Sophie Grégoire Trudeau's 'help' debate: P.E.I. political spouses weigh in

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau made headlines recently for claiming she's overwhelmed with demands on her time, and taking on the role of a political spouse. CBC P.E.I. asked some past and present politicians' spouses to weigh in.

'I can only imagine it must be a very daunting amount of work she's asked to do'

Life is not all sunny ways and Vogue photo shoots as the prime minister's wife: Sophie Grégoire Trudeau says she is 'overwhelmed.' (Norman Jean Roy/Vogue)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau said in a recent interview she was overwhelmed and needed more staff to cope with the mountain of requests on her time.

While she has one assistant to help, and the couple has two nannies, that often proves to be insufficient for the demands on her time, Grégoire said.

Who would have believed the firestorm of debate that assertion would set off in boardrooms and bedrooms across the country? It even spawned a TIME magazine article entitled Canadians, Leave Your 'First Lady' Alone!

So CBC P.E.I. decided to ask some politicians' spouses past and present for their thoughts on Grégoire's claim, and the role of a political spouse.

'She knew what she was getting into'

We are very privileged to have a young, vital, intelligent person representing women and mothers and 52 per cent of the population.— Rose Ellen Ghiz

Patricia Lee, or Patsy as she's known, has been married to former Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Lee (1981 - 86) for more than 50 years. 

"She knew what she was getting into when she married him and they took this job," said Lee from the couple's Charlottetown-area home.

When her husband became premier, Lee said, she took over as mother and father of their children for a long time.

"I knew what my husband took up and I knew what I had to do," she said. 

"I think it's the idea of the paying for it — why should we pay for getting her housework done? She had to know all of this was going to happen, no doubt they agreed together," said Lee, adding she thinks taxpayers will be unhappy if Grégoire gets any extra staff.

Patricia Lee, dancing here with her husband Jim in the 1980s, says she knew what she had to do when he became premier. (Frank Lennon/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The polar opposite

Rose Ellen Ghiz's opinion couldn't be more different.

The Ghizes replaced the Lees as P.E.I.'s first family in 1986 and served until 1993. A lot was happening on P.E.I, during those years — constitutional conferences and heated debates over building a fixed link kept the premier very busy.  

"I believe there should be support, as much as possible, for the partner and especially for the children involved. You want to keep it normal," said Ghiz from her cottage in the Montague area. 

Rose Ellen and Joe Ghiz on voting day in 1986. He won the election and became premier. (CBC)

If the requests are public requests, then taxpayers should definitely help Grégoire, she adds.  

"I think it's wonderful we have people who will give themselves to political life, including all the scrutiny," Ghiz said.

"We are very privileged to have a young, vital, intelligent person representing women and mothers and 52 per cent of the population," Ghiz said, suggesting perhaps Canada needs a defined role for the prime minister's spouse.

Ghiz sympathizes with Grégoire, saying she was always closely scrutinized as the wife — and then mother — of a premier in a small province where everyone knows everyone. 

"To maintain a relationship with your partner, sometimes the only time you get to see them is at a public event," she said.

"And then if you are not present, if you don't appear, then we have perception again — what's happening with their relationship?" 

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan's partner Duncan McIntosh says he finds Sophie Grégoire Trudeau 'inspiring.' (CBC)

Grégoire 'inspiring'

Spouses' roles will be discussed at the upcoming Council of the Federation meeting, said Duncan McIntosh, partner of P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan. The chat is being hosted by Tammie Pasloski, wife of Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski. 

"I find her inspiring," McIntosh said of Grégoire. "And I know that however much or little you think you're going to undertake, the demands are always more.

"I can only imagine it must be a very daunting amount of work she's asked to do." 

McIntosh worked with Laureen Harper promoting Anne of Green Gables in China, and noted he saw her workload being quite significant, even though she chose to avoid most public life. 

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, seen here with her husband Justin Trudeau, takes an active role in political and philanthropic activities. (CBC)

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