How the ‘Nannygate’ outrage missed the point

Instead of getting political, we should have been discussing nannies’ wages, childcare needs and why people are so judgy of others’ parenting

Margaret Trudeau with her grandchildren Hadrian, Xavier and Ella-Grace Trudeau, Ottawa, Ont., on Nov. 4, 2015. (Lars Hagberg/CP)

Margaret Trudeau with her grandchildren Hadrian, Xavier and Ella-Grace Trudeau, Ottawa, Ont., on Nov. 4, 2015. (Lars Hagberg/CP)

Parenting is sometimes called a thankless job. Politics is like that too. But here and now, Canadians owe Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie, a hearty show of gratitude. The controversy this week over the Prime Minister’s alleged hypocrisy of having publicly funded nannies for the couple’s three kids has illuminated the challenges of balancing work and family. It’s also sparked enough outrage to hopefully provoke improvements to child care in Canada—or at least a deeper understanding about the child care crisis itself.

For days, Trudeau has been lambasted for hiring two women as “secondary caregivers,” and paying for them with taxpayer dollars. During the election campaign and before then, Trudeau promised to replace the Conservatives’ Universal Child Care Benefit with another program tied to income. “Stephen Harper thinks that government should provide child support payments to millionaires,” declared the Liberal platform. “We will end that unfair giveaway.” For Trudeau, who has admitted in speeches that he is among the wealthy, having government-paid nannies doesn’t look so good.

Related: How Trudeau’s babysitters became a political issue

On the surface then, “nannygate” symbolizes a rebirth of Liberal entitlement. For Trudeau, “the honeymoon is over,” says Andrea O’Reilly, a professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at York University, and founder of Demeter Press, which publishes parenting research. O’Reilly appreciates people’s frustrations regarding Trudeau’s misstep. But in her view, there is more to this scandal than that: “We’re not talking about the things we should be.”

Namely, and firstly: How little nannies are paid in Canada. The Trudeau nannies earn between $15 and $20 per hour during the day; at night, they get $11 to $13 an hour. That, according to the Association of Caregiver and Nanny Agencies Canada, is the average rate across the country. “House cleaners make between $25 and $30 an hour,” says O’Reilly, who is shocked by “the horrifically low wages of nannies.” All the more so in the case of the Trudeau nannies, who “must be the most highly skilled in Canada to have gotten that job.”

Secondly: How many families need help to make it through the day, every day. That the Trudeau nannies have been spotted in plain sight caring for the children is an unabashed admission that Justin and Sophie can’t do it all alone. About half of Canadian parents use some type of child care for their kids under age 15, according to Statistics Canada. Finding a safe, convenient, educational and affordable option is often difficult. A universal child care strategy would mitigate that, says Martha Friendly, founder and executive director of Childcare Resource and Research Unit. “To me, the [issue] is not whether the Trudeau nannies are being paid for. It is that other people’s child care should be paid for also.”

Lastly: How judgy people can be about the child care choices others make. A colleague of Friendly’s repeated to her a comment made by someone confused about why the Trudeaus would require nannies. “Why doesn’t Sophie look after her own children?” was the thought. And not one nanny, but two! While the Prime Minister’s spouse doesn’t get paid or have an official title in Canada, she “obviously has functions beyond a normal wife and mother,” says O’Reilly. But that question of how best to raise the kids haunts many overstretched parents, however they outsource child care, and whether they work outside the home or not.

All told, “nannygate” is about far more than political duplicity. The Trudeaus have gained favour in the past for being relatable. This controversy has simultaneously confirmed and recast that public persona: As O’Reilly puts it, “They are a usual family in that they are juggling child care, but in unusual circumstances.” Adds Friendly, “They may be a wealthier family, but wealthy families have child care issues too. Money makes it easier, but it doesn’t solve all your problems.” In this case, it seems to have actually caused them.


