The National Capital Commission spent over $8 million to replace a barn on the grounds of Rideau Hall with a “zero-carbon” storage building, according to records obtained by a taxpayer watchdog group.
The completed project is a two-level, partially heated storage and vehicle garage located on the site of a barn near the stables on the Governor General’s estate.
Final design of the project was approved in June 2019, with construction taking place between July 2020 and the end of 2021.
The building, dubbed “the Barn,” is the National Capital Commission (NCC)’s first certified “zero-carbon building.”
Franco Terrazzano, federal director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, pointed out that the NCC could have purchased 139 Winding Way — a palatial home on the banks of the Rideau River and billed as “Ottawa’s most opulent home” — and still have money left over.
“I don’t know much about farming, but I’m pretty sure my buddies in Brooks (Alta.) can build a barn for a lot less than eight million bucks,” the Alberta-born Terrazzano said.
“It seems like the NCC goes out of its way to spend as much money as possible.”
The decision to make the building “zero-carbon,” according to information published online by the NCC, was made as part of the commission’s goal to reduce its carbon footprint.
“The zero-carbon building design not only surpasses building code standards, but the fact that the standard requires the building to have on-site energy generation will also lower our energy demands,” read a statement on the commission’s website.
The commission suggests that the new building’s 70 roof-mounted solar panels would produce enough energy to completely offset the electrical needs of Stornoway — the commission-owned, 110-year-old Rockcliffe Park mansion that serves as the official residence to the leader of the Opposition.
Both Stornoway and Rideau Hall are among Canada’s six official residences maintained by the NCC — all of which are in varying levels of disrepair and decay.
In a 2021 commission report on the state of Canada’s official residences, the NCC listed a number of priority rehabilitation projects undertaken at Rideau Hall since 2005 and made no mention of the barn replacement project.
The only mention of barns or vehicle garages in the report’s Rideau Hall chapter refers to an undated “stabilization” project on an unspecified “barn” — including new foundation, doors, rehabilitated cladding and an exterior paint job to an unspecified “garage.”
That report was drafted the same year that the $8-million barn project was completed.
As well, the barn does not appear in a list of 26 important and notable buildings that make up the Rideau Hall estate.
Inside Canada’s rotting official residences: Why six properties need $175M in repairs
PM’s official residence closed following discovery of walls full of dead rodents
The NCC is the Crown corporation tasked with managing federally owned buildings and land within Canada’s National Capital Region — an expansive area that includes the city of Ottawa and surrounding regions, as well as adjacent portions of Quebec.
The commission’s mandate includes custodianship of Canada’s official residences — Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s Governor General; The Farm, home to the Speaker of the House of Commons; Stornoway, official residence for the leader of the Opposition; Harrington Lake, the prime ministerial country retreat; 7 Rideau Gate, Canada’s official guest house for visiting dignitaries; and 24 Sussex Drive, the currently vacant official residence of the prime minister.
Built in 1867 and currently deemed uninhabitable, 24 Sussex Drive’s last full-time occupant was Stephen Harper — current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted instead to live in Rideau Cottage, a guest home on the grounds of Rideau Hall.
24 Sussex was shuttered nearly a year ago out of safety concerns, due to dangerously deteriorated wiring, asbestos and a prolific pest problem that left stacks of dead rodents rotting between the mansion’s walls.
Rideau Hall, built 185 years ago, is listed by the NCC as being in “fair” condition, with the cost of deferred repairs for the property exceeding $31 million according to the commission’s 2021 report.
The National Capital Commission was contacted for comment.
While the commission blames many of the problems on chronic underfunding from the federal government, the CTF points to several examples of what they say poor spending choices over the years, including $140,000 to design a private staircase at Rideau Hall that never ended up being built.
Last May, documents uncovered by the CTF suggested the government spent a little under $11 million renovating Harrington Lake — over the $8.6 million the NCC budgeted for the project, plus an additional $2.3 million for RCMP security upgrades.
“It’s ridiculous for the NCC to be crying poor when it blew $8 million on a barn,” said Terrazzano.
“If the NCC can’t figure out how to manage properties without costing taxpayers an arm and a leg, then the government needs to find someone else who can.”
Our website is the place for the latest breaking news, exclusive scoops, longreads and provocative commentary. Please bookmark nationalpost.com and sign up for our newsletters here.