Spouse of the
prime minister of Canada
Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau (crop 3).jpg
Currently in role
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau
since November 4, 2015
Residence24 Sussex Drive (under renovation)
Harrington Lake (seasonal)
Rideau Cottage (temporary)
Inaugural holderAgnes Macdonald, 1st Baroness Macdonald of Earnscliffe
FormationJuly 1, 1867

The spouse of the prime minister of Canada (French: époux du premier ministre du Canada) is the wife or husband of the prime minister of Canada. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is the wife of the 23rd and current prime minister, Justin Trudeau.[1]

There have been nineteen women who have held the role of being a wife of a prime minister of Canada; Kim Campbell, the only female prime minister, was unmarried during her time in office.[2] As a semi-public figure, spouses participate in various ceremonial, diplomatic, or partisan activities alongside the prime minister. Spouses often pursue philanthropic or charitable endeavours on their own, although the spouses to date have varied in how actively they sought or accepted the public spotlight.

Some media outlets have styled prime ministers' wives as the "First Lady of Canada", similar to the style of First Lady used in the neighbouring United States and other republics.[3] This is not a recognized nor accurately applicable title,[4] as both the spouses of Canada's monarch and that of the governor general take precedence over a prime minister's spouse.[3] Rather, use of "First Lady" is based on the influence of American media.[3]

Public role

The prime minister is not the head of state; thus, their spouse does not officially play as active a role in Canadian affairs as the royal and viceregal consorts.[5] The prime minister's spouse, however, is still generally regarded as a public or semi-public figure, frequently accompanying the prime minister on campaign and other public appearances, and often hosting dignitaries at the prime minister's residence.

At times, prime ministers' spouses have used their public status to promote charitable causes; Mila Mulroney was a spokesperson for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and other children's charities; Aline Chrétien was an active campaigner for literacy programs; and Laureen Harper was known for her support of animal welfare organizations such as the Ottawa Humane Society.[6] Conversely, other prime ministers' spouses, including Geills Turner and Sheila Martin, were uncomfortable with the public aspects of their role and tried to minimize their time in the press spotlight.

Spouse of the prime minister of Canada Laureen Harper (second from left) at 2008 G8 Summit in Hokkaidō, Japan
Spouse of the prime minister of Canada Laureen Harper (second from left) at 2008 G8 Summit in Hokkaidō, Japan

Many have also held an unofficial but influential role as a political or campaign advisor to their husbands: both Mila Mulroney and Laureen Harper were considered their husbands' "secret weapons", whose instinctive sense of campaign optics proved invaluable to their husbands' careers;[6] Harper, for example, was credited as the brains behind a public appearance in which her husband, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, appeared on stage at Ottawa's National Arts Centre to sing The Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends", which was widely perceived as softening the prime minister's somewhat stiff and bureaucratic public image.[7] Despite her relatively low public profile, Aline Chrétien was also recognized as a powerful advisor to her husband; Maclean's magazine once wrote, "Never mind calling her the power behind the throne—she shares the seat of power",[8] and columnist Allan Fotheringham later called her the second most powerful political figure in Canada, behind her husband but ahead of any elected member of Parliament or any staffer in the Prime Minister's Office.[9]

Some prime ministers' spouses have also attracted attention for other reasons: Maryon Pearson was noted for her prickly wit, having made a number of famous quips which are still regularly featured in anthologies of famous quotations.[10] Margaret Trudeau, whom Pierre Trudeau married while in office,[11] became a notable celebrity in her own right, most famously when she was featured on the covers of international tabloids after being seen partying at Studio 54.[7] Maureen McTeer, spouse of Joe Clark, attracted controversy when she became the first spouse of a prime minister to retain her own surname after marriage.[7] Mila Mulroney also rose to some notoriety due to her spending habits[7] and was satirized in Frank as Imelda because of her purportedly large collection of shoes.

Because the role of a prime minister's spouse is not formally defined, however, a spouse may face criticism over her public visibility itself. In 2016, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau faced some controversy when she stated in an interview that she needed a staff assistant to keep on top of all the requests she received for public and charitable appearances, which some critics described as coming from a sense of personal entitlement or an attempt to turn herself into a First Lady.[12]

Other notes

Canada has had two prime ministers who were bachelors, William Lyon Mackenzie King and R.B. Bennett. Mackenzie Bowell, a widower whose wife, Harriet, died in 1884, was also not married during his term in office. Pierre Trudeau began his term as a bachelor, became the first Canadian prime minister to get married while in office and ended it as Canada's first divorced prime minister.

Three other Canadian prime ministers–Alexander Mackenzie, John Diefenbaker, and John A. Macdonald—were widowers who remarried before becoming prime minister. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, had been a widower for ten years while in office in the former Province of Canada. His first wife was Isabella Clark, who died in 1857. Macdonald married his second wife, Agnes Bernard, while in London in 1867, during the final negotiations leading up to Confederation. Mackenzie's first wife was Helen Neil, and Diefenbaker's was Edna Brower.

