The government has sold off 29 diplomatic properties for more than $176 million since the election of the Liberal government, despite its rhetoric that Canada is “back” on the world stage.
A major sale of the official residence in Hong Kong last August, for about $85 million, is responsible for almost half of that amount, Global Affairs Canada confirmed to the National Post. Another $38 million is tied to nine sales of staff quarters in London. Five of the sales happened in January and February of this year: three staff quarters in London, another in Nairobi and the official residence for the European Union delegation head in Brussels.
The Brussels residence sold in February for just over $5 million, well short of a $7.8 million asking price, according to GAC spokeswoman Jocelyn Sweet.
That sale was finalized just weeks after the government announced it would be appointing then-foreign minister Stéphane Dion to a dual posting, as ambassador both to Germany and to the EU. It was understood Dion would reside in Berlin. Amid criticism over the dual appointment, including in Europe, Dion’s position was rejigged last month as ambassador to Germany and “special envoy” to the EU and Europe.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand Stephane Dion is shown during an interview in his office in Ottawa on Dec. 19, 2016.
The sale of properties abroad was a major project for the last Conservative government. GAC says the Harper government’s downsizing (or “rightsizing,” as they called it) initiative for official residences abroad is “now complete.” In a recent interview, Tory foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said the initiative had been a way to lessen costs related to “outdated diplomatic necessity.” It saw, for example, the $530-million sale of the official residence in London.
The “rightsizing initiative” reached its “capital target” in February, Sweet said. It “has been replaced by a renewal program, which takes a more balanced approach to official residences.” Chanceries and staff quarters were not part of the program.
Trudeau has been vocal about reasserting Canada’s place in the world, talk that sources said was welcomed by Canada’s foreign service when the Liberals formed government in 2015. A major statement from Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland last week was likewise well-received by observers of Canadian foreign policy.
35 buildings owned or rented by Canada in foreign countries are listed as being in “poor” or “critical” condition
But while the Liberals have promised a major increase in defence spending — 70 per cent over 10 years, also announced last week — the foreign service is getting the status quo, and cost-cutting initiatives begun under the Conservatives have continued under this government.
Spending for GAC continues to hover around $6 billion annually, with planning documents predicting no major changes. Within that budget, some resources have been reallocated to multilateral initiatives, such as the government’s goal to seek a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
A good chunk of the proceeds from selling foreign properties appears to have gone towards maintaining or repairing others.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick/FileTory foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said the initiative had been a way to lessen costs related to “outdated diplomatic necessity.”
Dion, while minister, backed down from the sale of a Rome residence deemed historically important but costly to maintain. Meanwhile, 35 buildings owned or rented by Canada in foreign countries (out of about 1,900) are listed as being in “poor” or “critical” condition on the government’s federal property database.
Austin Jean, another spokesman for the department, said “maintenance is an ongoing requirement,” and the word “critical” could mean a range of things, from needing additional space to “something as simple as leaky pipes.”
Some examples of repairs currently underway include “structural corrections” for a building in Ghana, an upgraded roof for the chancery in Barbados and renovations at the Embassy of Canada to Haiti. A “major capital project” is also being planned for the High Commission of Canada to Sri Lanka, Jean said.
The Conservatives are asking Liberals to continue looking at how to save money abroad
A departmental plan for 2017-18 says “cost-effective real property strategies” will continue to be pursued, including “co-locating with other likeminded governments,” in order to “maintain Canada’s network abroad as efficiently as possible.”
According to the most recent performance report for the department, for 2015-16, “co-location” was finalized for several new locations: a Canadian office opened in the Australian embassy in Laos, and another opened in the British embassy in Cambodia. On the flip side, a German office opened in the Canadian embassy in Serbia.
Canada still maintains 179 missions in 109 countries. The Conservatives are asking Liberals to continue looking at how to save money abroad, with a “general review of our diplomatic missions,” Kent said.