Would Stephen Harper’s wife be considered “The First Lady of Canada”? I know I’ve read references to Margaret Trudeau as “former first lady” but they were all in U.S. sources and popular (as opposed to scholarly) ones at that. I’ve never read a reference to the wife of David Cameron or any other British PM as “First Lady”.
In general do spouses of PMs have any official titles? For that matter, how high profile are most of them- is it at all akin to the U.S. First Lady (who has no official responsibilities but usually is very influential as an unofficial ambassador and hostess) or is it more akin to the wife of the U.S. Speaker of the House (most of whom historically could have skateboarded naked through the D.C. Metro station without anybody recognizing them other than as the naked woman on the skateboard)?
In general, I believe that spouses of elected officials in parliamentary governments have no status whatsoever.
(Editorializing: I wish that were the case in our country. I don’t believe anyone in a democratic, secular, egalitarian system should have any status solely on the basis of being married to someone with status. I wish we would dispense with the notion of a first lady altogether. I find it offensive. The prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency offered at least the hope that we could dispense with the notion once and for all.)
I’d seriously have a hard time even recognizing Laureen Harper in a police line up. I think she gave her very first political interview with her husband just a few short months ago.
So, in Canada at least, there’s no title.
The thing is though that none of the families of our elected officials are known, and why should they be? Without Googling, I can tell you that Stephen and Laureen Harper have two children, one named Ben and the other I don’t even know. I think they’re about maybe 14 and 16 years old. Here, let me go check:
ETA: Christ! She was previously married and I never knew!
ETA again: Ben is 14 and Rachel is 12.
The USA-ian practice is strange. In other countries, it is unusual for a leader’s spouse to receive status (purely as spouse) in any political structure except a monarchy or dictatorship.
In Ireland there is no title assigned to the spouse of our prime minister - the Taoiseach. Doing that would have caused problems when Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was living with a lady to whom he was not married. He was long-term separated, but not divorced from his legal wife. The relationship was public - his live-in girlfriend traveled with him as his official partner, and acted as co-host at functions.
His marital status caused no electoral problems here in Ireland, where we are less hypocritical about these things. Bertie had many serious flaws but that was not seen as one of them.
We might soon have a gay man as President of Ireland. Americans are probably too uptight to elect one, but if it happens, what will you call a gay president’s partner?
There’s no title in Australia. Prime Ministers’ wives are known as Mrs X. They can make what they want of the role. Some support/promote various charitable efforts. Others choose to remain completely out of the spotlight.
The current PM is not married. Her ‘partner’ does not have any role, as far as I am aware.
Occasionally the term ‘First Lady’ appears in articles describing the PM’s wife. It’s almost always followed the next day in the letters column by a furious correction that the First Lady is the Governor-General’s wife (or the GG herself as is currently the case).
Bess Truman apparently would have agreed with you. She followed Eleanor Roosevelt, who gave a weekly press conference and was of course very high profile during the half-century FDR was president. Bess announced at her first press conference that it would also be her last press conference, and when a reporter asked (I’m paraphrasing but not by much) “How will we get to know you?” she responded “You don’t need to”. She spent much of her husband’s presidency at their home in Missouri.
The miniseries Backstairs at the White House and the books it was based on (memoirs of a mother and daughter who were maids from Taft through Eisenhower) gave interesting portraits of the First Ladies. Some loved the role (Eleanor Roosevelt, Lou Hoover, Helen Taft) and some hated it (Bess Truman, Mrs. Coolidge). It was from that miniseries I first knew about “The Second Mrs. Wilson”- Edith Bolling Galt- who was possibly the most powerful first lady ever due to her husband’s incapacitation and his hatred of his vice president- she basically forged his signature to documents and called it “helping him sign”.
