Margaret Trudeau returns to the spotlight
A tear rolled down Margaret Trudeau’s face as she watched her son swear the oath to the Queen. As Trudeau was then spun around and presented to the packed Rideau Hall room, Canada’s new leader appeared to be mouthing “I love you” in her direction.
Earlier, crowds thronging the grounds of the Governor General’s residence watched as a beaming 67-year-old Margaret Trudeau shepherded her young grandchildren up the front walk. She took her seat with the family in the front row.
For the first time, apparently, Canada is going to be seeing a lot of the Prime Minister’s mother.
“He’s my boy and he’s taking on the biggest, biggest job,” an ebullient Margaret Trudeau told the CBC’s Wendy Mesley shortly before the swearing-in.
Margaret, who at 22 became the wife of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, intentionally kept a low profile during the election, concluding that it was bad optics for a campaigning Liberal leader to constantly be seen around his mother.
“I just said if I went out to a rally and spoke, even a local one, there would be an attack ad that Justin is so unready he needs his mummy,” she explained last month.
But since the final ballots were cast on Oct. 19, she has been front and centre for every milestone of the new Liberal government.
On Wednesday — 41 years after Trudeau last attended the swearing-in of a Canadian ministry — she appeared in front of cameras carrying one-year-old grandson Hadrien. Later, she could be seen holding hands with Justin’s wife, Sophie, as the ceremony unfolded.
And ever since Election Night, the proud mother has been doing the media circuit to extol the virtues of the oldest of three sons born while Pierre Trudeau was in office.
“I always knew he was going to win (by a) landslide, but everybody just thought I was crazy if I said it out loud,” she told CTV.
She told Chatelaine, meanwhile, that she now has at least one thing in common with Barbara Bush and “would have to go and get nice big white pearls in her honour.”
Prime ministerial mothers usually dwell at the far fringes of the spotlight.
Stephen Harper’s mother, who is also named Margaret, made few political appearances. She got a mention during the financial crisis of 2008, cited as evidence that Harper understood what “people are feeling about the stock market.”
“I use my mother as an obvious example because she is the person closest to me most worried about the stock market these days,” Harper said at the time.
Margaret Trudeau, by contrast, is one of the most tell-all figures in Canadian political history.
She once called Cuban dictator Fidel Castro the “sexiest man I’ve ever met.” She dubbed 24 Sussex the “the crown jewel of the federal penitentiary system.” She proclaimed that she loved marijuana and took to it like “a duck to water.”
“I shouldn’t say it, but I found that the French can be the most arrogant people in the world if they want to be,” she said in a 1979 television interview about accompanying Pierre on a state visit to France.
And contrary to her husband’s convertible-driving, fun-loving image, she has said he was an austere killjoy who only allowed her to listen to rock and roll records if she retreated to the porch while wearing headphones.
Some of Trudeau’s irrepressible candidness was her self-described “flower child” demeanour. Some of it was the stress of being thrust into the public eye at the age of 22 and immediately having three children in six years. And some of it, she later revealed, was the result of bipolar disorder. She has since become a public advocate for a better understanding of mental illness.
But now that she’s suddenly back in the orbit of the PMO, Trudeau has vowed to be much more grandmotherly in her public image.
“I am really not going to be the source for all of you, for all of the gossip out of Justin and Sophie’s life,” she told Mesley in last weekend’s televised interview.
Still, it was she who accidentally leaked the news that Trudeau would not be occupying 24 Sussex, instead telling Postmedia that the Trudeaus were going to move into “whichever residence is available.”
The international media typically have trouble staying awake when it comes to Canadian politics. But while Justin may still be an unknown internationally, several have noted the return of Canada’s Princess Diana.
The Australian newspaper reported that Justin Trudeau’s victory has spelled the “public resurrection” of someone who was “once one of the most famous, and most photographed, women in the world.”
Only days after the election, the New York Post dug out nightclubbing photos of Trudeau to accompany the headline “New Canadian prime minister’s mom was an NYC wild child.”
When she separated from Pierre in 1977 Margaret said that she had slammed the door of 24 Sussex with a vow to never return.
“Never again, never again!” she remembered thinking in a recent interview.
“Well, I’ll eat my words.”
I am really not going to be the source for all of you, for all of the gossip out of Justin and Sophie’s life.