The hacking of tall poppy Sophie Grégoire Trudeau: Neil Macdonald
She’s amazingly popular and that’s something many Canadians can’t stand
A common theme in all the carping and snarking about Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is that she has NO official role, and NO official duties — that she's a "stay-at-home mom," and therefore she should pay for her help the way everybody else has to.
Well, first of all, she hasn't asked for any more help to take care of her kids.
As for her not having any official duties, yes, that's technically true; there is actually only one government spouse in Ottawa with official duties, and that's the Governor General's wife, who gets to call herself Her Excellency, and act as consort to the representative of Canada's head of state, cutting ribbons and greeting important guests and so forth.
Now, quick: Name the Governor General's wife.
The reason you probably can't is that Sharon Johnston, while no doubt a lovely, public-spirited woman, is not a tall poppy.
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is. And a lot of Canadians just can't stand a tall poppy.
Sophie Trudeau has NO official duties. She's a stay-at-home Mom with a driver, chef, two nannies and cleaning staff. <a href="https://t.co/ajwK749nQL">https://t.co/ajwK749nQL</a>—@Banks_Todd
If Sophie Trudeau wants a larger staff to help w/her responsibilities, kids & job, other working moms shouldn't have to pay for it. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cdnpoli?src=hash">#cdnpoli</a>—@paigemacp
Tall poppies stick out because they're really smart, or really rich, or talented and famous, or, as Derek Zoolander would put it, "really really really good looking."
In the United States, people love tall poppies. The average American looks at a tall poppy and says: "I want to be like that."
In Canada, we look at tall poppies and cluck and disapprove and fervently hope somebody takes them down a peg or two. Who do they think they are, anyway?
After Grégoire Trudeau told a Quebec newspaper she needs more than the one staffer she has to cope with her new workload, Conservative MP Candice Bergen called it "hypocrisy," and managed to blame the prime minister.
The NDP called it a "troubling pattern" of using the public dime for support ordinary Canadians aren't provided.
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, sniffed her critics, is just out of touch with the common Canadian.
I don't pay much attention to Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, but I know she's amazingly popular, and I understand why.
- Sophie Grégoire Trudeau says she's overwhelmed
- Sophie Grégoire Trudeau shares the spotlight
She puts her hand over her heart, and she empathizes, and she's very pretty, and open about her own shortcomings, and seems determined to help young girls navigate a fragile time of life and grow into mature, accomplished women.
Her cause is women's empowerment, with a corollary of bulimia and eating disorders, something she herself once overcame.
She talks about her personal problems, and she breaks into song in public, and appears in Vogue doing that forehead-touching thing with her husband.
This drives conservatives nuts, but it made her a sensation in America. First lady Michelle Obama pronounced her a "soulmate." (Being a sensation in America is also frowned on by a segment of Canadians.)
It's also made her a super-hot ticket for charities here at home.
The Prime Minister's Office says she gets 50 to 60 requests a week to appear at some worthy event or other: speak at our commencement, act as our patron, speak at our fundraiser, use your blazing fame to help us….please.
And she does. She tries to answer all the invitations with a yes or a no, because it is simply not possible to accept them all.
She tries to make speeches that don't mail it in, and if you've ever made a speech, you know the time and effort that takes.
Her work requires flying around, which can be exhausting, and staying in hotels, which gets old really fast.
But here's the thing: She does it for free. She could just as easily say, "Yeah, OK, listen, no. I'm off to teach a yoga class and play with my kids."
She could, as Aline Chrétien did and Olive Diefenbaker before that, remain quietly in the background. It'd sure be a lot less work.
But she doesn't, and all she's asking is for an extra staffer or two to cope with the sheer volume of supplicants – who, let's not forget, are Canadian taxpayers with expectations.
The last prime ministerial spouse as famous and as in-demand as Sophie Grégoire Trudeau was Mila Mulroney, who put her brains, beauty and glamour to much the same use. Her cause was cystic fibrosis, particularly in children.
Her husband gave her an office, and three staff, which also caused a big uproar (except from Conservatives, who seemed to think it was a good idea).
"It was almost like being in a cabinet minister's office, in terms of workload and requests from the public," says Bonnie Brownlee, who for years was Mila Mulroney's majordomo and now works for the CBC.
"I can't think of an ethnic festival we didn't attend. Graduating classes, lots of medical stuff, 4-H clubs, women's associations, just everything you can imagine. The amount of correspondence alone was incredible."
- Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is Canada's latest style icon
- Sophie Grégoire Trudeau showcases her singing chops
And, like Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Mila Mulroney never made a cent from it: "It's kind of a public mission," says Brownlee, who, incidentally, thinks Grégoire Trudeau is doing a crackerjack job and wishes her well.
Brownlee thinks Grégoire Trudeau has a remarkable opportunity to make a difference: "It's contribution to public service. It's volunteerism."
And she's doing it. Good for her. If she needs a few more staff, fine. It's at least as good a use for public money as, say, the business of the Senate.
- More from Neil Macdonald: Portrait of PM Paul Martin who ruled from the cheap seats