On spousal privileges on the Hill

White and yellow gold pins, awarded for life, get MPs and their partners special access

Mitchel Raphael on spousal privileges on the hill

Photograph by Mitchel Raphael

A history of how MPs pin their lovers

Before they are sworn in, MPs fill out paperwork that includes a section about whether they have a spouse. The definition of spouse is up to the member. Some list a husband or wife, others a girlfriend or boyfriend or common-law partner. Anyone who lists a spouse gets a special spouse pin to give to their partner along with their own MP pin at their swearing-in ceremony. The pin allows spouses access all over the Hill, including the use of the special MP entrance in Centre Block. Laureen Harper doesn’t wear hers since all the security officials recognize her.

The MP pin and MP spouse pin first arrived on the Hill in 1979, as part of a security measure. The MP pin is made of white and yellow gold, and says “House of Commons/Chambre des communes” along the green enamelled border. The centre features a gold mace superimposed upon a silver maple leaf. Each pin has a special number engraved on the back. John Diefenbaker, whose pin number was one, refused to wear it because he considered it insulting to identify MPs that way. His pin was donated to the Diefenbaker Foundation after he died. The spouse pin features the centennial flame in front of a maple leaf. Both pins were designed by Henry Birks & Sons of Montreal.

Svend Robinson, Canada’s first openly gay MP, says he was the first person whose same-sex partner, Max Riveron, got an MP spouse pin in 1997. Robinson was first elected in 1979. Riveron became his partner in 1994, but Robinson waited until after the 1997 election to apply for the spouse pin. “It wasn’t an issue,” says Robinson, who currently works for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. “Max still wears it with pride.”

MPs get to keep the pins for life. When the pins were first introduced, the Speaker at the time, James Jerome, said, “This is a milestone in Canadian parliamentary history that recognition is being given to those who serve in this House of Commons. They ought at least to have some emblem they can carry.”

Checking spouses since 2008

The spouse pin is the responsibility of the MP, according to the current Speaker’s office, which has had no reports of MPs trying to get a spouse pin back after a breakup or divorce. The Speaker’s office notes that if a personal situation gets messy, then the MP would be able to call upon the Sergeant-at-Arms to deal with the matter since the pin is related to security on the Hill. Conservative MP Maxime Bernier said that because of his infamous 2008 incident with Julie Couillard, cabinet ministers’ new partners are checked by security officials. Bernier, then Canada’s foreign affairs minister, left documents related to the NATO summit at Couillard’s home. She returned them to the government after they had broken up. Couillard had been romantically linked to a man with connections to the Hells Angels.

Youthful spouses

Age is not a factor when it comes to deciding who can wear an MP spouse pin. The NDP’s Pierre-Luc Dusseault is the youngest MP in Canadian history. He was elected at 19 in the last election. His girlfriend, Joanie Boulet, a third-year law student, has his spouse pin. David DesBaillets, 32, is the boyfriend of Quebec MP Mylène Freeman, 23, one of the famous “McGill five” MPs elected in the last election. At the recent NDP convention he had his spouse pin, which he keeps in the box it came in.

Double pinned

All spouses of MPs get a spouse pin even if they are an MP. When Toronto NDP MP Olivia Chow was elected in January 2006 after two previous attempts, her late husband Jack Layton wore his new spouse pin to mark Chow’s victory.




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On spousal privileges on the Hill

  1. Maybe Laureen doesn’t wear hers as she really isn’t his spouse anymore. Not that it matters in politics – but maybe the four years they have been separated has made her less likely to identify as Steve’s ‘spouse’.

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