Zsuzsanna Zsohar, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s wife, came under attack from the right wing this week because she is not a Canadian citizen, and will not be able to vote for her husband on May 2.
The optics aren’t good, mused the National Citizens Coalition president Peter Coleman.
The controversy, she told The Globe and Mail in an interview Friday, was hurtful, just as she feels the Tory attack ads aimed at her husband – the “Just visiting” ads – are unworthy.
But Ms. Zsohar, 64, who speaks precisely with a soft Hungarian accent, isn’t dwelling on that. She loves the campaign, riding in the bus and travelling across Canada. But Canadians won’t see her front and centre in the campaign. “It’s not about me. … I have no ego.”
Here’s Ms. Zsohar on campaign life so far:
How she felt about the attack: “I was born in Hungary. … Like many new Canadians I was born somewhere else. But my other part is hoping to be Canadian. I am married to a Canadian. I always knew that at some stage we would live in Canada. I am just waiting like everyone else.” She has applied for Canadian citizenship – “It could happen any day.”
Was she hurt by the attacks? “What definitely hurt was that people don’t know … I am not yet a Canadian because like everybody else I am waiting for my papers. So I think it would be very nice if people understood that. I actually want to be a fully functional Canadian citizen. I want to be able to vote.”
How does she handle the attacks on her husband? “I have to be honest. I think everybody should be honest in this situation – a lot of it is actually hurtful. Then you think they do it because they believe this is going to gain them something. So if you look through that prism then you understand why they are doing it.”
“But I know the man,” she says about her husband. “I know who he is. I know what he is doing and I know why he is doing it. So I can’t be persuaded he is somebody he is not. … I think what is to me unacceptable is that somebody questions another person’s loyalty to their country without really being able to demonstrate that fact to be true. It’s not true.”
Two weeks in, how does she find campaign life? “Actually, it sounds terrible but it’s real fun. … We are both having a very good time but I am having an obviously much easier time.”
The team of aides and officials are great, she says. And it helps, she says, that she is a sociable person. Then there is the bus. “We have an incredible bus,” she says, noting the two-seater sofa and the “very, very, squashy” seats. She reads a lot.
“I love car travel and this wonderful landscape just rolls by,” she says. “And also I really believe spring is coming. You can see spring is coming.” She adds: “But what’s so nice about it is that it’s easy to promote something you believe in.”
On her campaign style – she is not front and centre: “I am not elected. My only real official role is that I am married to him and I am very happy to give all the support I can give. But it’s not about me. And whenever it’s appropriate, of course, we are together.”
On handling the hours: Her husband, she says, has a remarkable ability to catch a 20-minute nap. They always have a humidifier in their room because hotels are so dry – she thinks that helps them sleep well. So does the fact that he doesn’t watch the news or read polls, she says. But she follows everything and will sneak a peek at the news if he’s in another room. As well, she has just discovered Twitter – she doesn’t tweet but she follows it to find out what is going on.
Biggest surprise: “The weather,” she laughs. It has been cold – and she packed for spring. But as her husband has said in rallies and town halls, the Liberal spring is coming. She can feel it.