John Turner: Wikis


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The Right Honourable
 John Napier Wyndham Turner

Turner at age 80, September 2009

In office
June 30, 1984 – September 17, 1984
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Succeeded by Brian Mulroney

Member of Parliament
for St. Lawrence—St. George
In office
1962 – 1968
Preceded by Egan Chambers
Succeeded by District abolished

Member of Parliament
for Ottawa—Carleton
In office
1968 – February 12, 1976
Preceded by Paul Tardif
Succeeded by Jean Pigott

Member of Parliament
for Vancouver Quadra
In office
1984 – 1993
Preceded by Bill Clarke
Succeeded by Ted McWhinney

Born June 7, 1929 (1929-06-07) (age 80)
Richmond, Surrey, England
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Geills Turner
Children 4 (three sons and one daughter)
Residence Vancouver, British Columbia
Alma mater University of British Columbia
University of Oxford
University of Paris
Occupation Lawyer
Religion Roman Catholic

John Napier Wyndham Turner, PC, CC, QC (born June 7, 1929) is a retired Canadian lawyer and politician, who served as the 17th Prime Minister of Canada from June 30 to September 17, 1984.

In his political career, Turner held several prominent Cabinet posts, including minister of justice and minister of finance, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau from 1968 to 1975. Amid a world recession and the prospect of having to implement the unpopular wage and price controls, Turner surprisingly resigned his position in 1975. After a hiatus from politics from 1975 to 1984, Turner returned and successfully contested the Liberal leadership. Turner held the office of Prime Minister for 79 days (the second shortest tenure in Canadian history after Charles Tupper), as he dissolved Parliament immediately after being sworn in as Prime Minister, and went on to lose the 1984 election in a landslide. Turner stayed on as Liberal leader and headed the Official Opposition for the next six years, leading his party to a modest recovery in the 1988 campaign, resigning from politics in 1990.


Early life

He was born in Richmond, Surrey, England to Leonard Turner and Phyllis Gregory, in 1929. When Turner's father died in 1932, he moved to Canada with his Canadian-born mother. His mother remarried during World War II to Frank Mackenzie Ross, who later served as Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia.



Turner was educated at Ashbury College and St Patrick's College, Ottawa (senior matriculation). He enrolled at the University of British Columbia in 1945 at age 16, and was among Canada's outstanding track sprinters in the late 1940s, qualifying for the 1948 Olympic team.[1][2][3] He held the Canadian record for the 100 metres, but a bad knee kept him from competing in the 1948 London Olympics.[4] He graduated from UBC with a B.A. Honours in 1949, becoming a Rhodes Scholar. He went on to Magdalen College at the University of Oxford, where he earned a B.A., Jurisprudence, 1951; a Bachelor of Civil Law, 1952; and an M.A., 1957. He was on the track and field team at Oxford; one of his teammates was Roger Bannister, who became the first runner to break the four-minute barrier in the mile.[5] At Oxford, Turner was a classmate and friend of future Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. He also pursued doctoral studies at the University of Paris from 1952-53. While attending UBC, he became a member of the fraternity, Beta Theta Pi.

Dances with Princess Margaret

On May 19, 1959, at a party hosted by his stepfather to celebrate the opening of Government House, Turner spent a considerable amount of time dancing with Princess Margaret, one year his junior. This was the first time that Turner received significant press attention in Canada: there was considerable speculation about whether the two were a serious couple, though as Turner was Catholic the two could not marry without either Turner renouncing his faith or Margaret her right to the Crown.[6]

Marriage, family

Turner was married on May 11, 1963, to Geills McCrae Kilgour (b. 1937), a great-niece of Canadian Army doctor,John McCrae, author of what is probably the best-known First World War poem, In Flanders Fields, and sister of David Kilgour, a long-time Canadian Member of Parliament. The Turners have one daughter, Elizabeth, and three sons, David, Michael, and Andrew.


Turner practised law, initially with the firm of Stikeman Elliott in Montreal, Quebec, and was elected as a member of Parliament in 1962. Their children attended Rockcliffe Park Public School, in Ottawa. All three of their sons attended Upper Canada College, in Toronto.

In 1965, while vacationing in Barbados, Turner noticed that former prime minister and Leader of the Opposition John Diefenbaker, staying at the same hotel, was struggling in the strong surf and undertow and Turner, being a competitive swimmer during university days, jumped in and pulled Diefenbaker to shore.[7]

Cabinet Minister

Under Lester Pearson

Future prime ministers (l to r) Trudeau, Turner, and Chrétien all served in the Cabinet of Lester B. Pearson (right).

