For decades Foreign Affairs has had a deplorable track record in its management of staff accommodations abroad, while its portfolio of properties – often lavishly extravagant and wasteful – has ballooned into billions of dollars.
When the Auditor General criticized the department for its lack of controls, it responded by setting up the Bureau of Physical Resources to ensure that its real estate assets were managed efficiently and in line with Treasury Board rules. But the Bureau found itself powerless in the face of entrenched opposition by senior diplomats accustomed to indulging themselves.
So when whistleblower Joanna Gualtieri joined the Bureau in 1992, she found stunning examples of waste, such as:
- a large mansion in Tokyo valued at approximately $18 million that was allowed to stand empty for 3-4 years while the intended occupant was provided with public moneys (approximately $350,000 per year) to rent a luxury apartment of his own choosing
- million-dollar Crown-owned condominiums in Tokyo were used to house the Ambassador’s Japanese butler and chef, in clear violation of stated rules and despite the fact that the Official Residence was approximately 25,000 square feet with dedicated servants’ quarters.
What possible justification could there be for such excess? None was needed – the senior diplomats simply got what they demanded.
Finally, in 2007 the department apparently began to tackle this problem, and started to quietly sell off some of its collection of luxury homes in foreign capitals. Remarkably, some diplomats campaigned energetically to stop the sale of certain prestige properties, such as Strathmore in Dublin. Such behaviour seemed especially inappropriate at a time when the world economy was facing the worst meltdown in a generation and millions of ordinary Canadians were worried about keeping a roof over their heads.
Foreign Affairs has never publicly admitted that there was any truth to Joanna Gualtieri's claims of waste and extravagance in its accommodations.
A 2003 CBC documentary about Canada's lavish ambassador's residence in Ireland, valued then at up to $35 million. It is next door to millionaire rock star Bono's luxury home – but much larger.
Producer Susan Teskey; Reporter Peter Walsh
Condos once thought too lavish, now home to Canadian diplomats
Ottawa Citizen, February 14, 1999
Foreign Affairs defends decision to spend $1.1M on spacious units in Guatemala City...
For sale: Ottawa's foreign luxury homes
Globe & Mail Tuesday, July 24, 2007
The houses being sold include 36 Chester Terrace, a four-storey house on the edge of London's Regent's Park. Its value is estimated at between $8-million and $12-million...
Canada Sells Storied Diplomatic Digs In Dublin
Ottawa Citizen, December 18, 2008
Despite objections from former envoys and an online petition by an Irish-Canadian group to "save Strathmore," Canada's historic ambassadorial residence in Ireland has been sold as part of a deal to downsize Canada's diplomatic digs in Dublin...
Canada Selling Macdonald House
Ottawa Citizen, December 17, 2008
London diplomatic office worth $600M
The federal government is getting rid of one of the country's prized foreign properties - a palatial British building named after Canada's first prime minister...