Canada

Margaret Trudeau: “I’m lonely and I love people”

ROBERT LEWIS February 23 1976
Canada

Margaret Trudeau: “I’m lonely and I love people”

ROBERT LEWIS February 23 1976

Margaret Trudeau: “I’m lonely and I love people”

ROBERT LEWIS

For more than 10 days after returning from Latin America, she stood at the epicentre of a rippling national debate. As each interview and phone-in appearance peeled away another layer of her personality, Margaret Sinclair Trudeau sought to explain and re-explain behavior that enchanted the admiring and discomfited the skeptical. Her simplest response prompted headlines (“Growing Old Isn’t Necessary, Margaret Says”), as media practitioners dissected her statements for evidence of, at best, public eccentricity and, at worst, emotional upheaval. She was perceived to be at once defiant (she would not be a “rose in my husband’s lapel”) and vulnerable (“I’m lonely and I love people”). She seemed at times to be a doe-eyed flower child trying to break out of a cocoon of protocol and pomp and at others to be a strong-willed individualist determined to be a woman on her own terms. Whatever else it did, her coming out, more explosive than the average Ottawa deb’s, solidified her position as something more than the wife of the Prime Minister.

Public reaction to Margaret’s actions was immediate and generally approving. Her office was inundated with more than 1,000 messages, double the number in all of 1975. Some accused her of embarrassing Canada during the Latin American tour, but most felt she had responded spontaneously to the stuffiness of the diplomatic liturgy. In Mexico, the first leg of the tour, Margaret made protocol history at a state luncheon with an impromptu speech of praise for Mexico’s first lady. Most of those who heard it were charmed. “We Mexicans thought she was stupendous,” said Enrique Gutierrez, press chief at the Mexican foreign ministry. “Mrs. Trudeau’s speech was very charming, very intelligent, it was a very spontaneous gesture. You know, President [Luis] Echeverria hasn’t much taste for protocol and his attitude seems to be infectious. In the last analysis, what is protocol but a set of rules that keep people from acting spontaneously?” Later, in Cuba, she startled some observers by wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt but seemed to delight her Cuban hosts. In Venezuela, Margaret made a hit with most journalists but caused a stir in Caracas society. A local television personality named Sophia Rangel criticized Margaret for breast-feeding four-month-old Michel in public. Mrs. Rangel said Margaret had “exceeded the bounds of good taste. Here in Venezuela, the Trudeaus felt they had to put on some kind of show to demonstrate that they were just plain folks. I didn’t like it.” But Mrs. Rangel aside, Margaret made a hit with Venezuela’s leading magazine, Resumen, and with most of the domestic press. “Undoubtedly,” concluded Resumen, “that young and beautiful lady [Margaret] won more friends for Canada with her enchantment than the stereotyped

gestures of the professional diplomats.”

Back in Ottawa, Margaret seemed to go out of her way to explain, without apology, her actions on the tour. She answered listeners to a phone-in show with remarkable candor. And rather than retreat to the governmental cloister of 24 Sussex Drive, she attended parties, met other women and even turned up unexpectedly at the National Press Club. At one point, though, her patience wore thin. She and the Prime Minister were guests at Government House for a dinner in honor of retiring Tory Leader Robert Stanfield. After Stanfield spoke she confronted and berated Globe and Mad Ottawa columnist Geoffrey Stevens for critical comments he had written about her Latin American performance. Although she had not read the column, she flared up at a startled Stevens: “I don’t know whether to hit you with this [a silver compact] or punch you.” During Stanfield’s speech, guests observed Margaret making muffled remarks. When Trudeau inquired later in the evening if Margaret was ready to go, she said she wanted to stay on for a while after he left. At the Press Club she joined a few reporters for a drink. When Trudeau showed up looking uncomfortable, she announced playfully: “I’ll buy him a soda.” Then she danced with her husband before going home.

