa Citizen reported:
"Though the Huffington Post reported that the NCC had developed a proposal for a $150-million working residence, with offices for staff from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office, Kristmanson said he knew of no such plan. 'I’m not aware that we’re working on a massive new complex of some kind'."
Former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal told the Citizen he's never specifically heard of a "White House North" plan either, but did recall past discussions, including during Stephen Harper's time as prime minister, to build a working residence for the prime minister and PMO staff, but the idea "never went anywhere":
"Segal said there was some discussion — including during Stephen Harper’s time as prime minister — about transforming the National Research Council’s headquarters at 100 Sussex Dr. into a combination official residence and office for the prime minister's staff.
But the idea never went anywhere largely because that sort of arrangement was seen as too presidential, he said."
Gallant did not respond to a request from PressProgress to elaborate on her concerns about the "palace."