How the ‘Nannygate’ outrage missed the point

  1. Trudeau’s received FAR more flack over the “Nannygate” non-scandal than he deserves. 1)Trudeau did NOT run on a platform of personal PM austerity whereby he and his family would eschew PM perqs such as paid household staff, including nannies, gov’t paid. 2) It’s disingenuous or unfair to conflate his political position re. Harper’s child benefit with his nannies expense as PM. His nannies are not being paid for because he’s another rich person, but ’cause he’s Prime Minister! 3) Trudeau is not demonstrating hypocrisy or contradiction here. Many pundits and others may be though. No-one seems to be screaming about taxpayers paying the Trudeaus’ cook, gardener, driver, etc. Why single out nannies for special criticism, then, as if nannies aren’t as (or more) crucial to the household of busy young family of a PM, as other staff are? That’s the hypocrisy here. Critics are trying to turn a molehill into a mountain. I can understand Harperites attacking Trudeau over this as disingenous Tory political posturing. But thoughtful pundits & others should know better. “Nannygate”! It’s a non-scandal, folks.

    • Trudeau did run on a platform that taxpayer childcare benefits should not go to the rich like himself and Harper whom he pointed out were both rich and because everyone knows Harper was the prime minister at the time, obviously Trudeau was not making a distinction that the office was an excuse to except taxpayer money for childcare. Therefore, now that he is in the office and he is still rich to accept taxpayer money makes him disingenuous.

      • I think you fail to see the difference between government programs as the UCCB and the CCTB, and a job perquisite. Please inform yourself.

        • Job perqs tend to be fully taxable benefits. E.g., if my employer paid for my imaginary nanny, I would be taxed on my employer’s cost of providing that benefit. That is not the case in “nannygate”.

      • As parents with children of eligible age, the Harpers would receive the UCB. That’s what Justin was talking about when he referenced him; money he received as a Canadian with kids. Not his Prime Ministerial perqs.

        So it seems to me you’re the disingenuous one.

        • When all is said and done, IMO the *main* thing is whether it’s a legitimate perq as outlined in the Official Residences Act. Having just looked up the relevant section of the ORA, I’d say (and IANAL) it’s ambiguous, possibly tipping towards nannies being allowable. Given the recent issues with the Senate and ambiguous or non-existent rules, it wouldn’t hurt to tighten up the wording of the ORA to try to be more explicit in what is allowed.

          Having said that, surely the optics of the situation, if nothing else, are not good for someone who said “When it comes to child benefits, fair doesn’t mean giving everyone the same thing, it means giving people what they need”. One could take that as a general principle that applies to more than just the UCB, resulting in the current brouhaha.

          Trudeau has certainly improved from his days when putting his foot in his mouth was an expected occurrence, but he still has work to do in being precise when speaking.

  2. Of course those who care for our most precious commodity make the least amount of money…..it really is sickening.

  3. Can you imagine this scandal taking place in the US? Do you really think Americans would get behind the notion that the President and his/her children don’t get government paid child care?
    Only in Canada

  4. It’s not a scandal and, in the big picture, it’s insignificant. But, we don’t have free universal day care, much less two nannies for three kids. They were Trudeau’s nannies before he became PM, to call them anything else is simply dishonest. During the campaign he said families like his didn’t need subsidized childcare. Taxpayers aren’t subsidizing it, we are paying it all, It’s a sign of a sense of privilege and entitlement and his spokespeople are being disingenuous at best. It’s politics as usual and not worth getting excited about.

  5. What I take issue with is the hypocrisy. He made statements during the election and now must live by his words. It’s simple, he does not need my money to raise his children, that’s what he said (paraphrasing). Further, many people argue if it’s ok to have chefs, gardeners, etc., why not nannies? The house the Trudeau’s occupy is owned by Canadians, no different that any other Canadian owned asset. We hire people to maintain them. The Trudeau’s children are not Canadian owned assets, they are a choice that they, as a couple made, to have children or not, so therefore the cost should not be covered by tax payers, but by the Trudeau’s themselves, whether a Prime Minister or carpenter or doctor. There is a price to raising children and before people decide to have children, they need to factor in the cost. As for the Trudeau’s, they are fortunate, they can afford to pay for their own children’s nannies just as they did when Justin was an MP. Again, that’s what Justin said during the campaign.

