OTTAWA—Conservatives and New Democrats say the Liberals and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau are out of touch with ordinary Canadians’ struggles after the PMO said it was looking into hiring another aide for the prime minister’s wife.
In an interview with a Quebec City newspaper, Grégoire Trudeau said she needed more than one staffer to manage the deluge of requests for her participation at events.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife has one employee on the PMO payroll to help her with scheduling, correspondence and co-ordinating her movements with the RCMP.
“I would like to be everywhere but I cannot,” she told Le Soleil. “I have three children at home, and I have a husband who is prime minister. I need help. I need a team to help me to serve the public.”
Conservative MP Candice Bergen had little sympathy. She said being the family of a prime minister is a difficult job that involves “a lot of sacrifices” but she tied the appeal for more staff to the hiring of two nannies on the public dime.
Bergen accused the prime minister of “hypocrisy . . . always wanting more . . . to do self-promotion, to do vanity trips, to do the things that he likes to do, and I think that’s where the challenge is and where a lot of Canadians would question more.”
She said it is the prime minister himself who brought his family into everything he does, and during the campaign repeatedly said rich families like his didn’t need benefits like the enriched family benefit cheques. Yet the first thing he did, she said, was to take away benefits “from families that he deemed too rich to need” them then “gave himself very, very generous benefits for exactly the same purpose, child-care . . . . It is all connected.”
“If they feel that’s necessary, it’s incumbent on the prime minister himself to make the case to the Canadian public to justify that expenditure,” said Conservative colleague Michelle Rempel.
The NDP’s Niki Ashton said it shows a “troubling pattern” with Trudeau and his wife, whether it’s the “reliance on caregivers charged to the public purse when in fact so many Canadians don’t have access to that same kind of child-care arrangement,” or whether his wife is expressing being overwhelmed.
“We’re seeing again a disconnect; this feeling of being overwhelmed, when in fact what you should be talking about is . . . the feeling that Canadian women face on a daily basis of being overwhelmed.”
“It’s up to the prime minister and his family to figure out their own details,” said Ashton, “The focus should be on what Canadian women face on a daily basis and how the federal government can support Canadian women.”
Grégoire Trudeau made the comments on a trip to Quebec where she appeared as a spokesperson for Fillactive, an organization that promotes healthy activity for teenaged girls. She once struggled with an eating disorder as a younger woman, and volunteered to help the organization, she told the newspaper, after reading its “touching” story.
Like Stephen Harper’s wife, Laureen, Grégoire Trudeau took on her husband’s name and a number of charitable causes after her spouse became head of government. Trudeau is not head of state — the governor general is and David Johnston’s wife, Sharon, does have the title of Excellency and a ceremonial role.
And yet, some Liberals like MP Hedy Fry said “times have changed” and in Canada more and more people expect the prime minister’s spouse to act like a First Lady, “to do things, to become more active, to be a person they can go to for a lot of social assistance on a lot of issues they are talking about.”
The role played by a prime minister’s spouse has shifted depending on the personality of the individual. Mila Mulroney had three staff and an office in Langevin Block; Aline Chrétien was by her husband’s side on many trips but kept a very low public profile, as did Sheila Martin; Laureen Harper’s public profile increased as Harper’s time in office lengthened, and their children grew older. But the Liberals say all spouses had at least one staffer.
Bergen made a point of saying Canada doesn’t have a First Lady, but praised Laureen Harper as “somebody that did more with less consistently.”
On Thursday, the PMO was on the defensive.
Deputy communications director Olivier Duchesneau said “as has been the tradition in Canada — and has been the case for spouses of former prime ministers — Madame Grégoire Trudeau receives help from PMO staff to fulfil the duties and responsibilities that come with the role. She receives an extraordinarily high volume of correspondence and invitations.
“Therefore, we are continuing to look at new ways to make sure she is supported at the official events she attends, as well as making sure that correspondence from Canadians across the country is triaged and answered in a timely manner.”
He listed a range of activities she participates in from “local events like the CHEO Healthy Kids Awards or the Wabano Fundraising-Gala event, as well as national or major non-profit organization events like the Anorexia and Bulimia awareness events, We Day events, Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards Gala, Women’s Festival etc.”
Grégoire Trudeau participates in official events and international visits with the prime minister, and he added she is Honorary Chair of the National Art Centre Gala, and promotes many other causes through public appearances, keynote speeches, and media opportunities.
Laureen Harper volunteered or spoke up on behalf of the Humane Society, organ donations, cyberbullying, was honorary chair of the David Foster Gala 2013, volunteer for the Red Cross, and an advocate for the Trans Canada Trail. She also frequently acted as honorary chair of the National Arts Centre Gala.