Canada's John Turner finds out about the political costs of home renovations

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

John Turner isn't so much backed into a corner as into a hotel room. The man who was briefly prime minister last summer has had his share of housing problems. And now his political nemesis, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, has him living in a hotel room.

It all started with a few renovations at Stornoway, the official residence of the leader of the opposition. That's where Mr. Mulroney lived before he beat Mr. Turner in the Sept. 4 election and the two men traded houses.

Stornoway wasn't up to scratch. So Mr. Turner and his wife set about doing it over. There was $600 for a closet to hold the Liberal leader's silver, a new kitchen at $85,000, new shelving and woodwork for $112,210, another $47,850 in paint and wall coverings, and finally $100,000 for furniture.

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That and a few other odds and ends such as moving a staircase for $40,000 come to a projected grand total of $500,860. All of this is in Canadian dollars, which are worth only 72 cents against the United States dollar, but it is still worth something.

If Stornoway were on the market, an Ottawa real estate agent says, it probably would not sell for half a million.

The Department of Public Works is in charge of such mundane matters as spending on public buildings, which is just what Stornoway is. They got wind of the cash being spent and put a stop to it -- after $206,400 had already been spent.

Next in this little drama comes the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bosley. Like the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, the Speaker of the House gets a free house, too. Called Kingsmere, it is an estate left to Canada by former Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King. John Turner stayed in John Bosley's house when the renovations on Stornoway were begun. But they took so long that finally the speaker demanded his house and got it.

So that is how John Turner ended up living in an Ottawa hotel room.

Brian Mulroney then turned the knife. The Public Works Department had referred the spending estimate to the prime minister's office. Mr. Mulroney did the honorable thing. He left it to Mr. Turner to decide whether to go ahead with the renovations.

That leaves a man whose daily job is to criticize government spending, unemployment, and the plight of the poor in Canada to make a public decision on spending half a million dollars of public money on his house. And John Turner just sold his own house in Toronto for almost $1 million.

It is little wonder that the Liberal leader has taken refuge in a hotel suite while he tries to work a way out of the clever trap the prime minister has him in.

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