Spouse of the Prime Minister of Canada

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The spouse of the Prime Minister of Canada is the wife or husband of the Prime Minister of Canada. To date, 18 women have been the wife of the Prime Minister of Canada; Kim Campbell, Canada's only female prime minister to date, was unmarried during her time in office. As a public figure, some spouses will, from time to time, participate in various ceremonial, diplomatic, or partisan activities, alongside and on behalf of the prime minister.

Some commentators have tried to style prime ministers' wives as "First Lady of Canada", similar to the style of First Lady used in republics, but this is not a recognized title. Use of the term is based on the pervasive influence of American media and not a defined public role or title for the prime minister's spouse. In any case, both the spouse of the Canadian monarch and that of the Governor General of Canada take precedence over a prime minister's spouse, rendering the notion untenable.

The current spouse of the prime minister is Laureen Harper, wife of Stephen Harper, who became prime minister on February 6, 2006.

Public role[edit]

The prime minister is not the head of state; thus, his or her spouse does not officially play as active a role in Canadian affairs as the royal and viceregal consorts. The prime minister's spouse, however, is still generally regarded as a public figure, frequently accompanying the prime minister on campaign and other public appearances, and often hosting dignitaries at the prime minister's residence.

At times, prime ministers' spouses have used their public status to promote charitable causes; Mila Mulroney was a spokesperson for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and other children's charities, Aline Chrétien was an active campaigner for literacy programs, and Laureen Harper is known for her support of animal welfare organizations such as the Ottawa Humane Society.[1] Conversely, other prime ministers' spouses, including Geills Turner and Sheila Martin, were uncomfortable with the public aspects of their role and tried to minimize their time in the press spotlight.

However, many have also held an unofficial but highly influential role as a political or campaign advisor to their husbands — both Mila Mulroney and Laureen Harper were considered their husbands' "secret weapons", whose instinctive sense of campaign optics proved invaluable to their husbands' careers;[1] Harper, for example, was credited as the brains behind a public appearance in which her husband, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, appeared on stage at Ottawa's National Arts Centre to sing The Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends", which was widely perceived as softening the Prime Minister's somewhat stiff and autocratic public image.[2] Despite her relatively low public profile, Aline Chrétien was also recognized as a powerful advisor to her husband; Maclean's magazine once wrote, "Never mind calling her the power behind the throne—she shares the seat of power",[3] and columnist Allan Fotheringham later called her the second most powerful political figure in Canada, behind her husband but ahead of any elected Member of Parliament or any staffer in the PMO.[4]

Some prime ministers' spouses have also attracted attention for other reasons. Maryon Pearson was noted for her prickly wit, having made a number of famous quips which are still regularly featured in anthologies of famous quotations.[5] Margaret Trudeau, whom Pierre Trudeau married while in office, became a notable celebrity in her own right, most famously when she was featured on the covers of international tabloids after being seen partying at Studio 54.[2] Maureen McTeer, spouse of Joe Clark, attracted controversy when she became the first spouse of a prime minister to retain her own surname after marriage.[2] Mila Mulroney also rose to some notoriety due to her spending habits,[2] and was satirized in Frank as Imelda because of her purportedly large collection of shoes.

Other notes[edit]

Canada has had two prime ministers who were bachelors, William Lyon Mackenzie King and R.B. Bennett. Mackenzie Bowell, a widower whose wife, Harriet, died in 1884, was also not married during his term in office. Pierre Trudeau began his term as a bachelor, became the first Canadian prime minister to get married while in office and ended it as Canada's first divorced prime minister.

Three Canadian prime ministers—John A. Macdonald, Alexander Mackenzie, and John Diefenbaker—were widowers, who were each married to their second wives during their terms as prime minister. Macdonald's first wife was Isabella Clark, Mackenzie's was Helen Neil, and Diefenbaker's was Edna Brower.

Canada has also had one female prime minister, Kim Campbell; however, as she had finalized her divorce from her second husband, Howard Eddy, in early 1993, there has never been a male spouse of the prime minister. Campbell's first husband, Nathan Divinsky, did try to attract media attention in 1993 by billing himself as the ex-husband of the prime minister. She briefly dated Gregory Lekhtman, the inventor of Exerlopers, during her term as prime minister, but kept the relationship relatively private and did not involve him in the election campaign.[6] In 1997, she entered into a common-law marriage with Hershey Felder.

Maureen McTeer is the only spouse not to have been a housewife, and maintained a career both during and after their life at 24 Sussex.

Spouses of the prime ministers[edit]