Turner was seen as "The Golden Boy" of the Liberal Party from the time he entered Parliament. An outstanding scholar and athlete, Turner was a successful lawyer, was fluently bilingual, was considered physically attractive by his contemporaries, and had developed political networks across the country.

Turner was also generally respected for his work as a Cabinet Minister in the 1960s and 1970s, under prime ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. Colleague Walter Gordon wrote that Turner was exceptionally loyal and respectful when dealing with senior ministers in the 1960s.[8]

He served in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Lester Pearson in various capacities, most notably as Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs. When Pearson retired, Turner ran to succeed him at the 1968 leadership convention. The youthful Turner, at age 38 the youngest of the dozen leadership candidates, claimed that "My time is now,"[9] and remarked during his speech that he was "not here for some vague, future convention in say, 1984." (The next Liberal Leadership Convention was in actual fact held in 1984 where Turner successfully won the leadership.) Turner stayed on until the fourth and final ballot despite finishing a distant third behind Pierre Trudeau and runner-up Robert Winters.

Under Pierre Trudeau

Turner served in Trudeau's cabinet as Minister of Justice for four years. Turner then served as Minister of Finance from 1972 until 1975, when he surprisingly resigned from cabinet, reportedly due to personality conflicts with Trudeau. The Liberals had won the 1974 election by attacking Robert Stanfield's Conservatives over their platform involving wage and price controls. However, Trudeau decided to implement the wage and price controls in late 1975, so some have suggested that Turner quit rather than carry out that proposal.

In his memoirs, Trudeau wrote that Turner said he resigned as Finance Minister in 1975 because he was tired of politics, after 13 years in Ottawa, and wanted to move on to a better-paying job as a lawyer in Toronto, to better support his family and to be with them more, as his children were growing up. Trudeau wrote that he understood Turner's reasoning.[10] Trudeau also suggested that Turner's years as finance minister were very difficult because of turbulent and unusual conditions in the world economy, characterized as stagflation, largely caused by enormous increases in the price of oil.[11]

Bay Street

From 1975 to 1984, Turner worked as a corporate lawyer at Bay Street law firm McMillan Binch. When Pierre Trudeau resigned as Liberal leader in 1979 following an election loss, Turner announced that he would not be a candidate for the Liberal leadership. Trudeau was talked into rescinding his resignation after the government of Joe Clark was defeated by a Motion of No Confidence, and returned to contest and win the 1980 federal election. Trudeau would serve as Prime Minister until 1984.

Prime minister

Trudeau retired after polls showed the Liberals faced certain defeat in the next election if he remained in office.[12] Turner then re-entered politics, and defeated Jean Chrétien, his successor as finance minister, on the second ballot of the June 1984 Liberal leadership convention. He was formally appointed prime minister on June 30. When he was sworn in, Turner was not an MP or Senator. Had he wished to summon Parliament, he would not have been able to appear on the floor of the House of Commons. He also announced that he would not run in a by-election to get into the Commons, but would instead run in the next general election as the Liberal candidate in Vancouver Quadra, British Columbia. This was a sharp departure from usual practice, in which the incumbent in a safe seat resigns to allow a newly elected party leader a chance to get into Parliament.

In his final days of office, Trudeau recommended that Governor General Jeanne Sauvé appoint over 200 Liberals to well-paying patronage positions, including Senators, judges, and executives on various governmental and crown corporation boards, widely seen as a way to offer "plum jobs" to loyal party members. These appointments generated a severe backlash across the spectrum.[12] Turner had the right to recommend that the appointments be cancelled: advice that Sauvé would have been required to follow by constitutional convention. However, he let them stand and made a further 70 appointments himself.[12] Turner refused to produce a written agreement he'd made with Trudeau before taking office, documenting a secret deal that saw Trudeau step down early. This hampered his attempt to distance himself from Trudeau's policies and practices. [12] [13]

1984 Election

Queen Elizabeth II's scheduled visit to Canada in the summer of 1984 posed a problem for Turner before the election. Her policy of non-interference in politics led to Turner making a visit to London to advise the Queen of a pending election call, and to ask her to postpone her trip. Turner was also aware of papal non-interference policies, so the election also had to be timed around a planned visit of Pope John Paul II to Canada in the autumn. Mulroney had expected Turner to tour Canada during the summer and early autumn, accompanying the Queen and the Pope on their visits, gaining some free publicity, then call the election for later in the autumn.[12]