Canada has also had one female prime minister, Kim Campbell. As she had finalized her divorce from her second husband, Howard Eddy, in early 1993, there has never been a male spouse of the prime minister (although Campbell's first husband, Nathan Divinsky, did try to attract media attention in 1993 by billing himself as the ex-husband of the prime minister). She briefly dated Gregory Lekhtman, the inventor of Exerlopers, during her term as prime minister, but kept the relationship relatively private and did not involve him in the 1993 election campaign.[13] In 1997, after her prime ministership, she entered into a common-law marriage with Hershey Felder.

Maureen McTeer maintained a career during her life at 24 Sussex;[14] although several others have had independent careers prior to their spouse's term as prime minister, all others to date have put their own careers on hold to concentrate on the public and ceremonial and philanthropic aspects of their role as a leader's spouse.[15] McTeer was also, to date, the only spouse of a prime minister to use her birth surname, rather than her husband's surname, in her public life; although Laureen (Teskey) Harper and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau both used their birth surnames prior to their husbands becoming prime ministers, both opted to minimize any controversy by using their husband's surname once they were elevated to the public role of a prime minister's spouse.[16] Grégoire Trudeau did, however, become the first spouse of a prime minister to hyphenate her husband's surname with her own.[16]

Spouses of the prime ministers

No. Image Name Date of birth Date of marriage Prime Minister
(Spouse)
Date tenure began Age at tenure start Date tenure ended Date of death
1
Portrait of Agnes Macdonald
Agnes Macdonald
(née Bernard)
August 24, 1836 February 16, 1867 Sir John A. Macdonald July 1, 1867 30 years, 176 days November 5, 1873 (1920-09-05)September 5, 1920
2
Portrait of Jane Mackenzie
Jane Mackenzie
(née Sym)
March 22, 1825 June 17, 1853 Alexander Mackenzie November 7, 1873 48 years, 230 days October 8, 1878 (1893-03-30)March 30, 1893
(1)
Portrait of Agnes Macdonald
Agnes Macdonald
(née Bernard)
August 24, 1836 February 16, 1867 Sir John A. Macdonald October 17, 1878 42 years, 54 days June 6, 1891 (1920-09-05)September 5, 1920
3
Mary Abbott (cropped).jpg
Mary Abbott
(née Bethune)
October 17, 1823 July 26, 1849 Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott June 16, 1891 67 years, 242 days 24 November 1892 (1898-02-25)February 25, 1898
4
Portrait of Annie Thompson
Annie Thompson
(née Affleck)
June 26, 1845 July 5, 1870 Sir John Sparrow David Thompson December 5, 1892 47 years, 162 days December 12, 1894 (1913-04-10)April 10, 1913
None (widower) Sir Mackenzie Bowell December 21, 1894 66 years, 224 days April 27, 1896
5
Portrait of Frances Tupper
Frances Tupper
(née Morse)
March 14, 1826 October 6, 1846 Sir Charles Tupper May 1, 1896 70 years, 48 days July 8, 1896 (1912-05-11)May 11, 1912
6
Portrait of Zoé Laurier
Zoé Laurier
(née Lafontaine)
June 26, 1841 August 13, 1868 Sir Wilfrid Laurier July 11, 1896 55 years, 15 days October 7, 1911 (1921-11-01)November 1, 1921
7
Photo of Sir Robert and Lady Borden
Laura Borden
(née Bond)
November 26, 1861 September 25, 1889 Sir Robert Laird Borden October 10, 1911 49 years, 318 days July 10, 1920 (1940-09-07)September 7, 1940
8
Photo of Isabel Meighen
Isabel Meighen
(née Cox)
April 18, 1882 June 1, 1904 Arthur Meighen July 10, 1920 38 years, 83 days December 29, 1921 (1985-09-06)September 6, 1985
No image.svg
None (never married) William Lyon Mackenzie King December 29, 1921 June 29, 1926
(8)
Photo of Isabel Meighen
Isabel Meighen
(née Cox)
April 18, 1882 June 1, 1904 Arthur Meighen June 29, 1926 44 years, 72 days November 25, 1926 (1985-09-06)September 6, 1985
No image.svg
None (never married) William Lyon Mackenzie King November 25, 1926 August 7, 1930
No image.svg
None (never married) R.B. Bennett August 7, 1930 October 23, 1935
No image.svg
None (never married) William Lyon Mackenzie King October 23, 1935 November 15, 1948
9
Photo of Louis and Jeanne St. Laurent
Jeanne St. Laurent
(née Renault)
October 22, 1886 May 19, 1908 Louis Stephen St. Laurent November 15, 1948 62 years, 24 days June 21, 1957 (1966-11-14)November 14, 1966
10 Olive Diefenbaker
(née Freeman)
April 14, 1902 December 8, 1953 John Diefenbaker June 21, 1957 55 years, 68 days April 22, 1963 (1976-12-22)December 22, 1976
11
No image.svg
Maryon Pearson
(née Moody)
December 13, 1901 August 22, 1925 Lester B. Pearson April 22, 1963 61 years, 130 days April 20, 1968 (1989-12-26)December 26, 1989
No image.svg
None (unmarried as of 1968; married in office) Pierre Trudeau April 20, 1968 March 4, 1971
12
Photo of Margaret Trudeau
Margaret Trudeau
(née Sinclair)
September 10, 1948 March 4, 1971 Pierre Trudeau March 4, 1971 22 years, 175 days May 27, 1977[a] Living
No image.svg
None (separated)
Margaret Trudeau (de jure)
Pierre Trudeau May 27, 1977 June 4, 1979[a]
13
No image.svg
Maureen McTeer September 27, 1952 June 30, 1973 Joe Clark June 4, 1979 26 years, 250 days March 3, 1980 Living
No image.svg
None (separated)
Margaret Trudeau (de jure)
Pierre Trudeau March 3, 1980 April 2, 1984[a]
No image.svg
None (divorced) Pierre Trudeau April 2, 1984 June 30, 1984[a]
14
Geills Turner (cropped).png
Geills Turner
(née Kilgour)
December 23, 1937 May 11, 1963 John Turner June 30, 1984 46 years, 190 days September 17, 1984 Living
15
Photo of Mila Mulroney
Mila Mulroney
(née Pivnički)
July 13, 1953 May 26, 1973 Brian Mulroney September 17, 1984 31 years, 66 days June 25, 1993 Living
No image.svg
None (divorced) Kim Campbell June 25, 1993 November 4, 1993
16
Photo of Aline Chrétien
Aline Chrétien
(née Chaîné)
May 14, 1936 September 10, 1957 Jean Chrétien November 4, 1993 57 years, 174 days December 12, 2003 September 12, 2020
17
Sheila Bush.jpg
Sheila Martin
(née Cowan)
July 31, 1943 September 11, 1965 Paul Martin December 12, 2003 60 years, 134 days February 6, 2006 Living
18
Photo of Laureen Harper
Laureen Harper
(née Teskey)
June 23, 1963 December 11, 1993 Stephen Harper February 6, 2006 42 years, 228 days November 4, 2015 Living
19
Photo of Sophie Grégoire Trudeau
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau April 24, 1975 May 28, 2005 Justin Trudeau November 4, 2015 40 years, 194 days Present Living
  1. ^ a b c d The Trudeaus separated on May 27, 1977 but did not obtain a divorce until April 2, 1984. Pierre Trudeau left office on June 30, 1984, two months after his divorce was finalized.

