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Michael TaubeSophie Gregoire-Trudeau had her first real tussle with the media last week. In doing so, she inadvertently opened the door to a discussion we’ve long needed to have in this country.

Let’s go back several steps.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife was roundly criticized for stating she needs more help with her ceremonial duties. She reportedly receives many requests from different charities and functions, and wants to attend them. With only one staff member and no office at her disposal, it’s clearly difficult to accomplish this.

Gregoire-Trudeau told the French language newspaper Le Soleil, “I’d love to be everywhere but I can’t. I have three children and a husband who is prime minister. I need help. I need a team to help me serve the people.”

Many Canadians felt her comments sounded snobbish, elitist and entitled. It’s very hard to argue with these sentiments for one simple reason: the Prime Minister’s spouse has no official role.

As Sun Media national comment editor Anthony Furey nicely put it in his May 13 column, “All her responsibilities are optional. The taxpayer owes her nothing. So she could at least be a little more humble in her request. Canadian parents no doubt empathize with whatever child-rearing challenges Gregoire-Trudeau faces. However it’s still offensive to hear her suggest she’s got it tough.”

Exactly. There’s no valid reason to spend more taxpayer dollars to fulfill Gregoire-Trudeau’s personal whims and desires. The way things currently stand, she’s not entitled to another red cent (or, in this case, plugged nickel) and we should reject it.

Unless we do something radically different with her role, that is.

John “Dr. Dawg” Baglow, a former Public Service Alliance of Canada vice-president, wrote this on my Facebook page on May 14, “I wonder if you . . . might have the same reaction re Mila Mulroney and her staff. Sophie is not asking for nannies. She’s asking for help managing correspondence and appointments because she has a bulging schedule of speeches at charitable events . . . The attacks on her reek of bad politics.”

Baglow’s point is valid, and has been repeated by others. Mulroney did have a small staff helping with ceremonial duties when her husband was prime minister. She didn’t receive the same sort of criticism.

Here was part of my response, “I would have had the same reaction re. Mila. I don’t think the PM’s spouse, irrespective of political leanings, should be entitled to additional staff. If the Liberal government ever proposes to change Sophie’s role into an official one (and there is some merit to this), that’s a different story – and a completely different discussion.”

Well, I believe it’s time to discuss it.

Canada’s global role has changed. We’re still a middle power, but we took a more significant leadership role (under former prime minister Stephen Harper) in international affairs. While it still remains to be seen whether Trudeau continues this trend, it helped create a new, more powerful image for our country.

This means that the PM, and the PM’s spouse, must take on different roles. In the latter’s case, there’s an argument to be made that it should now be modeled after the position of First Lady of the United States.

In my view, Ottawa should consider making the PM’s spouse an official role. She (or he) would be given an office, staff and annual budget. Domestic and international trips would be properly accounted for, as well as appearances at charities, fundraisers, dinners and so on.

Gregoire-Trudeau would therefore acquire the help she needs. The eyes of the nation would observe her every move. The Parliamentary Budget Officer would either become her best friend, or worst enemy. Her success or failure in this newly-created role would determine whether it made sense to keep this position going forward.

I have no idea if she’ll take on this challenge. It’s Sophie’s choice, after all.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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