The Department of Foreign Affairs is attempting to explain its purchase of a luxury diplomatic residence in a Miami suburb where celebrity neighbours include A-Rod and Jeb Bush. Disclosure of the country club estate comes as authorities attempt to sell foreign property under an austerity order from the Department of Finance.
“It is a very pricey location,” said Audrey Ross, a Miami realtor; “This is a great address. It’s a very luxurious lifestyle for foreign nationals.”
Louise Léger, chief of the Canadian consulate in Miami, did not reply to Blacklock’s interview request. Asked if she had lived in the multi-million dollar home, Léger did not comment. In an earlier foreign ministry commentary Léger said her duties in Florida included “sharing Canada’s story of sound fiscal management”.
Léger is a career diplomat and former Canadian ambassador to Costa Rica posted to Miami as Consul General in 2009, according to records. That same year, the property was purchased in Coral Gable’s Country Club district for $1.9 million. The consulate leases office space in a downtown Miami tower a 20-minute drive from the suburban getaway.
The home at 3801 Riviera Drive features seven bedrooms; six bathrooms; a swimming pool and a municipal tax bill of $28,000 a year. Neighbours in Coral Gables included Pulitzer Prize-winning humourist Dave Barry; NBA executive Pat Riley, president of the Miami Heat; disgraced Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez; and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who sold his comparatively modest $775,000 Coral Gables home last year.
“Riviera Drive is one of the top three streets in Coral Gables,” said Ross. “Beautiful neighbourhoods; the most expensive homes in Dade County are here; gated communities; some of the best private schools in south Florida.”
Authorities in Ottawa said they considered the lavish home, now listed for immediate sale, as a necessary purchase for taxpayers: “At $1.9 million the price compared favourably with other shortlisted properties with asking prices between $2.2 million and $2.7 million,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said; “It was close to the Chancery for access in an emergency.”
Realtor Ross said the Government of Canada picked a good time to sell the house: “The market is very active at the moment,” she said. “We have an influx of Venezuelans coming here at the moment. Miami is on everybody’s radar.” List prices in Coral Gables, Florida’s self-described “City Beautiful”, currently average $2.1 million.
Cabinet in a March 29, 2012 budget notice said diplomatic residences abroad would be sold to reduce costs. Confidential records show the foreign ministry was spending $208 million a year on real estate at the time.
Documents indicate in the year immediately preceding the austerity order, the department bought $178.3 million in new diplomatic properties abroad including $15.6 million in real estate in Bogota, Boston, Port-au-Prince and Prague; and $28 million in new purchases in Mexico, Pretoria and other cities.
Records also show two-thirds of foreign missions sold to date went to bargain hunters, selling for less than their appraised value, including a $26 million mansion in Dublin that went for $17 million; and a heritage home used by a former Buffalo, NY trade commissioner that sold last year at a $1.2 million loss.
By Paul Delahanty