‘A family affair’: Canada’s next first lady? Lunch with Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau

Lunch with Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau in Ottawa. (Laura Stone/Global News).

OTTAWA – It is the first sunny day the nation’s capital has seen in a while, and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau wears a flower-print shirt speckled with yellow for the occasion as she bounds out of a booth in Lower Town’s Das Lokal restaurant to say hello.

Fitting, too, since the 39-year-old mother of three and wife of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is preparing to emerge from her self-declared “cave” since giving birth to her son, Hadrien, almost a year ago.

“I’m still feeding so I’m not totally free. I love it. I’ll probably do it until he asks to stop,” she laughs.

WATCH: Justin Trudeau thanks his wife Sophie and his family as they get set to embark on “an adventure together”

Ever since her husband won the leadership in April 2013 and Grégoire-Trudeau appeared at his side with their other two children – Xavier, 7, and six-year-old Ella-Grace – it was clear that Trudeau’s family would play a role in his political life and as prime minister, if he gets that far.

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Justin Trudeau, his wife Sophie Gregoire and their children Xavier and Ella-Grace celebrate after he won the Federal Liberal leadership Sunday April 14, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld.

As Canada readies itself for an October election, that time is now.

“I’ve always been involved on a personal level, as a couple, in what we’re doing, in the journey we have embarked on,” Grégoire-Trudeau says.

“And I feel that now that things are getting more concrete, and that we’re approaching elections, yes I want to support him and this is a family affair as well.”

For Grégoire-Trudeau, that means opening herself up to the public: talking about her life as an entertainment journalist turned stay-at-home mom; about how to provide her children with stability without shielding them from the reality of Trudeau’s profession (“I don’t want my kids to be raised thinking they’ll get into a park and people applaud”); and raising awareness about eating disorders, from which she once suffered.

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I ask her about the language being used to describe the role that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s wife, Laureen, will play during the election. Leaked documents have suggested the Conservatives are going to “leverage” her to connect with voters during the campaign.

But Grégoire-Trudeau doesn’t see that as being used.

“I’m going to turn 40, so I’m going into politics at a certain time in my life where I have a better idea of who I am and what I stand for,” says Grégoire-Trudeau, who celebrates her birthday next month.

“I don’t see it as a game to play. I will stay who I am, and I connect well with people, because it comes from a true place. Not a role that I’m trying to fill. So I’m not worried.”

As for Laureen Harper?

“Good if the wife of a prime minister wants to connect with the people, because that’s why we’re here. And I heard she’s fun. So, do it.”

It’s an attitude of increased visibility the country has not seen for some time, and, perhaps, a sign of things to come if Grégoire-Trudeau moves into 24 Sussex this fall.

“It’s important for Canadians to have a better idea of who stands by the person who is holding such an important role, and what kind of values does she share, and what does she do with her life, and what are her passions?” Grégoire-Trudeau says.

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“I want people to get to know me, because I want to get to know them.”

No marriage is easy

Out of the house for a rare afternoon, Grégoire-Trudeau is using her family’s favourite restaurant as an office of sorts.

After lunch, there’s a meeting with Valerie Galley, wife of Assembly of First Nations chief Perry Bellegarde, to discuss the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal girls – a cause Grégoire-Trudeau took up when she heard about the near-death beating of Winnipeg teen Rinelle Harper.

“I was reading the newspaper in the morning, and I just had a knot in my throat. I said, I have to do something. I can’t sit here and do nothing – I can’t. So I called up her family,” she says.

Grégoire-Trudeau, who tries to eat healthily, admits to loving “everything.” She doesn’t tolerate pickiness in her home. (“Sorry,” she tells her kids. “This is what I made for dinner.”)

“Should we order?” she asks, looking down at the drink menu by mistake.

“Ok I’ll have a tequila!” she laughs, before settling on creamy carrot soup followed by cod with thyme, lemon and polenta.

Usually in yoga clothes, Grégoire-Trudeau takes pains to note this is not a typical day.

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She calls her daily routine “ever so boring.”

“I think people have this perception of the life that I lead, or that we lead, of drivers, the high life,” she says. “It’s not that.”

There is no security detail, not even after a highly-publicized incident at the Trudeaus’ Rockcliffe Park home last year.

Last August, a “very intoxicated” 19-year-old man wandered into their unlocked home by mistake, laying knives out on the table and leaving a threatening note behind.

Grégoire-Trudeau and her children were upstairs sleeping.

