If So­phie De­serv es it, So Do We

Herizons - - Nellie Grams - Not

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?

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