Per the book the WH staff loved the First Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Roosevelt (though she and her family ran them ragged) and Mrs. Truman; they greatly respected Mrs. Taft and the second Mrs. Wilson. They hated Mrs. Hoover (who- per the memoir- fired several members of the staff during the height of the Depression not due to budget cuts or poor performance but because she was OCD and wanted the footmen all to be the same height- those who were too tall or too short were let go) and Mamie Eisenhower (a regal bitch). Mrs. Coolidge was kind but too devastated by the death of her son to have much presence, and Mrs. Taft was regal but suffered a major stroke that incapacitated her and her husband (who worshiped her), though she eventually recovered and outlived him by years.
Even though there was nothing shockingly revealing about the First Families (closest would be Harding’s fooling around and his wife’s insanity) the book caused a stir. It is now- and has been for decades- policy for White House domestics to sign confidentiality agreements that they will not write anything about their time there without the written consent of whoever they mention.
Cunctator makes a good point: the reason the President’s wife is the “First Lady” is that she is the spouse who takes precedence over other spouses, as a matter of protocol.
But in a parliamentary system, there is sometimes one, sometimes two spouses who take precedence over the spouse of the Prime Minister: the spouse of the monarch (or President, in a Republic), and the spouse of the Governor General, in the Commonwealth realms.
So, since there are two spouses that take priority over Mrs. Harper, she’s the Third Lady.
Isn’t it rather that she’s the lady who takes precedence over other ladies? That is to say, as I understand things, the “First Lady of Canada” (if one were ever to use that construction) would be Elizabeth herself.
Since it has no legal, official standing, it doesn’t do any harm. As long as she’s just advocating for good causes - kind of like Prince Charles.
But the first lady on West Wing had way too much power. She’d actually get angry if the president didn’t actively promote legislation supporting her causes - like she had some kind of right to have her wishes carried out just because she happened to be married to the president.
Is this another one of those ‘Head of Government’ v. ‘Head of State’ type issues. The First Lady of the US is the wife of the Head of State. The wife of the UK/Australian/Canadian PM is not. She is the wife of the Head of Government. The spouse of the Head of State certainly does have a title.
I would think “first lady” (if the President and her spouse are female) or “first gentleman” (if the president and his spouse are male). And hopefully, if the USA gets to that point like other nations, they won’t blink an eye about it.
I think you’re a little mixed up. My recollection is that Mitterand kept two households while he was president, spending most of his “home” time with his mistress. I’m not sure that the term “openly” is necessarily relevant, because I don’t think it was much commented on in the press while he was president. And that the mistress and the wife both attended his funeral.
According to Wikipedia, Mitterand kept the press muzzled on the issue so long as he was healthy and feared.
An irksome thing about the U.S. First Lady, be her husband Dem or Rep or popular or unpopular, is that she’s hounded by the press from day 1 and subject to all manner of ridicule and her tiniest action is torn apart 80 different ways by her husband’s enemies, yet she receives no income and no real perks other than Secret Service protection and transportation.
One Secret Service agent said that Laura Bush went through periods of cigarette smoking- she’d quit for a year, pick it back up for a few months, quit again, rinse lather repeat- and that part of the Secret Service’s job was to spray the inside of the vehicle (which was about the only place she could smoke with any privacy when away from home and cracking the window wasn’t an option) and put her jacket into a plastic baggie so it wouldn’t have smoke odor on it. He was irked at the waste of resources (not that any First Lady has ever really been in danger) but if she was ever seen with a lit cigarette it would be on every front page the next slow news day. I’m no fan of her husband by any means and I recognize that smoking’s bad m’kay, but it’s silly that she had to worry about being savaged over what is, while admittedly a bad habit, was perfectly legal and her own business. (Obama’s smoking was big news for a while as well- no idea if he still lights up- but at least he’s president instead of just married to one.)
A question for Canadians: is 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa a national symbol? I know it’s not on par with the White House since it’s only been in use for the past half century, but would the average Canadian 9 year old (or for that matter the average Canadian 49 year old) recognize a picture of it like most Americans (presumably) would a picture of the White House? (10 Downing St.- while I’m sure it’s lovely inside- must surely be the plainest famous mansion in existence.)