Harrington Lake, the official summer residence where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent Easter with his wife and children, has been undergoing $8.6 million in renovations.
The National Capital Commission released the new figures after CBC requested an update on repairs at the property near Chelsea, Que., 30 minutes north of Ottawa. The committed funding of $8.6 million comes after a 2018 report found the prime minister’s getaway needed $17 million of work done.
Until now, the NCC has not publicly stated that renovations were underway at the residence or revealed a price tag for the work.
Harrington Lake has been a place of controversy of late for Trudeau. The prime minister was questioned about his decision to join his family there on Sunday and Monday, despite public health officials in Quebec exhorting residents of neighbouring Ontario not to visit their country residences across the provincial border during the COVID-19 emergency.
When asked about the decision this week, Trudeau told reporters, “after three weeks of my family living up at Harrington and me working here [at Rideau Cottage], I went to join them for Easter.”
“We continue to follow all the instructions from public health authorities,” he added.
Retreat holds special memories for Trudeau
The NCC wasn’t able to give CBC a breakdown of the $8.6 million that’s been earmarked for the federal heritage buildings, but a source familiar with the renovations says the original renovation plans called for about $3 million to be spent on the main cottage to remove clapboard, insulation, replace windows and reinforce the foundation.
In an email, NCC spokesperson Jean Wolff said the main cottage is 95 years old, and the property hasn’t seen renovations in over a decade.
“Harrington Lake has not seen any investment since 2005 when the NCC made critical repairs to the roofing, eavestroughs, piping, electrical, mechanical and structural systems of the property,” Wolff said.
“Given the precarity of its condition, the property was deemed to be in critical condition in our 2018 report.”
The 5.4-hectare property includes four buildings: the main house, the staff cottage, the upper guest cottage and the lower guest cottage. A source familiar with the property believes the Trudeaus are not living in the main house, rather one of the cottages based on the pictures Sophie Gregoire Trudeau posted on Instagram.
The renovation work has been suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Astonished at condition
Harrington Lake holds childhood significance for Trudeau. In his memoir, Common Ground, Trudeau details the boyhood excursions he would embark on with his brothers and sometimes his dad, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
“At Harrington Lake, we spent at least four hours a day in some kind of outdoor activity whether it was hot or cold, dry or drenching. My dad had a great saying: ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes,'” Trudeau wrote.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said recently in Aaron Wherry’s 2019 book Promise and Peril that Trudeau goes to Harrington Lake “to get away and chill and not be judged when he’s chilling.”
A source familiar with plans to renovate the property said when Trudeau went back to his childhood haunt after he was elected prime minister in 2015, he was astonished that it had become bug-infested, rat-infested with a foundation that was sinking in spots leading to buckling floors.
CBC reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office, but a spokesperson for the PMO referred CBC’s questions to the NCC.
Trudeau’s primary residence is Rideau Cottage because the prime minister’s traditional home, 24 Sussex Drive, requires significant repairs. In 2017 the federal government planned on spending $2 million to improve security at the cottage.
NCC: Harrington Lake in critical state
A 2017 audit found the prime minister’s official residences – both 24 Sussex Drive and Harrington Lake – are in “critical” condition. The NCC, the crown corporation responsible for the federal government’s official residences, said it required a one-time injection of $83 million over 10 years to address maintenance issues that have been deferred for several years.
Wolff said the work at Harrington Lake is part of a broader program to preserve, maintain and restore all official residences under NCC management.
Documents obtained through an Access to Information request in 2018 showed that several upgrades had been made to the property since Trudeau came to office, including:
- A screened patio with umbrellas was bought for about $13,000.
- An old deck and floating dock were replaced for $12,000 each.
- New boat racks, at the cost of $8,500.
- A $5,000 golf cart was also acquired.
- A sauna and a playground structure, which Trudeau paid for himself, were added, but it cost the NCC $1,800 to install the play structure and $4,368 to do the sauna’s wiring.