Accordingly, on July 9 – only ten days after being sworn in – he asked Sauvé to dissolve Parliament, and he proceeded to call an election for early September. Although the Governor General was not obligated to dissolve Parliament until early 1985, Turner was persuaded by internal polls that showed the Liberals were ahead of the Tories; after Turner won the leadership his party surged in the polls to take a lead, after trailing by more than 20 percentage points before he was selected.[12] However, the Liberals' polling data was faulty; they had in fact not polled since May, and the situation had since changed, not least because of the public uproar over Trudeau's last minute patronage. As the campaign unfolded, the Tories, led by Brian Mulroney, who was fighting his first general election in any capacity, soon took the lead. [12] [13]

Early in the campaign, Turner appeared rusty and old fashioned, using outmoded slang on several occasions. Most famously, he spoke of creating "make work programs," a concept from the 1970s that had been replaced by the less patronizing "job creation programs." He was also caught on television patting the bottoms of Liberal Party President Iona Campagnolo and Vice-President Lise St. Martin-Tremblay, causing an uproar among feminists who saw such behaviour as sexist and condescending. [14]

During the televised leaders' debate, Turner attacked Tory leader Brian Mulroney over the patronage machine that the latter had allegedly set up in anticipation of victory, comparing it to the old days of the Union Nationale in Quebec. However, Mulroney turned the tables by pointing to the raft of patronage appointments made on the advice of Trudeau and Turner. Mulroney demanded that Turner apologize to the country for what he called "these horrible appointments," but Turner claimed that "I had no option" except to let them stand, since otherwise he may have not been able to form a government. Mulroney famously responded, "You had an option, sir – to say 'no' – and you chose to say 'yes' to the old attitudes and the old stories of the Liberal Party." Mulroney further noted that as the Liberals had been governing continuously since 1963 (save for Joe Clark's short-lived minority in 1979-80), virtually all federal patronage appointments had been made by the Liberals.[15] Many observers believed that Mulroney clinched the election at this point, as it made Turner look weak, indecisive, and a carbon copy of Trudeau.

Turner discovered in the latter half of the campaign that the Liberals' electoral hopes were poor in their traditional stronghold, Quebec.[16] The party relied on Trudeau's appeal, patronage, and traditional dislike of the Conservatives for victory in the recent elections. Trudeau himself did not endorse Turner as a leader[citation needed], instead only showing up to support some MP candidates. Turner rehired much of Trudeau's staff during the final weeks in an attempt to turn the tide, but this had little effect. Another problem was Quebec's disaffection with the federal Liberals for being left out of the patriation of constitution in 1982. Mulroney, a native Quebecker, was able to harness that discontent to the Conservatives' advantage by promising a new Constitutional agreement.[17]

The last days of the campaign saw one Liberal blunder piled upon another. Turner continued to speak of "make work programs" and made other gaffes that caused voters to see him as incompetent and a relic from the past. [18]

On September 4, the Liberals were swept from power in a massive Tory landslide. The Liberals were cut down to 40 seats, the fewest in the party's history, against 211 for the Progressive Conservatives. They were decimated in Quebec, falling to 17 seats, only four of which were outside Montreal. Eleven members of Turner's Cabinet were defeated. At the time, it was the worst defeat ever suffered for a governing party at the federal level. Turner stepped down as prime minister on September 17. The election having been called just over a week after his being sworn in, Turner held the office of Prime Minister for 2 months and 17 days, in Canadian history longer only than that of Sir Charles Tupper (who took office after dissolution of Parliament). Turner, along with Tupper and Campbell, were the only PMs to have never faced a Parliament and never implement any legislative initiatives.

Leader of the Opposition

Turner managed to defeat the Tory incumbent in Vancouver Quadra, becoming his party's only MP from British Columbia, and became leader of the opposition. The Liberals, amid their worst showing in party history and led by an unpopular Turner, were said by some pundits to be following the British Liberals into oblivion. Though the Liberals had not fared much better in the 1958 election, they had clearly emerged as the main opposition party back then. After the 1984 election, however, the NDP were not far behind with 30 seats, and their leader Ed Broadbent consistently outpolled Turner and even Mulroney.

The Liberals responded by using their large Senate majority, built up over years of Liberal majorities in the Commons, to stall Mulroney's legislation. In addition, a group of young Liberal MPs, known as the "Rat Pack," pestered Mulroney at every turn. The group included Sheila Copps, Brian Tobin, Don Boudria and John Nunziata.