Later in the week, she appeared on national television for a live interview with Dan Turner, an Ottawa journalist who has known her for several years. She talked clearly and openly about her health, her feelings about politics, her longed-for career as a photo-journalist and her marriage. “Once I got married suddenly I was put up on a pedestal and nobody reached out and nobody cared any more. I mean in a real sense ... I just felt that people couldn’t get through ... I was going through a tremendous metamorphosis from a flower child to the Prime Minister’s lady . . . and I went through a lot of things where I thought that I had to be someone

else other than myself. And then I started just kind of building things up inside until it came out in such anger and such hostility and such fury that I kind of consider that stage as a sort of bloody revolution in my mind, you know. It was wounding to both Pierre and it was wounding to myself at that time.” She told Turner that her life had changed utterly as the wife of the Prime Minister and that it had not been without error and pain. “I just feel I’m only just beginning, you know. It’s just like I finished my education. I had my university education and then I had the years of travel and then I had five years’ on-the-job training as being the Prime Minister’s wife. And sometimes I’ve made mistakes and have done things wrong and people have complained and let me know. And I have not done the greatest job I could have been doing. But I was learning and I hope now after five years that I’m really going to be able to help.”

At one point she cast herself as a proselytizer for the expanded role of women. “My message is that women have got to stop bitching and start getting together and using their time to work side by side with the men and get to the problems of the women and the children now .. . there are so many problems in Canada that we’re having with our children and their education. Recent studies have shown that . . . we’re really lacking in self-discipline. We’re lacking in a lot of the basic qualities which will make a strong people. And we are blessed. Nature has blessed us, this country, with all the riches, the resources and surely our people can pull up their socks and start working hard.” In the conversation with Turner, Margaret demonstrated that she was possessed of a good working knowledge of herself. At one point she saidPTm an educated chick. I’ve seen a lot of things and been a lot of places.”

In an interview with Maclean’s, she explained that she was marshaling her energies for a career as a photo-journalist. Mar-

garet, 27, feels she has established a secure home environment for her three young boys and now, like any other restless homemaker, she wants to do something on her own. “We spoiled children of the middle class have an obligation to start working and not get fat and bitter. We can’t sit back and do nothing.” She indicated she has been working toward independence, especially since she gave birth to Michel last. October. In the past few months she has, with friends, turned a basement room at 24 Sussex into a kind of cooperative school and play centre for her two oldest children and four other preschoolers. Her interest in experimental child-rearing was expanded during her Latin American trip, particularly in Cuba where day care is a national policy. Her hope is to be able to focus on what she calls the “shocking” state of day care in Canada through articles about what is happening in other countries. The expression “working hard” has become a key phrase in her recent vocabulary. She even uses it as a farewell exhortation when she rings off the telephone. The concept seems to arise from a sense of guilt that “I’ve been lazy for awhile.” When she said on the radio that “I’m not going to be locked away again,” she explained it was in the sense that “I did not have confidence enough to be an educated, intelligent person who could do hard work.” And she defends her novel behavior by insisting that she couldn’t survive on rigid protocol. “I was just behaving as me.” She is still particularly upset about “the heavy scene” in Venezuela at a state dinner put on by Canada. Stamping her foot on the floor, Margaret observed heatedly: “I was mad. It had nothing to do with Canada. It was elitist, pushy. It was not Canadian at all.” As for the histrionic salute she made while O Canada was being played, she added: “I stood on guard proudly and I had my eyes wide open.”

The 10 days of Margaret Trudeau have opened everybody’s eyes about this young woman, including apparently those of her husband. In Vancouver, when a reporter noted that Margaret was enjoying newfound freedom, Trudeau replied in mock surprise: “Is that so? I always believe in the maximum independence for the maximum number of people.” In one of her interviews, Margaret said: “I want two passports, one that says I’m the Prime Minister’s wife and the other that says I’m free.” Five years in the hermetic corridors of Ottawa have given her the first; it would appear that a few days of candor have earned her the second. ROBERT LEWIS