Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and first lady Michelle Obama stand together during the arrival ceremony at the White House, Mar. 10, 2016. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)
A citizen's advocacy group has recently called Sophie Grégoire Trudeau out for accepting gifts and loans of clothing from fashion labels, deeming her "for sale" for daring to wear support for our country's industry on her sleeve.
"Pay for your own clothes, like everyone else has to, and rent them if it's for a special event, like everyone else has to," urges Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch.
I can see how gifts and loans can make for some bad optics, even if the role of prime minister's wife has little real political oomph behind it. However, in a world where few powerful individuals direct their influence toward social good like Grégoire Trudeau does, Democracy Watch's threadbare argument seems to be more about populist-pleasing celebrity shaming than hypothetical conflicts of interests.
The possibility of a Pink Tartan tuxedo turning into a political kick back seems laughably low given the historical lack of provincial and federal government support for our fashion industry at a policy level.
I agree that the government and all its players must always be held to account, particularly when receiving gifts that may sway policy in favour of a lobby. To this end there are several mechanisms in place -- for one, Grégoire Trudeau must disclose all gifts valued at more than $200 on a public registry. Loans over that price point must also be mentioned. Items valued at over $1,000 must be forfeited to the Crown, though Grégoire Trudeau did not note some items like the Lucian Matis dress she wore to the White House (it was a sample and did not have a market value).
As far as we know, Grégoire Trudeau has held up her end of the bargain and there have been no accusations of fashion-fuelled conflicts of interest levelled at her so far. (In fact, the possibility of a Pink Tartan tuxedo turning into a political kick back seems laughably low given the historical lack of provincial and federal government support for our fashion industry at a policy level, but I digress.) Until there is evidence, it appears Conacher and Democracy Watch are peddling more in theory than in substance.
I'm sure the thought of a powerful, well-dressed woman leveraging her influence on a global scale is enough to evoke resentment in some circles, but if Grégoire Trudeau has done nothing demonstrably wrong, why sound the alarm? If it's not a matter of legal process, implies Conacher, then it's a matter of "personal ethics."
"You don't get that perk just because you're the wife of the prime minister, sorry," says the Democracy Watch rep.
How exactly is supporting Canadian fashion -- something the ever-glamorous Grégoire Trudeau is passionate about -- compromising her personal integrity? If anything, it proves her moral compass points true north.
Now, Conacher admits he has no issue with Grégoire Trudeau supporting designers, but suggests that by accepting gifts, Grégoire Trudeau gives the "impression" that she will wear a label if it's free, discounted or loaned.
He may be the last person in Canada to hold this impression, because she has eliminated any confusion a long time ago about what she stands for: she wears it because she loves fashion and makes a point of wearing independent Canadian designers at events. Like many in the fashion world and beyond, the only "impression" I get is that Grégoire Trudeau is willing to support causes she believes in.
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau poses with husband Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canadian artist, The Weeknd, at the Canada 2020 reception. Sophie wears an Ellie Mae "Yazmin" jacket. (Photo: Hannah Thomson for Canada 2020)
Then there's the straw-grasping argument that it's unfair for designers who can't afford to send her gifts. This problematically assumes that she is somehow obligated to wear everything she gets for free and must offer universal support to all designers, regardless of whether it's her style. Last I checked, a price tag or lack thereof is not about to sway a style icon we know has deep respect for the industry and her position within it.
Finally, why doesn't she just buy all of her clothes, you ask? Certainly, splashing on new threads would be the best way to support designers -- they would make a profit, directly supporting their livelihood. But then again, perhaps the next op-ed we read would be by pundits criticizing her lavish spending habits instead.
These arguments would make sense if Grégoire Trudeau were promoting top-paying brands like a Kardashian or lining her wardrobe with handouts like an Instagram star, but the reasons behind what she wears go well beyond whether she scored something gratis.
Grégoire Trudeau doing her part to put home-grown designers on the map shouldn't be policed -- it should be celebrated.
Much like her counterpart to the south, FLOTUS Michelle Obama, Grégoire Trudeau actively works to increase the visibility of the brands she wears, establishing or confirming many as household names: Sentaler, Moose Knuckles, Ellie Mae, Greta Constantine. The list goes on. But unlike the entities actually profiting from political pay-to-play on the DL (the ones that Democracy Watch does a great job covering, by the way), these designers can only measure their ROI in cultural clout.
The exposure pays dividends for Canada as a whole, too -- just look at how much publicity the Trudeaus' visit to the White House stirred up earlier this year. This attention entices creatives and investors alike to set up shop in our country, and further increases the country's influence on global culture as well.
Indeed, perhaps in viewing Canadian fashion through a lens of lobbying, Conacher's conflict-of-interest insinuations lose sight of the fact that boosting designers is more than a business interest -- it is a cultural transaction supporting a sector that is part of our increasingly trendy national identity.
For this reason, Grégoire Trudeau doing her part to put home-grown designers on the map shouldn't be policed -- it should be celebrated.
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