Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wants some help.
The Prime Minister’s Office is considering getting her a second publicly-funded assistant. They won’t say what specifically her duties entail, although an official statement refers to her “extraordinarily high volume of correspondence and invitations.”
But people responding this week weren’t waiting for details: They were outraged.
New Democrat Niki Ashton said it shows how out of touch the governing Liberals are with the daily struggles of working women today.
“Certainly the kind of statements we heard from the prime minister’s wife, you know, speak to that disconnect with the reality that Canadian women face,” Ashton told reporters in the Commons on Thursday.
What is a Prime Minister’s wife’s job?
The ambiguity’s part of the problem, says Joan Simalchik, program coordinator for the women and gender studies at University of Toronto.
“It’s a serious position and it’s time for women to be recognized for the work they do,” she said. “In that kind of murky situation it creates conditions for backlash.”
It all started this week when Grégoire Trudeau was quoted in the Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil, saying she’s overwhelmed by all the requests from groups that either invite her to speak or ask her to help promote their causes.
“I’d like to be everywhere, but I can’t,” she said in the interview. “I have three children at home and a husband who is Prime Minister. I need help. I need a team to help me serve people.”
Trudeau nets $334,800 a year as prime minister. His family has a tax-payer funded cook and two nannies on staff for the couple’s three children.
WATCH: Trudeau spokesperson defends use of taxpayer money to pay for nannies for PM’s kids
But rather than complaining about the injustice of someone so comparatively privileged needing help, Simalchik argues this as an opportunity to better recognize women’s invisible, unpaid labour – and give them more support.
“A good start would be a national childcare strategy. And long-term health for seniors … because women take the great degree of care-giving in family situations,” she said.
“That’s an opportunity to expose invisible labour and do something about it.”
All the backlash Grégoire Trudeau has generated may ultimately be a good thing if it can spark a much-needed conversation, Simalchik said.
“Use it as an opportunity to get help for other women,” Simalchik said, instead of penalizing one for admitting she’s overwhelmed.
“Just because somebody gets help doesn’t mean no one else should.”
WATCH: Justin and Sophie Trudeau arrive at ceremony for gender equity
If a second assistant is hired for Grégoire Trudeau, the PMO says the person would help ensure Grégoire Trudeau “is supported at the official events she attends” and make sure all the mail she receives is answered in a timely manner.
Her assistant Natalie St-Denis already fields requests, and tries to accommodate as many as possible.
Grégoire Trudeau has recently attended the CHEO Healthy Kids Awards, the Wabano Fundraising-Gala event, Anorexia and Bulimia awareness events, We Day events, Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards Gala, and a Women’s Festival.
She’s the official spokesperson of the Fillactive foundation, which helps 12 to 17-year-old girls adopt healthy and active lifestyles. She’s also the Honourary Chair of the National Art Centre.
And she participates in events and international visits with Justin Trudeau, including their trip to the White House for which she received an official invitation.
None of her appearances are paid.
“We are in 2016 and we should celebrate the fact the Madame Grégoire Trudeau is championing women and girls’ issues. It shows that it is possible to be a feminist even if people still refer to you just as ‘the wife of,'” Olivier Duchesneau, a PMO spokesperson told Global News.
This is nothing new
Grégoire Trudeau wouldn’t be the first political spouse to have paid assistance.
“Canadian prime ministers’ wives have always participated in the public life of this country,” said Duchesneau.
“They have consistently attended official events and represented Canada on the international stage alongside of our prime ministers. The very nature of this has always required support from PMO staff. ”
Laureen Harper, who was much more low-profile, had one assistant. Mila Mulroney, who was more publicly active, reportedly had a staff of at least three, and an official office — something Grégoire Trudeau doesn’t have.
First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama has a staff of two dozen.
The only elected representative whose spouse has an official title in Canada is the Governor General.
His wife Sharon Johnston is called “Her Excellency” and also receives support for her role.
With file from Shirlee Engel, Global News and The Canadian Press