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Canada Must Decide The Role Sophie Grégoire Trudeau Plays

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Prime Minister Trudeau and wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau are beginning to have an image problem. Headlines and social media are filled with outrage (mostly faux) at the comments that have come out about her request for more people to help support her with her busy speaking and appearance schedules.

In comments made in Quebec City's Le Soleil, Grégoire Trudeau, who currently has one staffer, indicated that she needed a team of people to help her to serve people. The Prime Minister's Office does typically allocate resources to help support with Mrs. Grégoire Trudeau's responsibilities, but they have indicated that they are looking at ways to further help support and lighten the workload for her.

Officially, the position of first lady doesn't exist in Canada, and as such we just refer to her as Mrs. Grégoire Trudeau.

Being that there's not any official position or duties attached to being the spouse of the prime minister, there aren't really any guidelines for budgets, resources, or even the spouse's involvement with the government or public.

Mrs. Grégoire Trudeau is proving to be very popular with the public, not unexpected in light of the fact the family is more accessible and open than the previous decade's regime.

Mila Mulroney, wife to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, had a full office in the Langevin Block across from Parliament and three staff that helped to control her office. The cost to the taxpayers at the time was approximately $100,000 annually, which was taken out of the PMO budget. Mrs. Mulroney was one of the more active spouses, being heavily involved in charity work, speaking engagements and the Conservative movement of the day. In more recent history, the spouses have played a lower-key role.

Mrs. Grégoire Trudeau is proving to be very popular with the public, not unexpected in light of the fact the family is more accessible and open than the previous decade's regime was in Ottawa. It also doesn't hurt that the couple is young and photogenic.

On the one hand, it's admirable that Mrs. Grégoire Trudeau wants to get involved and work with the community and charities. And with precedence (in a Conservative government no less) a case can be made for her being allocated resources.

I was curious as to what exactly Laureen Harper had received, if anything, in terms of staff or support. Unsurprisingly it is nearly impossible to find any sort of statistics or reports that outline any specific resources being provided to Mrs. Harper. That being said, as I was searching I came upon this gem on Twitter:

I have tried to find some sort of corroboration on this post, including having sent an email to Tom Flanagan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's previous adviser, to see if he's willing to comment or able to support this statement. If that is the case, it is quite a revelation. If I can get a confirmation, I will post an update in a future blog post.

Even if this isn't the case, the Conservatives and right-wing supporters throwing Mrs. Gregoire Trudeau under the bus now look like mean-spirited hypocrites.

In the case of Prime Minister Trudeau and his wife, the problem is part optics, part timing, and also part because of statements they have made in the past.

Previously I have blogged about the optics and hypocrisy of Prime Minister Trudeau who hired two nannies for his family immediately following his election.

Normally I wouldn't say this was such a big deal. During the entire election, however, he touted how "he had enough money and didn't need to use taxpayer resources to care for his children" and as such his credibility was dashed when one of his first actions was to hire two nannies on the taxpayers' dime.

In his defence, the cost for these nannies came out of his existing budget and was not an incremental cost to the taxpayers. That being said, the optics were what was troubling. And in this case again, it's not so much the principle as the optics that are ugly.

This is a time when the economy is faltering (though no fault of the Liberals, yet) and where many families are struggling to make ends meet. We are in the midst of one of the greatest natural disasters in Canadian history, where thousands upon thousands of people have lost their homes, livelihoods and businesses, and tens of thousands more have had their lives completely disrupted, most likely for months and years to come.

There are firefighters, police and volunteers who have been working countless hours on end to keep the town and its evacuees safe and well looked after. And in a time when all of this is weighing on people comes a complaint about the workload of being the prime minister's spouse and the duties being taken on.
Most parents who work full-time or more would be over the moon to have one helper. To want to have two plus an office of staff comes across as tone-deaf and elitist.

Now, don't misinterpret my words. I'm proud of Mrs. Grégoire Trudeau's involvement and support of causes.

I just think she chose the wrong audience at the wrong time. Most parents who work full-time or more would be over the moon to have one helper with the chores and children. To want to have two plus an office of staff to coordinate your life and scheduling commitments comes across as tone-deaf and elitist, even if it is warranted by the purposes you are taking on.

I think I speak for the majority of the average families out there when they would say that if you can't handle the workload you're taking on, you're going to have to consider cutting back or looking at taking some money out of your pocket to find a workaround.

Now, the caveat that needs to be laid out in fairness is this. Mrs. Grégoire Trudeau's role is one that she isn't obligated to take on, and with a big heart and a genuine care for the community and causes she supports she is doing so without pay.

Yes, Prime Minister Trudeau makes a lot of money. But so did Prime Minister Harper, whose wife was decidedly less involved and visible. Should Mrs. Grégoire Trudeau be punished for this, or should Prime Minister Harper have had his salary clawed back?

The answer is neither, and we need to as a country decide what role we envision our prime minister's spouses fulfilling. From there we can determine what costs are reasonable, and then we don't have to worry about the drama and political interference that surrounds someone deciding they want to make a difference in the country they commit their family and life to.

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