Trudeau willing to take 'some punches' for work-life balance debate

With his announcement that he will be taking the day off while in Japan to celebrate his wedding anniversary, Justin Trudeau seemed to be inviting his opponents to criticize the move. But it may also be part of a strategy to provoke discussion on an issue that resonates with many Canadians

Trudeau is clearing schedule in Japan to celebrate 11th wedding anniversary with wife

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said will be taking the day off while in Japan to celebrate his wedding anniversary with his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, part of the work-life balance he says is essential to better serve the country. (Shuji Kajiyama/Associated Press)

With his forthright announcement that he will be taking the day off while in Japan to celebrate his wedding anniversary, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemed to be daring, or possibly inviting, those who would criticize his actions.

"I'll see your hubbub about nannies and extra help & raise you an anniversary abroad. Bold," tweeted Andrew MacDougall, a past director of communications for former prime minister Stephen Harper. 

Bold, perhaps, but it could also be seen as part of a calculated strategy on Trudeau's part to deliberately provoke discussion on an issue that resonates with many Canadians and could score him a few political points in the process.

'Invitation to critics'

"There is a proactivity to his declaration that he was going to make time for his anniversary," said Scott Reid, political strategist and former senior adviser to Paul Martin. "And there's almost an invitation to critics to register a grievance. Why? So that it can propel the debate forward."

Trudeau, in Tokyo for bilateral talks and the Group of Seven Summit, appeared to be more than willing to explain to reporters why he was clearing his schedule Wednesday. He said he would be "taking a moment to celebrate" his 11th anniversary with his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, a day off at no expense to the taxpayers since he would be using his personal funds to cover the costs. (The actual anniversary date comes a few days later.)

​"This is the kind of work-life balance that I've often talked about as being essential in order to be able to be in service of the country with all one's very best and that's certainly something I'm going to continue to make sure we do," the prime minister said.

Justin and Sophie take a hike

8 years ago
Duration 0:18
Featured VideoJustin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau hiking in the Ise-Shima region of Japan for their anniversary.

Trudeau has raised the issue of work-life balance before. On the campaign trail, he proposed more flexible work hours and new parental leave options. And just recently, his Liberal government announced it was looking into implementing flexible work hours for federally regulated workers in sectors such as banking, telecommunications, broadcasting and transportation.

Currently, a House of Commons committee is studying ways to improve work-family balance for members of parliament, including the idea of ending Friday sessions.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says that for 2½ hours a day, six days a week, she turns off her phone and spends time with her kids. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Just weeks into the job, Trudeau, in an interview with CBC's Matt Galloway  said what surprised him most about his new role was the pace and how he must be "really ruthless about ensuring that I do have time with my family."

He said it's worse for members of his cabinet, many of whom are separated from their families for long periods of time. Maybe that's why Trudeau's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna can publicly state that for 2½ hours a day, six days a week, she turns off her phone and spends time with her kids.

"This prime minister is saying, 'I've talked about these issues in public, I think this matters and I'm happy to knock down some old barriers on this issue and I'll use my personal example to do that," Reid said.

Appeal to women voters

With his day-off announcement, Trudeau is making a point of putting this on the radar for Canadians in an effort to connect with voters who will also feel this is an important issue.

And it's an issue that has particular appeal to female voters, who have to bear a disproportionate burden when it comes to work-life balance.

"I think from a pure political standpoint, it's a reinforcing effort on the part of this prime minister and this PMO with women voters," Reid said

In 2012, Linda Duxbury a professor of management sciences at Carleton University, and Christopher Higgins, a professor of information systems at Western University, released a  major work-life balance study that examined work-life experiences of 25,000 Canadians. They found many families were having difficulties balancing competing work and family demands and that companies had not made progress in the area of work-life balance and employee well-being

Their study also found that most Canadian employees spend 50.2 hours in work-related activities a week,  just over half of employees take work home to complete outside regular hours, and that they were twice as likely to let work interfere with family.

"I think that [Trudeau's] saying, 'I'm more than happy to take some punches from people who want to call this a day off. I say this is getting it right," Reid said.

"I think this will be quite resonant with large numbers of voters."'

Featured VideoThe CBC's David Cochrane gives Chris the main takeaways from his first overseas press trip with the Prime Minister to Japan for the G7 summit. Plus, two experts debate what exactly is meant by the "green economy".


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from The Canadian Press