US & Canada

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau: Canadian PM wife sparks 'help' debate

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mrs Trudeau has said she needs help if she wants to make more appearances

Canadians are debating the role of the prime minister's wife after Sophie Gregoire Trudeau said she wants to do more for the country but "needs help".

She told a French-language newspaper she was struggling to balance her schedule only having one staff member.

"I'd love to be everywhere but I can't," she said. "I have three children and a husband who is prime minister."

Some are ridiculing her for what they perceived as pretentious comments.

What exactly was her complaint?

She told Le Soleil newspaper that she is "flooded with requests" for appearances and projects and that she does not have the time to do it all.

"It's hard to choose because it is affecting the people who want your help," she said. "You say to yourself: I will try to convey a message that will reach as many people as possible."

"There is always a price to pay, but the price shouldn't be as high," she said of balancing work and family.

She made the comments while promoting an organisation for active and healthy lifestyles.

In her youth, she suffered with eating disorders, she told the newspaper, and she wants to help young women build self-confidence.

How did people react?

Canadians on Twitter started a hashtag, #PrayForSophie, to poke fun at her request, with some people even drawing comparisons between the Trudeaus and the Kardashians.

"I'm setting up a lemonade stand this weekend, all proceeds going to fund help for Sophie," one person tweeted.

Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter

Opposition politicians in Canada called Ms Gregoire Trudeau out of touch and pointed out that previous prime ministers' wives dealt with only having one personal aide.

Tory MP Candice Bergen said Canadian families are struggling financially and questioned how the government could afford to hire another assistant.

Another Tory MP, Jason Kenney, said former prime minister Stephen Harper's wife, Laureen, never complained.

"Harpers paid for babysitters, not taxpayers," he tweeted. "And they didn't inherit millions. Nor did Laureen whinge about it."

Did anyone come to her defence?

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Trudeau has defended his wife

A Toronto Star editorial argues that she should have the help she needs to fulfil her role.

The conversation should shift to what is expected of the spouse of a prime minister in Canada, the newspaper writes.

"It should come as no surprise that the demands on her are greater than those on previous PMs' wives," the editorial reads, pointing out that previous PM's wives have had one or multiple assistants.

"Justin Trudeau is riding a wave of popularity that extends to his entire family, especially his wife."

"It should be noted that Gregoire Trudeau is not asking for another employee to lessen her workload, but to increase it. She lamented that because she doesn't have enough staff she is forced to make difficult choices about who she can help."

Mr Trudeau himself came to his wife's defence, sharing a letter on Facebook written by a woman supporting his wife.

"I don't know what it's like to be you, and because of this I support you," the letter reads. "I know there are others like me out there, but the loudest voices in any conversation are always the angry ones."

The prime minister's office is looking into hiring another aide, federal officials told the Globe and Mail.

Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc also defended her.

"It's no secret that Ms Gregoire Trudeau is asked to attend an enormous number of events," Mr LeBlanc said.

"She's participated in a whole series of very worthy causes. So we find that a perfectly appropriate conversation to have - Does she have the adequate support to undertake these official functions?"

How does her role differ from First Lady in the US?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ms Gregoire Trudeau and First Lady Michelle Obama get along well

In the US, First Lady is a formal role within the executive office, with its own headquarters in the White House and staff, including but not limited to a social secretary, a chief of staff, a press secretary and a chef.

In Canada, the wife of the prime minister has no formal status and no personal office, but as the Toronto Star editorial notes, Canadians expect the PM's spouse to play a "significant public role", with the opportunity to represent Canada and promote causes.

Men are rarely asked about their domestic life and how they balance it, Suzanne Moore writes in the Guardian.

"Gregoire Trudeau has indeed committed a crime - against this fairytale that so many women are burdened with by simply telling the truth: 'I need help'."

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