Saturday, January 23, 2016



When the wife of the prime minister burst into off-key song and startled a couple of hundred people the other day, I thought here we go again.
I have been through this before with the Trudeau women.
Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau appears to be prettier than her voice, and I am glad she brings some youthful exuberance to the scene, although the wife of the last PM was certainly an interesting biker.
But it's pretty clear from all the listeners that she can't sing and the verse she composed "during a difficult time of my life" isn't destined for the Hit Parade.
Just like her mother-in-law Margaret Sinclair Trudeau when she pulled the same stunt on more important occasions.
I never realized back as a kid reporter that I was destined to have some really different experiences with the Sinclairs over the decades.
It started with the patriarch, Jimmy, the fisheries minister in the 1950s and rated as a very nice very clever politician.
He came to the Yukon for the 1957 federal election which was a really big deal since no cabinet minister had ever campaigned in the territories. He sure impressed me as the editor of the only newspaper there, the Whitehorse Star.
We flew in a bush plane to Dawson City. During all the downtime in northern flights, there is a lot of yarning and digging and kidding. It emerged that Sinclair had been blessed with five daughters. The other five of us, all men, commiserated.
On the return flight, we ran into a blizzard and made two forced landings with wheels on the rotten ice of Lake Labarge. Finally we walked off, with me tolting Sinclair's luggage since he had broken his back in Russia when a speaker's platform collapsed. So I was the only one to fall through, which drew much rye-reinforced merriment because it was only five feet deep.
We walked three miles or so through thick muck to the Alaska Highway and were collected by a car whose driver figured out where we were despite our static-confused radio messages.
Sinclair spoke that night and flew out via TCA. And my story made the front page of every newspaper in the country, for the grand sum from the CP wire service of $15. How could it miss? It was the last week of May and we were flying from fabled Dawson City among the highest peaks in the Americas when we were forced down by a howling snow storm on the lake made legendary by Robert W. Service. Only the bush pilot's skill saved us, since the ice broke up only a few days later.
This thrilling experience certainly cemented Sinclair's name in my memory. When the whispers turned out to be true, that Peter Trudeau lusted after an 18-year-old who he first saw on a Tahitian beach and pursued even though he was 30 years older, I needed no backgrounding on that family of the nice minister with the five attractive daughters.
In the final days of the Toronto Telegram, we were presented through a strange source with a wonderful erotic picture of what was said to be Margaret in a bathing suit when Peter first saw her as the justice minister.
I think it would have cost me $600 to run it on Page 1 of the Saturday paper that I supervised as the assistant managing editor. Not a difficult sum, but the trouble was that it sure looked like Margaret but only the photographer knew for sure. Our Ottawa bureau were no help.
It was a wonderful erotic picture, almost in the same league as the famous Marilyn Monroe nude calendar. Every man, and some women, who I consulted certainly took their time with the examination.
It never did run in the Tely or anywhere else since my bosses and I were preoccupied with the agonies of the death of the Tely and the birth of the Sun. I wasn't about to go into history as the guy who got sued by the PM for running a lascivious picture of his wife in the second largest circulation issue in Canada.
I always intended to ask Margaret but when the opportunity presented itself, we were too busy yelling assorted swear words at each other in the lobby of a Caracas hotel. In my defence, I emphasize that she started it. (I have touched on this many times, including in a blog on Dec. 27, 2014, headlined Castro, Trudeau and Bartleman.)
After the mother of our sunny PM tangled with me because I rebuked her for profanely chastising her husband's private secretary in front of dozens of American tourists, I made her so mad that she stormed into the state dinner and refused to participate in the receiving line.
There were a number of bizarre incidents on that trip in 1976 involving Margaret but the media left her alone because she had just had her third son and it was known that she was having mental problems.
The self-imposed gag started to slip more and more because Margaret was slipping, ahem, more and more. (On a  visit to a ruin in Mexico, she gave her baby to a startled Canadian backpacker and then wandered away. )
Two days later on the flight home to Ottawa, Margaret invaded the press section of the Canadian plane and started chatting with me as if we had never cursed each other. I said we had been told that she had made up a song in honour of the wife of the Mexican president and had sung it from the head table of the formal state dinner. I said we had been told she had just done the same in Venezuela to the amazement of all.
When she confessed she had, I asked her to sing the songs to us. She waited until all the tape recorders were primed and then sang them into the little thicket of microphones.
A day later, she claimed she had been betrayed, that I had promised that it was all off the record. And I was on TV saying I had never said that and wasn't the whole point that the wife of our prime minister shouldn't be singing her little made-up songs a cappella at huge formal state dinners as if she was back in kindergarten as a precocious brat.
It's a short slip from enchanting to embarrassing.
I had several more encounters with her but no more  over her singing her little compositions.  There are many famous stories of her escapades but they involve the absence of panties and dubious escorts and funny cigarettes.
And then she settled down and emerged as a respected champion for those who like her suffer from bipolar disorder.
I never did feel guilty that I was one of those who ended the blackout on Margaret's exuberant behaviour because the normal dilemma for the media is shredded when the person is persistent as well as being famous.
 Besides, it's hard to call Canadians too careful and stuffy when the number one wife is warbling like a sick robin. 

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