“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
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
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
“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.”