Justin Trudeau, Hit by Separation, Set to Stay on and Fight Election

REUTERS/Carlos Osorio//
Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accompanied by his wife Sophie Gregoire and his children Ella-Grace, Xavier and Hadrien watch the election coverage on a TV, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, September 20, 2021.

OTTAWA, Aug 3 (Reuters) – Justin Trudeau’s surprise announcement that he and his wife were separating, just a week after a broad cabinet reshuffle, underscores the Canadian prime minister’s focus and intent to lead the Liberal Party into a fourth election victory, despite sagging opinion polls, pollsters and insiders said.

On Wednesday, Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau unexpectedly announced their separation, likely marking the end of their 18-year-long high profile marriage. The separation is one of Trudeau’s biggest personal crises, although insiders and political commentators said he wants to ride out the aftershocks.

“He’s running again,” said a source close to Trudeau, when asked whether the news of the separation might be prompting second thoughts. The source was not authorized to speak about the matter publicly.

Trudeau said on Instagram that the couple took the decision after “many meaningful and difficult conversations.” His office said the two had signed a legal agreement and the couple would focus on raising their children. The family will go on vacation together next week.

Trudeau, 51, has always stressed the importance of family, and he and his wife were seen on campaign trails during elections, with his children by his side after three successive wins starting in 2015.

While the next election is only due by October 2025, Trudeau’s campaign by all accounts will look different.

“The shuffle was a political clearing of the decks and this is a sort of personal clearing of the decks … he seems determined to stay on as leader of the Liberal Party,” said Roderick Phillips, history professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University.


Surveys of public opinion show voters are starting to tire of Trudeau, and last week’s cabinet reshuffle was designed to build up his core economic team in response to cost-of-living challenges that Canadians have grappled with for more than two years.

Nik Nanos of polling firm Nanos Research said the separation, at the height of Canadian summer when few people are paying attention, cast a new light on a cabinet shuffle where several promising ministers received big promotions.

“This cabinet was likely made with a sensitivity to manage key files while Trudeau spends more time focused on his family,” he said by email.

Trudeau’s father, former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, also separated from his wife Margaret – known popularly as Maggie – when in office. The split occurred in 1977 and he lost an election in 1979 before bouncing back to win power again in 1980.

“The separation of Maggie and Pierre is an interesting historical antecedent but I don’t think there was any clear connection to the present situation nor is there any clear causal link to his loss,” Frank Graves, head of polling form EKOS, said.

“If it had damaged him politically it is hard to explain how he (Pierre) achieved another majority government the next year,” he added.

Graves said the news of Trudeau’s separation was unlikely to have “much if any discernible impact on the voter landscape”.

Toronto resident Denise Davison, 60, said she believed the separation had no bearing on Trudeau’s ability to be an effective prime minister.

“Actually, if he’s going to be in a better state of mind and a happier state of himself it might bode better for us as a country,” Davison said.