See also

References

  1. ^ "Meet Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, Justin Trudeau's wife". CTV News. October 20, 2015.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ William Thomas, "The lady prime minister syndrome". Hamilton Spectator, July 10, 1993.
  3. ^ a b c Colby Cosh, "Talk of a Canadian 'first lady' is a small step toward American dysfunction". National Post, May 26, 2020.
  4. ^ Timson, Judith (April 1, 2008). "The First Ladies Club". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  5. ^ Shannon Proudfoot (May 12, 2016). "Sophie's role: What do we expect of prime ministers' spouses?". Maclean's.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ a b Kingston, Anne (August 13, 2007). "Wife of the party". Maclean's. Archived from the original on May 27, 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d "PM's wife stepping out of the shadows". The Vancouver Sun. December 3, 2010.
  8. ^ "The opinions the PM heeds". Maclean's. Vol. 109, no. 42. October 14, 1996. pp. 18–19.
  9. ^ Fotheringham, Allan (December 11, 2000). "Aline, the power player". Maclean's. Vol. 113, no. 50. p. 68.
  10. ^ English, John (1989). Shadow of Heaven: The Life of Lester Pearson. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys. ISBN 0-88619-169-6..
  11. ^ "When Pierre Trudeau pulled off a surprise wedding".((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ Mochama, Vicky (May 17, 2016). "Sophie Gregoire Trudeau realizing how hard it is to win with everyone, all the time". Metro. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  13. ^ Campbell, Kim (1996). Time and Chance: The Political Memoirs of Canada's First Woman Prime Minister. Toronto: Doubleday Canada. pp. 348. ISBN 0-385-25527-6.
  14. ^ Shannon Proudfoot (June 28, 2014). "'You could have equals living a relationship': Maureen McTeer redefined the role of political spouse". Maclean's.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ Mercedes Stephenson and Don Martin, "Debating the Role of the PM's Spouse". Power Play, May 13, 2016.
  16. ^ a b Kingston, Anne (27 November 2015). "Sophie Grégoire-What? It may be 2015, but not for political wives". Maclean's. Retrieved 27 November 2015.