Some recent media reports indicate that Foreign Affairs is finally taking steps to curb the waste and extravagance that has for decades been the hallmark of its accommodations abroad. In particular, the disposal of Strathmore, the ambassador’s official residence in Ireland, has triggered anxious cries of “foul” from some members of our diplomatic elite.
Strathmore—an 8,000-squarefoot, eight-bedroom manor on a nine-acre, waterfront estate—sits next door to the home of multi-millionaire rock star Bono, but is much larger. It was to be sold in the 90s, but a series of ambassadors living there fiercely opposed this.
Decades ago, when Canada’s Auditor General criticized Foreign Affairs for its lack of controls, the department responded by setting up a Bureau of Physical Resources to ensure that its real estate assets were properly managed in line with Treasury Board rules. But the bureau found itself powerless in the face of entrenched opposition by senior diplomats.
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 was allowed to stand empty for three to four years while the intended occupant was provided with public moneys (approximately $350,000 per year) to rent a luxury apartment of his own choosing; and million-dollar Crown-owned condominiums in Tokyo were used to house the diplomat’s Japanese butler and chef, in clear violation of stated policies 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. Many apparently still feel entitled to live like this: in fact some insist that they are doing Canadians a big favour by living in such lavish accommodations. It is remarkable that this brazen sense of entitlement and disregard for taxpayers’ money is still alive today, even as the world economy slumps into the worst crisis of our generation and millions of ordinary Canadians are worried about keeping a roof over their heads.
It is also outrageous that Gualtieri, the person who fought heroically to get this situation cleaned up 15 years ago, has been rewarded by having her life destroyed. When she sued her bosses for harassment because she felt she was being driven out of the department the government’s lawyers stepped in.
In order to bring closure to this sorry episode, two things must be done: the disposal of surplus and unaffordable real estate must continue as planned in spite of the squeals; and the federal government must quickly resolve the case involving Gualtieri.
David Hutton, Executive Director, Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform
David Kilgour, former secretary of state
Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards, former Health Canada whistleblower
Brian McAdam, former Foreign Affairs whistleblower