Sophie Grégoire A Force In Her Own Right
What about her?
I am a fan of Sophie Grégoire. Having met her only a handful of times during my time on the Hill, I saw the way she thought, motivated, and interacted with both the public and with her then-husband, Justin Trudeau, and she was a force to be reckoned with.
Following their much publicised separation all the focus has been on him over the past week; he is the one in public office. But her contribution to the country needs to be recognised.
There have been rude jokes, speculation, innuendo, and it’s all inappropriate. They have their reasons, and they’re just that — their reasons.
One thing we know about public office is that it’s extremely hard on families. Even daring to take a vacation after months of seven-day weeks garners negative headlines. It’s why one of the first things we did in office at Procedure and House Affairs Committee was spend months working on how to make Parliament “family-friendly”. In spite of our efforts, we didn’t accomplish much — it’s a cultural problem, not really a procedural one.
Back in 2014, when I was still a Hill staffer and had just recently become a nominated Liberal candidate, and Trudeau was only in his second year as the very popular leader of the third party in the House of Commons, we invited the Trudeaus to the Hiligaynon Christmas Party in the basement of Assumption Church in Ottawa’s Vanier sector.
We were lucky. Mishiel, my wife, is Hiligaynon, as was the Trudeaus’ nanny at the time, and they were friends. As a result, we were able to invite them directly, bypassing all the red tape of the leader’s office and the party office. On December 7th that year they came with no staff, no photographer, no entourage, no handlers, not even security, just them and their kids, and they stayed for virtually the entire event. It was a rare unfiltered moment to see how they interacted and how interdependent they were, as seen in this unposed photo of them looking at each other captured by an attendee — while Mishiel looked on.
During the supper, an Angry White Man aggressively came up to our table to criticise and spew hatred at Justin. From his reaction, he was clearly accustomed to it. Sophie tried to get him to engage the person and challenge the falsehoods being spewed, but Justin did not see anything to be gained, though it visibly bothered him. His position was pragmatic, hers was principled, and it demonstrated an important balance between them.
There is a joke that has circulated the Internet for years with variations naming several different American presidents that may be relevant to their story:
One night President Obama and his wife Michelle decided to do something out of routine and go for a casual dinner at a restaurant that wasn’t too luxurious. When they were seated, the owner of the restaurant asked the president’s secret service if he could please speak to the First Lady in private. They obliged and Michelle had a conversation with the owner. Following this conversation President Obama asked Michelle, “Why was he so interested in talking to you.” She mentioned that in her teenage years, he had been madly in love with her. President Obama then said, “So if you had married him, you would now be the owner of this lovely restaurant,” to which Michelle responded, “No. If I had married him, he would now be the President.”
So, then, is a line former Prime Minister Jean Chretien said, paraphrased: “this country is run by three women: the Governor General, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and my wife!”
The cabinet shuffle last month has overtones of “don’t send an email while you’re angry,” coming only days before this news broke. It will be important for Trudeau to recenter himself and look for new sources of guidance and ensure there will still be people in earshot who both motivate and disagree with him; to restore the lost balance. He may need to consider shuffling the highest levels of the Prime Minister’s Office to achieve it.
Justin and Sophie were a power couple in every sense of the word, inspiring and leading those around them, and it would be a mistake to underestimate — or forget — Sophie Grégoire’s influence in Canadian politics over the past decade, even if we may never know the full extent of it.