“I don’t want to be going to bed at night thinking that people want to harm us, or my family, because that’s when the lioness comes out. And I don’t want to live that way. I mean, now, do I put my alarm system every single night? Yes. Do I double check all the doors? Yes.  But do I freak out about it? No.”

Born into a family of water-skiers, Grégoire-Trudeau was on skis by the time she was four. The family also does skating, swimming, biking, canoeing – “Justin loves to canoe” – camping, and tennis.

“We do so much stuff,” she says.

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After studying commerce at McGill University and then communications at the University of Montreal, she got her start in TV as a news ticker writer. She worked her way up to a Quebec correspondent at eTalk, where she held a position until 2010 before staying at home full-time.

“I’m at home with the kids, it was a decision that I had the luck and luxury, in a way, to be able to make,” she says.

Publicity in political life has thus far been an anomaly.

“It’s not really part of my daily life. It’s like one per cent of my life, and I like it that way.”

I ask if she’s worried about opening herself up to the public, and in so doing, her marriage.

Justin Trudeau kisses his wife Sophie Gregoire as they leave the stage after he won the Federal Liberal leadership Sunday April 14, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld.

Following the release of his memoir last fall, Trudeau was asked during a CBC interview about extramarital affairs, which he denied.

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“Ha! Really?” Grégoire-Trudeau says.

“Ask if whatever happened in our lives – I’m not saying it did or didn’t – as if we would answer that.”

She puts down her fork and looks across the table.

“I can tell you right away that no marriage is easy,” she says.

“I’m almost kind of proud of the fact that we’ve had hardship, yes, because we want authenticity. We want truth. We want to grow closer as individuals through our lifetime and we’re both dreamers and we want to be together for as long as we can.

“I’m happy that we had to go through that.”

On Trudeau’s decision-making

After speaking at the same event in Montreal 12 years ago, it took Trudeau almost three months to ask his future wife to dinner.

“I told him that he should bring me to a restaurant that he’s never been to and I’ve never been to. So we ended up in this little, I would call it, tiny joint,” Grégoire-Trudeau says.

The joint was an Afghan restaurant with interior garden, recommended by Trudeau’s younger brother, Sacha, who has “eclectic tastes.”

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The date went on for hours.

“We went karaoke-ing, had ice cream. And he brought me back to my place,” Grégoire-Trudeau says.

“His face changed, and he says, ‘I’m 31 years-old.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes?’ And he says, ‘I’ve been waiting for you 31 years.’ We both bawled like babies, and that was it.”

“I tell that to my children.”

By chance, Grégoire-Trudeau had also gone to school with her husband’s other brother, Michel, who died in an avalanche in 1998. She had even been to a graduation party at Pierre Trudeau’s home in Montreal, where the eldest Trudeau brother was serving beers.

Margaret Trudeau (left) arrives on Parliament Hill with sons Justin (centre) and Alexandre (Sacha) Trudeau (right) where former prime minister Pierre Trudeau will lie in state Saturday September 30, 2000. (CP PHOTO/Adrian Wyld).

“We’re so lucky that’s how we found each other. It’s crazy,” she says.

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Married for 10 years, Grégoire-Trudeau calls her relationship “super close.”

“We have great debates. I would say that our values are the same, but because we’re man and woman, and we’re a couple, sometimes we’ll disagree on some stuff, right. It’s just normal.”

She says Trudeau’s decisions, such as removing two of his caucus colleagues following harassment allegations, weigh heavily on him – and he goes through a philosophical process to make them.

“It’s not just based on what he thinks. That is where the danger comes in – when it’s based on your own personal values, exclusively. And that’s not what he tries to do,” she says.

“Yes, he’s a lone thinker, he likes to be able to just go be in silence and think things out. And he also has a team of people with which he debates in a healthy way to make sure that everybody has their own opinion, that it’s not a ‘yes, yes, yes’ kind of environment. And then there’s family, and then there’s sleeping on it.

“And feeling that it’s the right thing to do for the most amount of people, and that in the long run it’s the right decision.”

She believes her husband has a chance of winning this year’s election, something she credits with his ability to connect with the public.

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“I see something happen when people meet Justin, and look into his eyes, and be face to face with him,” she says. “The exchange is real, and they feel him.”

Most of all, Trudeau reminds his wife that politics is about helping the public.

And if Grégoire-Trudeau becomes the de-facto first lady of Canada later this year, that is what she will remember.

“If you’re in power, or you’re in a position of responsibility, and you think that people are there for you – it’s the opposite. We’re there to serve them. And that’s how I want my children to be brought up,” she says.

“It moves me when I talk about it. Because, if the people give you their trust, your first responsibility is to be of service to them.”


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