Canada puts Irish estate on block

From Friday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Looking for a pied-à-terre in Dublin with eight bedrooms, a drawing room that's 17 metres long and 3.6 hectares of parkland overlooking Dublin Bay? The Canadian government has just the house for you.

Foreign Affairs Canada is selling the residence of the Canadian ambassador to Ireland. The asking price is a cool €17-million ($24.2-million), and considering that the government bought the house for $54,000 in 1957, taxpayers should be rejoicing.

But onetime foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy and a string of former ambassadors say the sale is a mistake, indicative of what they call the Harper government's small-minded approach to Canada's international role.

“It's a pretty sad statement about Canada's position in the world,” said Robert Fowler, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and Italy.

“It's all about what you think of diplomacy. We're not really selling property to buy a more effective property. We're selling property to make a buck, which will mean we'll be less effective.”

Mr. Fowler said Foreign Affairs is selling the house in Dublin only because the department has not been properly financed in recent federal budgets, which have hit it with deep cuts.

“The idea of selling real estate to meet your ‘ fin de mois' [end of the month] strikes me as very short-sighted.”

Government officials insist that's not the case. They say the Dublin residence may be a landmark and a wonderful venue for dinners, receptions and conferences, but it's in suburban Killiney, at least an hour's drive south of Dublin, and is expensive to maintain.

Canada's new ambassador to Ireland, former PEI premier Pat Binns, has already moved into an apartment at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin. It's expected the government will use part of the proceeds from the sale to buy a new residence.

The sale is part of a co-ordinated plan to modernize the department's extensive real-estate holdings, including a major selloff of property in London. Also believed to be on the auction block is the ambassador's residence in Stockholm.

The Dublin residence, known as Strathmore, is a sprawling 760-square-metre home built in 1860 and remodelled in the 1940s by architect Oliver Hill, a student of English architectural icon Edward Lutyens. The grounds used to have a three-hole golf course.

Mr. Axworthy said that embassy buildings are used not just for cocktail parties but for holding conferences and exhibitions of Canadian art. “These facilities are calling cards and ambassadors understand that you use these places to drive through a public display agenda.”

Former ambassador Paul Heinbecker said there's something bizarre about a government that reports a multibillion-dollar surplus while the Foreign Affairs Department continues to suffer from spending cuts.

Mr. Heinbecker admits the Dublin house is too far from downtown Dublin, but he's worried about the message left by Canada if it systematically downgrades its symbolic representation in countries such as Ireland and Sweden.

“You want to leave the impression that Canada is a place worth dealing with, not Thursday's country. You can't do that living in a condo in the suburbs.”

“I'll be very sad to see it go. It's absolutely spectacular,” said businessman Galen Weston, who used to live in Ireland and has visited Strathmore frequently. But he concedes the house is expensive to maintain and sympathizes with Ottawa's desire to be wise with the use of taxpayers' money.

“The plus side is that it's a beautiful location. It's been written up in magazines,” said Ron Irwin, the former Liberal cabinet minister who was ambassador to Ireland from 1998 to 2001. “The down side is that it's out of town.

“Canada is not a big hitter in the world so we need every edge we can get and the house was an edge,” he added, noting that influential Irish officials and business leaders coveted invitations to the residence.

Bids for the house are due by Nov. 1, and real estate agent David Bewley said there is interest despite a soft property market. “This will appeal to the well-heeled of Ireland.”

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Our commentary in the Globe and Mail

September 28, 2007

  1. You (Ottawa Mens, from Ottawa -Home of corrupt family court judges., Canada) wrote: It's short term politically correct, raises cash, makes the balance sheet and the numbers look good, without giving a dam about the long term prejudice and loss to Canada in the future. Firstly, the residence is a prerequisite for Canada's presence in Dublin. Secondly, the price it is worth now is irrelevant, fact is, its one hell of a property investment that is going to earn Canada a hell of a lot more than the prime interest rate. Gee, why not put an high rise office block on the front lawn of parliament house in Ottawa. The partners at several well known law firms would give their left testicles to be able to spit out the window and you know, compete with the pigeons. Its all part of the modern process of being politically correct while destroying long term assets or solving a short term problem by creating a long term even bigger problem. Our politicians seem to have no sense of guilt that their short term solutions create long term prejudices and problems. It’s a sign of the times. Perhaps the greatest example of being politically correct is Canada's failure to have a legal presumption of equal parenting after divorce, it follows the feminist politically correct idea of the "tender years doctrine", that is that children belong with mothers because men are inferior parents and that men are a danger to women and children. Equally stupid and crazy is Canada's failure to allow common law spouses property rights. Any spouse, male or female with assets will refuse to get married to prevent their "spouse" from sharing in the increase in the value of the "home". It means that it encourages couples not to get married, to avoid their obvious fiduciary obligation but currently not a legal obligation to share the improvement in their joint wealth. Thirdly, it encourages feminist lawyers like Joanne A. Barber of Timmins Ontario to make false written submissions to a judge. Its in the court record and she fails to deny it. 613-797-3237