Turner's leadership was frequently questioned, and in the lead up to the 1986 Liberal convention, a vote of confidence loomed large. The popular Chrétien resigned his seat, creating a stir in caucus. The ongoing and often open unpopularity of Turner within his own party led to many editorial cartoonists to draw him with a back stabbed full of knives. Keith Davey and other Liberals began a public campaign against Turner, coinciding with backroom struggles involving Chrétien's supporters. The public conflict is said to have influenced many Liberals to support Turner, and he ended up getting 75% of the delegate vote.

The Liberals faced more internal conflict in the next few years, but polls frequently had them in front of the Progressive Conservatives (however, with Turner last in preferred Prime Minister categories). The upcoming Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and Meech Lake Accord threatened to divide the party until Turner took the position of being pro-Meech Lake and against the FTA. Turner asked the Liberal Senators to hold off on passing the legislation to implement the agreement until an election was held. It was later revealed that Mulroney planned to call an election anyway.

1988 Federal Election

When the election was called in 1988, the Liberals had some early struggles, notably during one day in Montreal where 3 different costs were given for the proposed Liberal daycare program. The campaign was also hampered by a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report that stated there was a movement in the backroom to replace Turner with Chrétien.

Turner campaigned much more vigorously than in 1984[citation needed], rallying support against the proposed FTA, an agreement that he said would lead to the abandonment of Canada's political sovereignty to the United States. His performance in the debate and his attacks on Mulroney and the FTA, where he accused the Conservative Prime Minister of 'selling Canada out with one signature of a pen', raised his poll numbers, and soon the Liberals were hoping for a majority. This prompted the Conservatives to stop the relatively calm campaign they had been running, and go with Allan Gregg's suggestion of "bombing the bridge" that joined anti-FTA voters and the Liberals: Turner's credibility. The ads focused on Turner's leadership struggles, and combined with over $6 million CAD in pro-FTA ads, stopped Turner's momentum. Also not helping the Liberals was that the NDP had opposed the FTA as well (though not as vocally); this likely resulted in vote-splitting between the opposition parties.

The Liberals more than doubled their representation to 83 seats, and kept their role as the Official Opposition; the NDP had also made gains but finished a distant third with 43 seats. The Progressive Conservatives won a reduced majority government with 169 seats. Although this election confirmed the Liberals as Canada's second major party, the results were considered a disappointment for Turner. Polls in mid-campaign had predicted a Liberal majority.

The election loss seemed to confirm Turner's fate; he announced he was standing down from the party leadership in May 1989, officially resigning in June 1990. Turner resigned as Official Opposition leader, while still holding the Liberal leadership, so Herb Gray became the caucus leader for the interim. Chrétien won that year's leadership convention over Paul Martin. Although not officially endorsed by Turner himself, Martin was widely the favorite of Turner's supporters.

Turner continued to represent Vancouver Quadra in the House of Commons for another few years as a backbencher before retiring from politics in the 1993 election.

After politics

Turner returned to private practice as a lawyer at Miller Thomson LLP, eventually also heading that partnership's scholarships program for talented young people. Turner is also a member of several Boards of Directors for several large Canadian companies.

In 1994, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.

In late 2004, Turner headed the delegation of Canadian election monitors to Ukraine who helped monitor the Ukrainian presidential runoff vote of December 26. The monitoring was the first mission of the new Canada Corps.

Turner, along with other former Prime Ministers, has taken part in the reality series Canada's Next Great Prime Minister. He was intending on taking part during the 2007 edition, but due to illness, had to be replaced at the last minute by Paul Martin. Turner's health had recovered sufficiently for him to participate in the 2008 edition of the show. He is the oldest living former Canadian Prime Minister.

The Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University produced in 2008 a revised and updated 40th anniversary edition of selected Turner speeches and writings, entitled Politics with Purpose, published by McGill-Queen's University Press; the book had been published originally in 1968. Turner's career was honoured by CSD in a special day-long tribute at Queen's on October 24, 2008.


According to Canadian protocol, as a former Prime Minister, he is styled "The Right Honourable" for life. Turner is a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Turner was ranked #18 out of the first 20 Prime Ministers of Canada (through Jean Chrétien) by a survey of Canadian historians in 1999. The survey was used in the book Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada's Leaders by J.L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer.

