“A surprised woman”

Self-description of a startled political spouse. 

Maryon Pearson, wife of Canada’s 14th Prime Minister, had little interest in the quiet and demure role of political spouse, breaking with stuffy traditions and offering playful criticism of her husband “Mike” in public. Asked by her spouse for her thoughts on a speech he had just given, Maryon quipped within earshot of reporters that he had “missed several opportunities to sit down.” And while her husband had a formidable career and a Nobel Peace Prize under his belt before running to be PM, Maryon could still remark that “behind every successful man, there stands a surprised woman.”

Being strong and independent have been hallmarks of several prime ministerial spouses since Maryon.

Joe Clark’s wife Maureen McTeer maintained her own career as a lawyer throughout Clark’s many years in cabinet. And, as Peter C. Newman wrote, she was known to put her husband in his place:

John Crosbie, the Newfoundland court jester who was finance minister in Joe Clark’s brief government, kept a Dali reproduction of Christ’s crucifixion above his desk in St. John’s—a draped female figure looking up at Christ with stoic concern. When [a reporter] asked him about the painting, Crosbie replied as sarcastically as he knew how: ‘That’s my beloved leader Joe Clark, up on that cross.’ ‘It is? Then who’s the female figure?’ [the reporter] asked. ‘Ah, that’s Maureen. She put him there.’

Meanwhile, Aline Chrétien bucked up her spouse Jean when the latter was taking heat from other Liberals to relinquish the party’s leadership in 2000. “You don’t have to take that crap from those people,”  Lawrence Martin recalls Aline telling her husband. Chrétien ran again and secured a third consecutive majority.

Saving her husband’s political life came a few years after literally saving his actual life. Awoken by the sound of footsteps in the middle of the night at 24 Sussex, Aline stepped into the hallway to investigate. She found an intruder standing with a six-inch hunting knife in hand. A surprised woman? Yes. Panic and flee? Not a chance. Aline shouted at the would-be attacker, then turned around and locked the bedroom door, likely saving herself and the PM from a violent encounter. Oh to have been a fly on the RCMP wall the next day when Aline and Jean demanded a security debrief. 

Wanting to show that he, too, was tough, PM Chrétien “embraced” a protester a few months later with a “Shawinigan Handshake”. People in Ottawa began to wonder if the RCMP’s new job would be to protect the public from the prime ministerial couple.

Image source: Toronto Public Library

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