If Sophie Deserv es it, So Do We
I know people in Toronto who, until very recently, were paying to get daycare—seriously. By that I mean that, in order just to get on a waiting list for a child care spot, they had to fork over some money. The City of Toronto, thankfully, put an end to wait-list fees; but the fact that they existed for so long speaks to daycare’s pathetic state. We need a universal system.
So, for a nanosecond, I understood why there was so much outrage about Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau’s request for an additional publicly paid staffer to deal with her child-care needs and her growing administrative requirements.
Many have argued that since, via her family, she has her own considerable wealth, the public shouldn’t pay.
But when I thought about it more deeply, I began to realize that the reaction, especially from the opposition and the NDP, was both ultra-partisan and not very smart. The fact that they immediately dumped on GregoireTrudeau speaks to a profound weakness in our political culture. It’s as if knee-jerk partisan politics must trump intelligent conversation about policy.
“Deal with it, honey,” opposing parties seemed to be saying. “This is what every Canadian working woman has to do in order to meet her child-care needs.” But Gregoire-Trudeau isn’t just any Canadian woman. If she were, she wouldn’t be getting all those appearance requests, up to 30 a week. Note that these requests usually come from charities looking for a bright light to support their work. Gregoire-Trudeau has her own favourite organizations concerning bulimia and women’s causes, and I don’t have a problem if she parlays her position in order to encourage people to support them. At one event on Martin Luther King Day, she even broke out into song. It’s not like she’s looking for help while she’s at a weeklong spa retreat.
I imagine that the opposition is seething that the Trudeaus are travelling all over the world, taking selfies with the masses and burnishing the Liberal government’s image abroad. But really, it’s Canada’s image that’s being buffed here, and if Gregoire-Trudeau is promoting Canadian fashion worldwide, that’s fine with me.
The reaction from opposition parties and some media pundits strikes me as not only sexist (women should be relegated to the home where they belong) but also a reflection of typically small Canadian thinking, as if as a country we’re not big enough or important enough for the wife of the prime minister to actually do something.
Consider that American first lady Michelle Obama retains over 20 staffers at taxpayers’ expense, and they earn from $36,000 (assistant to her social secretary) to $172,000 (her chief of staff ).
Not that Gregoire-Trudeau needs 20 staffers. For one thing, her role is not institutionalized like that of the U.S. president’s spouse. She’s not co-hosting scores of state dinners. And Michelle Obama has a staffer in charge of flowers, for heaven’s sake. Nor is GregoireTrudeau expected to have her own policy agenda the way American presidential spouses do. But the spouse of Canada’s prime minister does have responsibilities, even if they’re ill-defined, and the role certainly merits at least as many staff as our official first lady, that is, the wife of the Governor General, Sharon Johnson, who has two. Mila Mulroney had three.
Yes, Canadian parents are in desperate need of affordable, quality child care. Former prime ministers, including Stephen Harper, have attempted to buy off parents with ludicrously inadequate tax credits, instead of creating a national program. Heaven forbid we should admit that mothers—and fathers, for that matter—work. Certainly, if Prime Minister Trudeau’s pledge to support middle-class families is to be taken seriously, he has to step up on the daycare file.
In the meantime, I don’t expect much from the Tories. But the New Democrats, instead of telling GregoireTrudeau to suck it up the way most Canadian women do, should have responded to her request for more staff with, sure, Sophie. Now can you talk to your husband about universal child care?