MP spouses often lead even lonelier life

Edmonton MP says former leader Stephen Harper spoke to the party's caucus, the CBC's Catherine Cullen reports

The lives of MP spouses became a hot topic this week after interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose revealed the lonely life she led and the hardships it also incurs on her partner, J.P. Veitch.

Ambrose is featured in the latest issue of Maclean’s magazine about setting up her household in her new residence at Stornoway.

Veitch, a former professional bullrider and now a consultant in Alberta’s technology sector, has three children, the youngest is eight and the oldest 18. He will have to bounce back and forth between Calgary and Ottawa. It’s a balancing act for him as well.

“I left everything to him. J.P.’s the wife,” stated Ambrose in the story.

Vetch said he discovered upon joining the Parliamentary spouses’ association that the divorce rate for the women was 50 per cent.

Canadians elected a record number of female MPs in October’s election, 88 in total, that’s in addition to a 50-50 gender split in the Liberal cabinet. Many of these members have partners or husbands who will have the duty of moral support among many other obligations.

Ambrose told Maclean’s that politicians lead a lonely life and their partners often have an “even lonelier” one.

That refrain is echoed in a special Canadian Parliamentary Review report from 2013 that examined the exit interviews of MPs given to the Samara organization, which promotes democratic participation in Canada.

The report, by Royce Koop, James Farney and Alison Loat, lists the intense problems faced by MPs in balancing their family and work, stating that “the toll on family life was both severe and unanticipated.”

Exhausted on weekends

A female MP who had served eight years in Parliament is quoted in the report saying she was “very lonely” and that her husband, who lived in the riding, was “very lonesome.” She felt she lost eight years with her friends: “I was never in the riding during the week. On the weekends, I was exhausted or always had something to do.”

Keith Hughes, husband of NDP MP Carol Hughes (Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing) echoes that sentiment.

“I do wish we had more time away from politics to spend with our friends, which has been put on the way side a bit,” Hughes told Yahoo News Canada.

“But then, I was the one who encouraged her to run. Anyways, our kids were already grown up so it was a good opportunity,” said Hughes, whose son and daughter were 19 and 23, respectively, in 2008 when his wife won her riding.

Hughes is a mechanic at the mine near Sudbury, Ont. It’s a job he describes as “regular, Monday to Friday.”

“I’m not a political kind of guy,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t wish [my wife’s job] on anyone. It’s a 24-7 job. You gotta really like it.”

In the Parliamentary Review article, MPs discuss the pros and cons of having a spouse with their own career versus a spouse who doesn’t have one and is able to be a kind of riding assistant — helping out in the constituency, attending functions as a representative of the MP or even moving to Ottawa for extra support.

One MP said that “without my wife, I would not have gotten through it” and that she “was my eyes and ears in the riding when I was in Ottawa for 150-300 days of the year.” He added that she also took care of their home and children.

Hughes points out that is a big factor: whether the MP has young children or not — because it is very difficult to carve out family time.

“Sometimes, I don’t even see my wife at all on weekends,” he explained. “She might fly directly to Kapuskasing from Sudbury [after coming from Ottawa].”

He also said that an MP “never has a regular schedule as it is” so it’s difficult to plan ahead.

Easygoing attitude helps

“I’m an easy-going guy,” said Hughes. That’s an attitude he says that has probably helped them through the past seven years that his wife has been an MP.

“I usually try to take my holidays around her caucus meetings, which is often in different parts of the country.”

Hughes said he never entertained the thought of moving to Ottawa since he already has a full-time job. Even then, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that his wife would have more time for him.

The Review report said MPs work late hours while in Ottawa, often past 8 p.m.

Hughes, who’s been married to Carol for 34 years, says it’s a matter of trust and understanding the extreme demands of an MP’s life.

“Yeah, I was surprised by the workload. It’s much, much bigger than I had imagined,” he divulged. “But I’m quite proud of her and I’m happy to be by the sidelines. You know, I take the photographs at events here.”

He’s looking forward to the holidays, when his wife usually blocks out about a few days to spend with the family during Christmas. The last long holiday he took with Carol was two years ago — one week in Cuba.

“Tonight I’m making Shepherd’s pie,” he revealed. “I’m now kinda’ the chef in the family.” Hughes lets out a hearty chuckle.