Above: Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau joins her husband, Prime Minister Elect Justin Trudeau, at the podium of the Liberal Party Campaign Headquarters in Montreal on Election Day, October 19, 2015. Photo by Adam Scotti, courtesy of Flickr Justin Trudeau.
Our political leaders take the stage, take the shrapnel, and are forced to respond on their feet. But their mates have the luxury of time to think, to weigh the issues in terms of the long game. They share their thoughts in times of intimacy, helping to craft the direction of the country over the dinner table, under the covers, pillow to pillow. Nothing and no one operates in a vacuum. While the leaders of our time gain naming rights to civic holidays and libraries, the names we hear less often do the deeper, cellular level work of governing our nations: Jackie, Margaret, Hillary, Michelle, and now, Sophie.
Canada doesn’t have “first ladies,” though we borrow the term from our American-influenced media. The wife of the Prime Minister is actually third in line after the monarch’s spouse (Prince Philip) as well as the Governor General’s (Sharon Johnston). Lacking monarchical mojo, the Prime Minister’s spouse still plays a public role, accompanying her husband on certain occasions and appearances. That doesn’t change the fact that these women sleep beside their husbands at night, influential advisors during campaigns and terms in office—a private, but powerful role.
There is great power behind the throne. And the more the public learns about Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, the more we see her as she operates on the sidelines, a silent support and guide to her husband. There’s growing optimism about the role she will play in this new era: Trudeaumania V2.0. The media would find it easier if there was a catchphrase to attach to Grégoire-Trudeau, as she’s poised to become active enough to require one.
It’s easy to poke fun at a supermom who has it all, with sprinklings of pixie dust residue from an upbringing of white privilege, though she didn’t emerge from her idyllic childhood unscarred—she has been open about battling bulimia in her late teens and early 20s. Women in our society are raised to fear, mistrust, and be jealous of each other; perhaps it’s a seed planted by the patriarchy to keep them off their game, busy in-fighting so they won’t look outside at the real problem. Grégoire-Trudeau does enjoy advantages that make her life easier—paying the bills and affordable childcare aren’t likely to keep her up at night. Naysayers will find it easy to poke fun at her templed hands, un-coiffed hair, and style carefully crafted to shine with natural beauty without detracting from her famous husband’s famous baby-blues.
Cosmetics aside, she thinks and feels deeply for her chosen causes: missing and murdered Indigenous women, gender equality, body image, and eating disorders. Often seen as purely women’s issues, they also affect men: the sons and husbands of the missing and murdered, and boys and men that suffer with eating disorders (even more marginalized because it isn’t seen as a men’s issue). Grégoire-Trudeau’s mission is emerging as one of improving the lives of women and children. The work, she feels, is an essential part of her service to the public. As she settles in, her agenda will emerge clearly, and in four years we will likely find great things have been accomplished.
Canadian women and mothers juggling the demands of work and devoting precious energy to other things that are dear to them find Sophie relatable, like someone they would share tea with. But beneath the loose-flowing hair and yoga wear beats the heart of a journalist with a keen eye, always watching, always questioning, always on point.
After studying commerce at McGill University and shifting to communications at the University of Montreal, she moved in to television, first as a news ticker writer and later as a Quebec correspondent at eTalk. Since setting aside the mantle of television personality and donning the cloak of motherhood in 2010, she has gained a whole new level of relatability. She isn’t afraid of the limelight as some of her predecessors have been. “It’s important for Canadians to have a better idea of who stands by the person who is holding such an important role; and what kind of values does she share, what does she do with her life, and what are her passions?” Grégoire- Trudeau told Canadian Family. “I want people to get to know me, because I want to get to know them.”
While Grégoire-Trudeau shines on her own merit, she is also part of a political dynasty. Canada, in general, quietly celebrates its celebrities. But if we’ve ever brought American-style enthusiasm and energy to personalities, the Trudeau family would be one of them—up there with the Kennedys in sparkle and shine, but not so much on the policy side. The voice of reason remaining from the dynasty of decades past is Margaret Trudeau. The matriarch, not without mental health and marital challenges herself, is at Sophie’s side to share and warn and prime for what’s coming. The world is a different place today than in Margaret’s time, but the political bedrock of old white male-dominated power remains. Justin is a feminist, but those ages-old tides will be dragging at his feet. Margaret and Sophie will keep him true to himself. The political landscape of family and politics has changed since her mother-in-law’s days, but Margaret’s wisdom is timeless. “She looked me in the eyes,” Grégoire-Trudeau told Canadian Family, “and said in one true moment: ‘Be wise, be grounded, and protect the people you love. It’s not always going to be easy.’”