Name Date of birth Date of marriage Prime Minister
(Spouse)
Date tenure began Age at tenure start Date tenure ended Date of death and age
1 Portrait of Agnes Macdonald Agnes Macdonald
(née Bernard)
August 24, 1836 February 16, 1867 Sir John A. Macdonald July 1, 1867 30 years, 176 days November 5, 1873 September 5, 1920(1920-09-05)
(84 years, 12 days)
2 Portrait of Jane Mackenzie Jane Mackenzie
(née Sym)
March 22, 1825 June 17, 1853 Alexander Mackenzie November 7, 1873 48 years, 230 days October 8, 1878 March 20, 1893(1893-03-20)
(69 years, 363 days)
(1) Portrait of Agnes Macdonald Agnes Macdonald
(née Bernard)
August 24, 1836 February 16, 1867 Sir John A. Macdonald October 17, 1878 42 years, 54 days June 6, 1891 September 5, 1920(1920-09-05)
(84 years, 12 days)
3 No image.svg Lady Mary Bethune Abbott
(née Bethune)
October 17, 1823[7] 1849 Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott June 16, 1891 67 years, 242 days November 24, 1892 February 25, 1898(1898-02-25)
(75 years, 38 days)
4 Portrait of Annie Thompson Lady Annie Thompson
(née Affleck)
June 26, 1845 1870 Sir John Sparrow David Thompson December 5, 1892 47 years, 162 days December 12, 1894 April 10, 1913(1913-04-10)
(67 years, 288 days)
No image.svg None (widower) Sir Mackenzie Bowell December 21, 1894 April 27, 1896
5 Portrait of Frances Tupper Lady Frances Tupper
(née Morse)
March 14, 1826 October 6, 1846 Sir Charles Tupper May 1, 1896 70 years, 48 days July 8, 1896 May 11, 1912(1912-05-11)
(86 years, 58 days)
6 Portrait of Zoé Laurier Lady Zoé Laurier
(née Lafontaine)
June 26, 1841 August 13, 1868 Sir Wilfrid Laurier July 11, 1896 55 years, 15 days October 7, 1911 November 1, 1921(1921-11-01)
(80 years, 128 days)
7 Photo of Sir Robert and Lady Borden Lady Laura Borden
(née Bond)
November 26, 1861 September 25, 1889 Sir Robert Laird Borden October 10, 1911 49 years, 318 days July 10, 1920 September 7, 1940(1940-09-07)
(78 years, 286 days)
8 Isabel Meighen.jpg Isabel Meighen
(née Cox)
April 18, 1883 1904 Arthur Meighen July 10, 1920 37 years, 83 days December 29, 1921 September 6, 1985(1985-09-06)
(102 years, 141 days)
No image.svg None (never married) William Lyon Mackenzie King December 29, 1921 June 29, 1926
(8) Isabel Meighen.jpg Isabel Meighen
(née Cox)
April 18, 1883 1904 Arthur Meighen June 29, 1926 43 years, 72 days November 25, 1926 September 6, 1985(1985-09-06)
(102 years, 141 days)
No image.svg None (never married) William Lyon Mackenzie King November 25, 1926 August 7, 1930
No image.svg None (never married) R.B. Bennett August 7, 1930 October 23, 1935
No image.svg None (never married) William Lyon Mackenzie King October 23, 1935 November 15, 1948
9 Photo of Louis and Jeanne St. Laurent Jeanne St. Laurent
(née Renault)
October 22, 1886 1905 Louis Stephen St. Laurent November 15, 1948 62 years, 24 days June 21, 1957 November 14, 1966(1966-11-14)
(80 years, 23 days)
10 Olive Diefenbaker
(née Palmer)
April 14, 1902 December 8, 1953 John George Diefenbaker June 21, 1957 55 years, 68 days April 22, 1963 December 22, 1976(1976-12-22)
(74 years, 252 days)
11 Maryon Pearson
(née Moody)
December 13, 1901 August 22, 1925 Lester B. Pearson April 22, 1963 61 years, 130 days April 20, 1968 December 26, 1989(1989-12-26)
(88 years, 13 days)
No image.svg None (unmarried as of 1968; married in office) Pierre Trudeau April 20, 1968 March 4, 1971
12 Margaret Trudeau
(née Sinclair)
September 10, 1948 March 4, 1971 Pierre Trudeau March 4, 1971 22 years, 175 days 1977* Living (65 years, 307 days)
No image.svg None (separated) de facto Margaret Trudeau Pierre Trudeau 1977 June 4, 1979*
13 Maureen McTeer September 27, 1952 1973 Joe Clark June 4, 1979 26 years, 250 days March 2, 1980 Living (61 years, 290 days)
No image.svg None (separated) de facto Margaret Trudeau Pierre Trudeau March 2, 1980 April 2, 1984*
No image.svg None (divorced) Pierre Trudeau April 2, 1984 June 30, 1984*
14 Geills Turner
(née Kilgour)
December 23, 1937 May 11, 1963 John Turner June 30, 1984 46 years, 190 days September 17, 1984 Living (76 years, 203 days)
15 Photo of Mila Mulroney Mila Mulroney
(née Pivnički)
July 13, 1953 May 26, 1973 Brian Mulroney September 17, 1984 31 years, 66 days June 25, 1993 Living (61 years, 1 day)
none (divorced) Kim Campbell June 25, 1993 November 4, 1993
16 Photo of Aline Chrétien Aline Chrétien
(née Chaîné)
May 14, 1936 September 10, 1957 Jean Chrétien November 4, 1993 57 years, 174 days December 12, 2003 Living (78 years, 61 days)
17 Sheila Martin
(née Cowan)
July 31, 1943 1965 Paul Martin December 12, 2003 60 years, 134 days February 6, 2006 Living (70 years, 348 days)
18 Photo of Laureen Harper Laureen Harper
(née Teskey)
June 23, 1963 December 11, 1993 Stephen Harper February 6, 2006 42 years, 228 days Present Living (51 years, 21 days)

(*)The Trudeaus separated in 1977 but did not obtain a divorce until 2 April, 1984. Trudeau left office in June 1984, two months after his divorce was finalized.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Anne Kingston, "Wife of the party". Maclean's, August 13, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d "PM's wife stepping out of the shadows". Vancouver Sun, December 3, 2010.
  3. ^ "The opinions the PM heeds," Maclean's, October 14, 1996, vol. 109, issue 42, p. 18-19.
  4. ^ Allan Fotheringham, "Aline, the power player," Maclean's, December 11, 2000, vol. 113, issue 50, p. 68.
  5. ^ English, John. Shadow of Heaven: The Life of Lester Pearson. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1989 (ISBN 0-88619-169-6).
  6. ^ Maclean's, April 29, 1996.
  7. ^ [1]

See also[edit]