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National

PM’s official residence becoming a costly ‘debacle,’ say Conservatives

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Official residence of the Prime Minister

OTTAWA — Nearly four years after Justin Trudeau opted not to move into the prime minister’s official residence over concerns about its crumbling state, the building remains vacant — except for staff who continue to use the kitchen to prepare meals for Trudeau and his family.

And it appears no decisions will be made on the future of the residence until well after the fall federal election.

The federal Conservatives accuse the Trudeau government of dithering over “critical” upgrades to the stately yet run-down home, and needlessly costing taxpayers more money in the process.

At the same time, none of the main federal party leaders appears willing to opine on whether the building should be torn down or renovated, or whether they would live in the residence if it were upgraded.

Asked by The Canadian Press their preferences for what to do with the building if elected — or re-elected — to office, the Liberals referred all questions to the National Capital Commission (NCC), which oversees dozens of properties in the capital region; the New Democrats did not provide a response and the Conservatives referred to the project as just one more Liberal blight under Justin Trudeau’s leadership.

“The renovation costs of 24 Sussex Drive are a failure that Justin Trudeau has been unable to fix in four years,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s spokesman, Daniel Schow, said in a statement.

“The NCC has estimated that it will cost nearly $100 million to renovate 24 Sussex and other official residences. This is an unacceptable situation, and unfortunately, taxpayers are being stuck with the bill.”

Scheer, if elected prime minister, would “look for innovative ways to break through the red tape and the overregulation that has created this debacle,” said Schow.

The Conservatives would not say, however, whether Scheer would elect to live at 24 Sussex should he become prime minister in the fall. Scheer currently resides in another building managed and maintained by the NCC; Stornoway, the Official Opposition leader’s residence.

Prior to being defeated by the Liberals in 2015, former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper lived in 24 Sussex Drive for a decade, but would not approve any spending on the building beyond necessary or emergency repairs.

Harper was warned by then-auditor general Sheila Fraser in a 2008 report that more than $10 million in repairs were needed just to make it safe to inhabit.

No one expects the NCC to decide the fate of the building until after the October election, said David Flemming with Heritage Ottawa, which wrote to the prime minister in March calling for the creation of a non-partisan committee to decide what to do with 24 Sussex.

Heritage Ottawa made clear in that letter that it prefers the building be renovated, not demolished.

“Please do not condemn this fine building to landfill,” the letter stated.

The Prime Minister’s Office has not responded to the letter, Flemming said.

In a report prepared in April last year, the NCC classified 24 Sussex as being in a “critical” state of disrepair.

The report assessed the building’s replacement value at $38.46 million. At the same time it determined the cost of maintaining the structure at nearly what it’s worth: $34.53 million. That figure did not include necessary upgrades to security and grounds maintenance, nor repairs to the nearby pool building, which the NCC described as “rotting.”

The home, built in 1868 by American-born lumber baron and member of Parliament Joseph Merrill, has suffered decades of neglect since it was expropriated by the government in 1943. It last underwent major renovations in 1951.

Its outdated wiring risks causing a fire, the drain pipes regularly clog, the exterior stonework is crumbling and the building is filled with asbestos, the NCC was told last year.

“The building systems at 24 Sussex have reached the point of imminent or actual failure,” said the report.

Beyond renovations, it has been costing taxpayers nearly $228,000 annually, on average, just to operate and maintain the property, the NCC said.

Trudeau himself, who lived at 24 Sussex as a child when his father Pierre was prime minister, acknowledged in an early 2018 CBC interview that anyone agreeing to spend anything on the house risks the wrath of the electorate.

“No prime minister wants to spend a penny of taxpayer dollars on upkeeping that house,” Trudeau said.

To date, no options for dealing with 24 Sussex have been formally presented to the NCC, spokesman Jean Wolff said recently.

The kitchen in the house is still being used almost daily. When Trudeau and his family are in Ottawa, staff there prepare meals and deliver the food a few hundred metres down the road to a cottage behind Rideau Hall where Trudeau, his wife and kids have lived since shortly after being elected.

Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin has argued that 24 Sussex is a historical landmark that merits preservation. Kim Campbell, who was prime minister for four months in 1993, has suggested it be knocked down.

So has former prime minister Joe Clark’s wife, Maureen McTeer. She argued in 2015 the building lacks architectural value and should be bulldozed and replaced with a building that could show off Canada’s best architects and designers.

But her suggested timeline — making it a Canada 2017 project to mark the country’s 150th anniversary — passed by with no action taken.

The building is designated a heritage site in Ontario by the Federal Heritage Building Review Office.

But that designation wouldn’t prevent the federal government from demolishing the building, said Flemming.

“They could tear it down,” he said.

Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press


Agriculture

151st Cowichan Exhibition includes new category: best home-grown pot

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VICTORIA — One of Canada’s oldest fall fairs is putting a new twist on its annual showcase of local livestock, produce and fruit by adding a new category for best home-grown marijuana.

The Cowichan Exhibition in Duncan, B.C., which dates back to 1868, has created a best cannabis category to embrace legalization and celebrate local pot growers, said exhibition vice-president Bud James.

The fair starts Friday and the cannabis entries will be on display in the main hall at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds along with the region’s top vegetables, fruits and baked goods. First prize is $5, second is $3 and third place gets a ribbon.

“We just decided this year, because it’s an agricultural product, and it’s been grown in the valley for years, and now that it’s finally legally grown, we would allow people to win a ribbon for the best,” said James.

He said fair officials believe the Cowichan cannabis category is the first of its kind in Canada.

An official at the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, a non-profit organization representing rural and urban fairs, said she had not heard of any other cannabis judging contests prior to the Cowichan Exhibition, but couldn’t confirm it was the first.

A fall fair in Grand Forks, B.C., is also judging local cannabis, but the event starts Saturday, one day after Cowichan’s fair. Those who enter the competition in Grand Forks can compete for best indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.

James said fair organizers contacted the local council and RCMP prior to adding the cannabis category. The mayor and council did not oppose the contest and the RCMP referred organizers to B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the agency monitoring retail sales of non-medical cannabis, he said.

Organizers decided to go ahead with the event after its plans were not rejected, James said.

“Our interpretation of the rules are you can’t make it attractive to people under 19 years and we are not making it attractive,” he said.

James said the cannabis entries will be placed in a glass display case and the individual entries will be sealed in clear zip lock plastic bags.

“It’s being judged to the same standard of judging garden and field produce,” he said. “It’s done by uniformity. You want all three buds to be the same size, same shape, same colour. It’s also the dryness, texture and smell. It’s exactly the same way you would judge apples or carrots or hay bales. It’s all done the same way.”

James said the contest doesn’t involve sampling the product.

Bree Tweet, the manager of a medical cannabis dispensary in nearby Ladysmith, will judge the marijuana entries, said James.

The exhibition received 18 cannabis entries and James said the contest created a buzz at the fair.

“The enthusiasm of the entrants, the people bringing their entry forms, they are so enthusiastic it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are so thrilled that it’s happening, that we’re doing it because they’ve been waiting for years for legalization and now, they finally got it and now they have a chance to show what they can do.”

James, who has entered his prized Dahlia flowers at past fairs, said the addition of the cannabis category has exceeded expectations with the 18 entries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Education

School board defends book pictured on principal’s desk after online uproar

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A Toronto-area Catholic school board says an online firestorm that erupted after a book on how to teach black students was photographed on a principal’s desk stems from a misunderstanding over the book’s contents.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says the book, titled “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” has a provocative title but is actually a helpful resource on tackling racial and cultural oppression in education.

Michelle Coutinho, the board’s principal of equity and inclusive education, says such materials are a particularly useful reference given how diverse the student population is in the district and at that specific school.

The controversy emerged this week after a Brampton, Ont., high school, Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, posted a photo of its new principal on Twitter.

The photo, which shows the book on her desk, set off heated debate, with some suggesting it was a sign of racism or incompetence, or a prop meant to bolster the school’s image.

The image was also shared on instagram by 6ixBuzzTV, a popular account with roughly 1.2 million followers.

“LOOOOL. No principal should make it this far while subsequently needing a book like this,” one person wrote on Twitter. “She a bad principal,” wrote another.

Some defended the book, however, and the principal’s efforts to educate herself. “She’s making an effort to connect with her students, it’s more than most principals do,” another tweet read.

The board said it was surprised by the uproar and hoped people would look up the book before jumping to conclusions based on its title.

The principal intends to address the photo in a public announcement and invite any students with lingering questions to see her, said Bruce Campbell, the board’s spokesman.

The book, written by three researchers and published in 2017, aims to improve outcomes for black students by helping teachers create learning environments in which they feel nurtured and engaged. The title references the fact that white women make up the bulk of the teaching force in the U.S.

Coutinho said the book asks educators to challenge the biases they may bring into the classroom.

“We know that we’re steeped in a colonized kind of world view and how do we break out of that in our everyday practices?” she said, noting it has been used in the board’s anti-oppression training in the past.

Cardinal Ambrozic’s new principal was involved in a book study at several schools that delved deeply into the text last year, Coutinho said.

“If we’re going to make any changes to the education system, we have to start talking about these things and talking about them openly and honestly without shame or blame.”

 

 

 

 

 

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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