How many women can claim to be the wife of one Prime Minister and the mother of another? On Monday, October 19, 2015, Margaret Trudeau watched as the results came in announcing her son Justin Trudeau as Canada’s next Prime Minister. She watched as her son and his party went from being third in the long race to head the race and then make history as they won, garnering 184 seats, exceeding the majority of 170 seats. According to Michael Den Tandt:
Justin Trudeau, the eldest son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, has resurrected his party, confounded his critics, defied the naysayers and trolls, overcome his own mistakes and resoundingly defeated two tough, smart, determined opponents who cannot have imagined anything like this outcome.
A minority was presaged by many polls. A majority, and a broad one at that, is beyond the Liberals’ wildest hopes.
In pulling this off, Trudeau, 43, has made history. Canada has its first political dynasty.
I can just imagine the pride that filled Margaret and no doubt, she thought of her former husband, Pierre and how proud he would have been of their son. When she held the infant Justin in her arms, did she ever imagine that he would one day follow in his father’s footsteps?
As I watched her with her daughter-in-law, son and grandchildren in their hotel room watching the results, I wondered who this woman was. What was her story?
Margaret was born in Vancouver to Doris Kathleen and James Sinclair, a former Liberal member of the Parliament of Canada and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. She attended Simon Fraser University where she studied English Literature.
At the age of 18, when vacationing in Tahiti, she met Pierre Trudeau, then Minister of Justice. It seemed like she was destined to be in the world of politics. Interestingly enough, Margaret didn’t recognize Pierre and thought little of their encounter. However, he was captivated by this carefree “flower child”. She was thirty years his junior but that didn’t stop him from pursuing her.
When he became Prime Minister in 1968, Pierre was still a bachelor. After keeping their relationship private, he stunned the country by marrying 22 year old Margaret in 1971 at a private ceremony in West Vancouver. Not surprisingly, the age difference raised some eyebrows among Canadians but this behaviour was typical of the Prime Minister who “prided himself on his progressive views and youthful vigour”.
Pierre Trudeau was a Catholic so Margaret converted to his religion. When asked about her role in her marriage to the Prime Minister, she said, “I want to be more than a rose in my husband’s lapel.”
Life as the wife of a Prime Minister was not easy. It took some adjusting for Margaret. She wrote in her memoirs, “a glass panel was gently lowered into place around me, like a patient in a mental hospital who is no longer considered able to make decisions and who cannot be exposed to a harsh light.” They had three children, Justin being the eldest. They appeared to have a very close and loving relationship but the marriage soon began to fall apart. Margaret resented her husband’s frequent work-related absences. She was forced to raise their sons on her own. What a change this must have been for the woman who was once described as “carefree”.
Her publicity didn’t come solely from her high-profile position, unfortunately. She made headlines when she smuggled drugs in her husband’s luggage, made scantily clad appearances at Studio 54 and ripped apart a tapestry in the Prime Minister’s official residence in Ottawa because it celebrated “reason over passion”.
The marriage disintegrated. This led to an affair with U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy. She associated with Ronnie Wood and Mick Jagger, members of the Rolling Stones. She suffered from stress and bouts of bipolar depression. In 1977, she separated from her husband. She became a jet-setter and gave many “tell-all” interviews to Canadian and American magazines. She even appeared in two motion pictures. Pierre Trudeau won custody of the children and did not pay spousal support. Margaret had a difficult time earning a learning after her marriage. She wrote Beyond Reason, a book about her marriage. On the eve of 1979 Pierre’s party lost the majority of seats in the House of Commons. At the same time, Margaret was at Studio 54 in New York. A photo of her was featured on many front pages across Canada.
The Trudeaus divorced in 1984. Not long after, Margaret married Fried Kemper, Ottawa real-estate developer. They had two children. Unlike her first marriage, Margaret was able to disappear from the public eye. In 1998, Margaret experienced a devastating tragedy. Michel, her youngest son with Pierre, was killed in an avalanche. This led to another major depressive episode which ended her second marriage.
In 2000, when Pierre died Margaret was at his bedside with their sons, Justin and Alexandre.
Just because our marriage ended didn’t mean the love stopped – Margaret speaking of Trudeau.
What is Margaret up these days? She is the honorary president of WaterAid Canada, an organization in Ottawa, dedicated to helping the poorest communities in developing countries to have access to safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation. She has written the book, The Time of Your Life: Choosing A Vibrant Joyful Future in which she offers insights into how women can live healthy, happy lives and provides stories about her own life..
Notes to Women would like to commend Margaret for the work she has been doing since she announced in 2006 that she had been suffering from bipolar disorder. Through speaking engagements across North America, she has advocated for reducing the social stigma of mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder. She is an honorary patron of the Canadian Mental Health Association. She wrote about her personal experience with bipolar disorder in Changing My Mind.
She now resides in Montreal so she can be closer to her sons Justin and Alexandre. She was there in person to celebrate Justin’s historic win with him. Margaret Trudeau is not just the wife of Pierre Trudeau or the mother of Justin Trudeau. She is the voice of those who suffer from mental illness. She is an inspiration for women who have battled and are battling mood swings. She has shown that with the right doctors and right treatment, women who suffer from mental illness can rebuild their lives.
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about bipolar disorder, visit this link.