    • Well, you’re trying hard but you’re still failing.

      “Further, many people argue if it’s ok to have chefs…The house the Trudeau’s occupy is owned by Canadians… We hire people to maintain them.”

      Chef’s don’t maintain the house yet you don’t, explicitly, have a problem with that even though they don’t meet your criteria that the staff “maintain” the house.

      ” It’s simple, he does not need my money to raise his children, that’s what he said (paraphrasing). ”

      Yes indeed you are certainly paraphrasing. You’re taking a specific tax credit he opposed and applying that opposition to all child related benefits even beyond tax benefits/credits.

      Trudeau still gets to claim the child tax credit on his income tax form so according to you he’ll also be a hypocrite if he claims it or any other child related tax benefit.

      Now when I heard him oppose the UCCB I never once thought he would be eliminated the child tax credit for wealthy Canadians but apparently you and many others did. Wonder why you never brought it up during the campaign.

    • There’s no Trudeau hypocrisy in this non-scandal.
      Trudeau did not campaign on a promise to scrap the Official Residences Act, the decades-old law that gives prime ministers – and leaders of the official Opposition – the authority to hire domestic servants and charge their wages to the public purse. (Presumably, Rona Ambrose,or at least her successor, gets her household staff paid for too, but she’s griping about Trudeau’s nanny getting paid! Ha).

      Trudeau, during the campaign, said he opposes Harper’s national child benefit applying to high income families. He did NOT say he opposes Prime Ministers’ household staff (including nannies) being paid by gov’t as per the Official Residences Act. They are two completely separate issues. Look, no hypocrisy!

      The only hypocrisy is coming from critics who disingenuously insist on conflating the two issues, & falsely trying to claim PM Trudeau’s household chef & nannies are somehow apples & oranges, when in fact chef, gardener, driver, maid, & NANNIES are all apples, instead! Sheesh.

      Trudeau also campaigned on a promise to seriously address carbon emissions. Does this mean it’s hypocritical for him to now be driven to work in a large motor vehicle with RCMP SUV escort? Why aren’t “nannygate-ers” jumping on THIS “scandal” too, & insisting Trudeau must be a shameless hypocrite for not taking Ottawa public transit to work along with his security detail. Or perhaps traveling in a “motorcade” including RCMP escorts, all on electric scooters, or bicycles?!
      Non-scandals, folks.

      • The Official Residences Act says “The Governor in Council may appoint a steward or housekeeper and such other employees as the Governor in Council deems necessary for the management of the Prime Minister’s residence”, 7.(1).

        So, do child care givers fall under employees deemed “necessary for the management of the Prime Minister’s residence”? That question gets into the kind of semantics that a PM who is espousing transparency and openness probably shouldn’t be having to have to get into.

        • Yeah, as if nannies are less “necessary” to a Prime Ministerial household with 3 young children than are gardeners, maids, & cooks. Sure. I think most Canadians would view the household’s children’s welfare as more important than the health of the lawn grass.

          • But a household is not the same thing as a residence (the word used in the ORA). If one takes a strict interpretation of the word ‘residence’ as ‘a building used as a home’ (merriam-webster.com), then an argument can be made that nannies (and cooks for that matter) do not fall into the ORA’s purview. Having said that, the fact that a ‘housekeeper’ is mentioned muddies the waters, since housekeepers could be concerned with duties such as cooking and cleaning, activities which are not involved with upkeep of the residence/building. Personally, I think there’s ambiguity and non-specificity in the ORA’s wording, which leaves a certain amount open to differing interpretation.

