• By: Dan Donovan

Report Says National Capital Commission Recklessly Squanders Taxpayer’s Dollars

Behind Closed Doors: Unraveling the Truth of Canada’s Official Residences

A saga of financial incompetence, lavishness, squand, excess and contradiction by the National Capital Commission (NCC) has come to light as the nation’s official residences come under scrutiny. The NCC narrative of “underfunding” for these residences has been cast aside to reveal a dazzling spectacle of opulence and neglect. 

An investigation by Ryan Thorpe for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has put a spotlight on this complex tale, debunking the myth that the official residences are victims of fiscal scarcity. The NCC, guardian of these prestigious abodes, has been exposed for its ineptitude and wielding taxpayers’ money with a flagrant disregard for prudence at a time when millions of Canadians are struggling to pay their home mortgages, energy bills, and even put food on the table for their families. 

Investigative journalist Ryan Thorpe used the Access to Information Act and other sources to scrutinize the staggering sum the NCC has spent on the maintenance and renovation of the official residences since 2006, and the results are jaw-dropping for their excess. “A breathtaking $135 million” was how Franco Terrazzan, the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), described the findings, saying, “It’s a myth that official residences are falling apart because politicians are too thrifty,” adding, “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.” Terrazzan put the blame firmly on the National Capital Commission, saying, “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.”

In a press release attached to the report, the CTF noted that last week, a Toronto Star headline falsely claimed that prime ministers were shamed over “even a red cent” spent on maintenance, while a Globe and Mail’s guest column lamented Canada’s complacency in “embracing the lavish.” The truth, according to the data uncovered by Thorpe, is the complete opposite of headlines suggesting the government is being meagre when it comes to the official residences, and instead, it is a tale of lavish grandiosity and misguided extravagance.

Thorpe noted that within the hallowed halls of the NCC, official residences are attended to with lavish pomp. The NCC’s stewardship extends to prime ministers, governors-general, opposition leaders, speakers of the house, and international dignitaries. He showed that recent annual reports unravel a spree of excess – $11 million in “major capital projects” for 2020-21, followed by $5.6 million in 2021-22. Yet, this binge is no isolated incident but a well-practised ritual spanning fifteen years.

Thorpe’s dive into NCC records exposes a trail of monumental expenses. Between 2006 and 2022, renovations siphoned a staggering $81.5 million while maintenance devoured $36.9 million, averaging an extravagant $8.5 million annually. Despite this opulent spending, the NCC has perversely bemoaned what they have described as decades of underfunding and a lack of timely investment in the official residences.

The findings come at a time when millions of young Canadians are dealing with such high interest rates that the once cherished dream of owning a home has all but disappeared under the crushing pressure of high interest rates and cost of living.

The CTF’s Terrazzano noted, “The NCC is so incompetent it could have bought a mansion every single year and still have money left over.” The report draws attention to the NCC’s insatiable appetite for spending taxpayers’ funds unchecked at an alarming rate.

In April 2018, the NCC sounded an urgent appeal for an additional $83 million to cater to “deferred maintenance” costs. A subsequent report in June 2021 revealed this number ballooned to a staggering $89 million. At a pace that hardly seems reasonable, the NCC plunged another $26 million into renovations between 2017 and 2021, yet paradoxically claimed deferred maintenance costs had only grown by $6 million.

The NCC’s fiscal irresponsibility has not been confined to grand gestures. Access-to-information records reviewed by Thorpe provided insights into annual “upkeep” and utility costs from 2018 to 2023. An eye-watering $2 million per year was dedicated to ‘maintenance.’ At Rideau Hall, the governor-general’s abode, tent rentals with chandeliers fetched $9,900, and mahogany doors incurred a cost of $4,800. Sprawling renovations of the “Rose Garden fountain” racked up over $30,000.

Quirkier expenditures abound. $140,000 squandered on a staircase never built and $117,000 for a series of doors and a gate to heighten privacy near the governor-general’s office – all attest to a regime of profligate, careless, and wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money by the NCC.

Even the prime minister’s rural retreat, Harrington Lake, is not exempt. A backup cottage devoured $2.5 million, and a renovated kitchen guzzled $735,000. Ancillary purchases included appliances, coolers, a boat rack, and even a golf cart. This extravaganza was summed up by the NCC as “severe underfunding.”

As the NCC’s hunger for funds swells, it is now demanding  $175 million for grand renovations and a further $26.1 million annually for maintenance, with a staggering $36 million earmarked for the beleaguered 24 Sussex Dr., the prime minister’s official residence.

Marc Denhez, president of the non-profit Historic Ottawa Development Inc., 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. 

Thorpe’s investigation underscores the undeniable fact — the story of penny-pinching at Canada’s official residences is nothing but a mirage. The real story is the grand orgy of financial impropriety and excess by the NCC Board and staff who exist in rarefied air courtesy of the taxpayers of Canada. Their motto should be, “Let them eat cake.”

More than anything, this investigative report shows the need to disband the NCC. A new entity with clear objectives and financial discipline should be established to adjudicate issues in the national capital region.

“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.” 

Note: The most recent annual report states that an additional $16.7 million was spent on “major capital projects” in 2020 and 2021, bringing the total investment since 2006 to $135 million.