John Fraser, the master emeritus of Massey College, is president and CEO of the National NewsMedia Council of Canada.
A tediously inevitable amount of screeching has accompanied the news that Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is finding it difficult to cope with all the demands being placed on her shoulders and would like the help of an extra assistant.
Having been thrust into the vortex of national life, she made a modest plea for help during an interview which brought forth all the usual vituperation and meanness of spirit political opponents, media critics and the generally anonymous online claptrapariat are capable of deploying. It’s all so predictable, all so pre-2015: the Left want her to get a job and pay for the help herself, and the Right want her to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.
The traditional argument, that no one elected Ms. Grégoire Trudeau to anything and she has enough of a free ride as it is, doesn’t really work any more. Actually, we did kind of elect her, didn’t we? We also, willy-nilly, appointed Sharon Johnston to be the unpaid spousal support system at Rideau Hall when her husband was named Governor-General.
Just as hereditary realities stuck Prince Philip or Duchess Catherine Middleton with the task of walking several steps behind their spouses, and all the symbolism that entails, we seem to like the spectacle of our leaders stuck in the rut of past centuries while coping with the realities of the 21st.
That’s the basic problem with the traditional argument. It is traditional. It is an argument that expects Ms. Grégoire Trudeau to make do despite the day-to-day demands of the office, despite the demands of the voracious media, despite the demands of the country itself. We implicitly want from her both the subservience of the traditional prime ministers’ spouse but also that independence of spirit and action that is expected of spouses in contemporary marriages.
It really is time for this country to grow up. We need to accept that a family with three very young and rambunctious kids, where one spouse is trying to run the country and the other spouse is trying to be a good partner and nurturing parent as well as someone required to serve the same country, needs to be properly and fully supported. Or do we like the idea of a dysfunctional family adorning our nation, with estranged spouses, marginalized kids and kitchen-sink dramas fit for the national news?
Do we really have to survey the spousal wreckage at 24 Sussex to underscore this point? It isn’t just Margaret Trudeau with whom we had so much sport in the past. There may be exceptions, but from Mrs. Macdonald to Ms. Harper, no one should really want to scratch beyond the surface of experience here unless they are anthropological sadists.
In nearly a century and a half, the only supremely happy, uncomplaining and utterly fulfilled spouse I am aware of at 24 Sussex was Mrs. William Lyon Mackenzie King. She never uttered a single complaint. She never uttered anything. No doubt that was why she was perfect and we never even noticed her.
No one has really done a contemporary study of the roles played by spouses of senior elected or appointed officials in Canada. I know, because I looked for some guidance on the subject a short time ago when I was asked to help out in a new process that leads to viceregal appointments.
What I did find out was instructive: The single biggest problem faced by whoever gets these top jobs is spousal alienation. Whether their partners are elected or appointed, these are invariably thankless and always unpaid positions.
If it is such a horrendous assault on the Canadian consciousness to provide another aide to Ms. Grégoire Trudeau, then let’s give an institutional salary worthy of the work any partner of a prime minister does for Canada, as well as a bit of compensation for the amount of garbage he or she has to listen to or read.
We should end the hypocrisy now. It’s 2016.Report Typo/Error
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