            I would though argue that the importance of nannies vs gardeners is irrelevant. What matters is what the ORA says and its correct interpretation (a la the CRA and its tax rules).

          • I see some are bending themselves into pretzel shapes while trying to grasp at straws in trying to argue nannies don’t fit the residences act. It’s the Official Residences Act, not the Official Buildings and Grounds Act. A residence implies residers. Cooks, Nannies, Drivers, etc. serve needs of the residents of the PM residence, NOT upkeep of the property or building. But the Act has always been interpreted by the Governor in Council (& the gov’t in general) to include those staff types that serve needs of residents of the residence. Jim R’s new interpretation is worth **** (or maybe Jim would like to try taking the gov’t to court over “violating” Jim R’s interpretation of the law. Ha. Good luck, Jim!)

          • @Bob Bee
            If you had carefully read what I had written, you’d see that I didn’t try to make a definitive interpretation and in fact left off with “Personally, I think there’s ambiguity and non-specificity in the ORA’s wording, which leaves a certain amount open to differing interpretation.” And, indeed, in another post I came down slightly on the side of nannies being allowable.

            At any rate, words have meaning, so when the word ‘residence’ is used, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume a dictionary definition of the term, unless the term is defined elsewhere in the act. That’s how one would normally deal with any kind of formal or semi-formal document, for example CRA tax rules.

            Now if you want to get into past interpretations of government rules by government officials, I think the Senate fiasco is indicative that one shouldn’t take anything for granted.

  6. He’s a Lieberal their Entitled to Their Entitlements, That’s what they DO….

    • Harper spent the same amount on staff. Rona Ambrose liked Harper’s chef so much that he’s still working, on the taxpayers’ dime, at Stornoway. Why is this only being “Entitled to Their Entitlements” when the (oh so original!) “Lieberals” do it?

  7. I think this article misses the point. What were Mrs Trudeau’s duties at these conferences that her husband was attending? She had no official function so not only should she be paying for childcare she should also be paying for the cost of her ticket, her children’s passage and that of the nannies. Just because she wants to accompany her husband doesn’t mean that the taxpayer should be paying for it. When I worked for the government if I attended a conference in an exotic locale and wished my wife to join me, I paid for her airfare, all expenses and arranged for childcare at home. Of course, that was what was expected of a middle class government worker. Maybe things have changed.

  8. CEOs renumeration reflects the importance of their contribution to the bottom line. Shareholders would expect the CEO to only remit business expenses under strict guidelines. So why not just increase the pay of the PM to be X million bucks and clearly define what is an acceptable business expense. Also clearly deliniate what perks come with the posting – like a residence with full time gardener, full time cook, full time housekeeper, all exoenses (property taxes, hydro, heat and maintenance) and security detail. If the issue of child care is a problem for whatever reason (optics) then insist that these expenses be paid out of the salary of the PM.
    See – easily done.

  9. The Trudeau family is wealthy in their own right. However,Justin Trudeau is now the Prime Minister with his family now ensconced in the government’s official and famously derelict Ottawa mansion. The maintenance of this mansion and that of the Opposition’s housing should be paid for by the government. As for the expense of household services required that too, imho, should be covered as these residences must be properly cared for as often they are used for entertaining. As for child care imho that is the obligation of the parents, not the taxpayers.

  10. Just when I thought I had seen it all Cathy hits me square in my laugh sack with another extraordinary bit of organized words that should be read aloud to the terminally depressed in a last ditch attempt to have them giggle themselves back to mental health. Who picks Cathy’s article subjects ? If it really is her, then I want every young person who can to attend the University that Cathy did. We need this kind of humour in a most terrible way in our days of distress. Having to face the real world is no cher’o’bowlies and Cathy taps the funny bone like no other……keep up the fabulous work, I’m your biggest fan

  11. Shouldn’t the photo caption mention the nanny, probably by name? Especially in an article about nannies?

Sign in to comment.