Honorary Degrees




  1. ^ "John Turner". UBC Sports Hall of Fame. University of British Columbia. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  2. ^ "Former Prime Minister John Turner to be inducted into UBC Sports Hall of Fame". Canadian Interuniversity Sport. 2004-03-25. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  3. ^ WRITERSGROUP "They still gather to honour John Turner". The Daily Observer. 2008. WRITERSGROUP. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  4. ^ True Grit, by John Allemang, The Globe and Mail June 6, 2009.
  5. ^ True Grit, by John Allemang, The Globe and Mail, June 6, 2009.
  6. ^ "Destiny and determination to lead". CBC Television. 1984-06-16. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  7. ^ "A future prime minister rescues a former prime minister". First Among Equals. Library and Archives Canada. 2002-01-29. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  8. ^ A Political Memoir, by Walter Gordon, Toronto 1977, McClelland & Stewart publishers.
  9. ^ The Long Run: The Political Rise of John Turner | CBC Archives
  10. ^ Memoirs, by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, McClelland & Stewart, 1993.
  11. ^ Memoirs, by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Toronto 1993, McClelland & Stewart.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Mulroney: The Politics of Ambition, by John Sawatsky, Toronto 1991, McFarlane, Walter, and Ross publishers.
  13. ^ a b Donaldson, p. 320; Newman, p. 71.
  14. ^ The Long Run: The Political Rise of John Turner | CBC Archives
  15. ^ Mulroney vs. Turner - Television - CBC Archives (This quote is usually paraphrased as "You had an option, sir; you could have said 'no.'")
  16. ^ The Insiders: Government, Business, and the Lobbyists, by John Sawatsky, 1987
  17. ^ Mulroney: The Politics of Ambition, by John Sawatsky, 1991
  18. ^ Newman, pp. 71-72.
  19. ^ Canadian Heraldic Authority (Volume II), Ottawa, 1994, pp. 227 

External links

23rd Ministry - Government of John Turner
Cabinet Posts (1)
Predecessor Office Successor
Pierre Trudeau Prime Minister of Canada
June 30-September 17, 1984
Brian Mulroney
20th Ministry - First Government of Pierre Trudeau
Cabinet Posts (4)
Predecessor Office Successor
Edgar Benson Minister of Finance
Donald Stovel Macdonald
Pierre Trudeau Minister of Justice
Otto Lang
Lawrence Pennell Solicitor General of Canada
George James McIlraith
cont'd from 19th Min. Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs
Ron Basford
19th Ministry - Government of Lester B. Pearson
Cabinet Posts (4)
Predecessor Office Successor
legislation enacted Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs
cont'd into 20th Min.
Guy Favreau Registrar General of Canada
styled as Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs
legislation enacted
Minister without Portfolio
none Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Northern Affairs and National Resources
Stanley Haidasz
Political offices
Preceded by
Pierre Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
June 30–September 16, 1984
Succeeded by
Brian Mulroney
Party political offices
Preceded by
Pierre Trudeau
Leader of the Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Jean Chrétien
Parliament of Canada
Preceded by
Brian Mulroney
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Herb Gray
Preceded by
Egan Chambers
Member for St. Lawrence—St. George
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Member for Ottawa—Carleton
Succeeded by
Jean Pigott
Preceded by
Bill Clarke
Member for Vancouver Quadra
Succeeded by
Ted McWhinney


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

John Napier Wyndham Turner (born June 7, 1929) is a retired Canadian politician. He was Prime Minister of Canada from 1984-06-30 to 1984-09-17.


  • I'm not just in this race so you will remember my name at some future date. I'm not here now for some next time. I am not bidding now for your consideration for some vague convention in 1984- perhaps when I've mellowed a bit. My time is now and now is no time for mellow men!
  • In any democracy, there is always a tug-of-war between policies to achieve equality and policies to promote excellence. I am certain that Canada can achieve both equality and excellence.
    • 1968 Liberal Party Leadership convention speech, April 5, 1968. ([2])
  • (spoken over Brian Mulroney's objections) I happen to believe that you've sold us out...once any country yields its economic levers, once a country yields its investments, once a country yields its energy, once a country yields its agriculture, once a country opens itself to a subsidy war with the United States on terms of definition, then the political ability of this country to sustain the influence of the United States, to remain as an independent nation- that is lost forever!
  • In opposition, there's not much one can do. One doesn't have the carrot and one doesn't have the stick. One can't promote and one can't fire. And persuasion has its limits.
    • Explaining why he did not punish objectors to his Liberal Party leadership, published in the Toronto Star, June 19, 1990.

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