John Turner

John Turner

Infobox Prime Minister
honorific-prefix = The Right Honourable
name = John Napier Wyndham Turner
honorific-suffix = PC CC QC LLD

order = 17th
office = Prime Minister of Canada
term_start = June 30, 1984
term_end = September 17, 1984
monarch = Elizabeth II
predecessor = Pierre Trudeau
successor = Brian Mulroney
birth_date = birth date and age|1929|06|7
birth_place = Richmond, Surrey, England
death_date =
death_place =
party = Liberal
residence = Vancouver, British Columbia
religion = Roman Catholic
spouse = Geills Turner
alma_mater = University of British Columbia, Oxford University, University of Paris
children = 4 (three sons and one daughter)
occupation = Lawyer
profession =
constituency_MP2 = St. Lawrence—St. George
term_start2 = 1962
term_end2 = 1968
majority2 =
predecessor2 = Egan Chambers
successor2 = District abolished
constituency_MP3 = Ottawa—Carleton
term_start3 = 1968
term_end3 = February 12, 1976
majority3 =
predecessor3 = Paul Tardif
successor3 = Jean Pigott
constituency_MP4 = Vancouver Quadra
term_start4 = 1984
term_end4 = 1993
majority4 =
predecessor4 = Bill Clarke
successor4 = Ted McWhinney

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

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. [cite web|url=|title=John Turner|work=UBC Sports Hall of Fame|publisher=University of British Columbia|accessdate=2008-10-06] [cite web|url=|title=Former Prime Minister John Turner to be inducted into UBC Sports Hall of Fame|date=2004-03-25|publisher=Canadian Interuniversity Sport|accessdate=2008-10-06] [cite news|url= WRITERSGROUP|title=They still gather to honour John Turner|date=2008|publisher=The Daily Observer|accessdate=2008-10-06] He graduated from UBC with a B.A. Honours in 1949, winning the Rhodes Scholar. He went on to Magdalen College, Oxford University, where he earned a B.A., Jurisprudence, 1951; a Bachelor of Civil Law, 1952; and an M.A., 1957. 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.

On May 19th, 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. [cite web|url=|title=Destiny and determination to lead|date=1984-06-16|publisher=CBC Television|accessdate=2008-05-01]

Turner was married on 11 May 1963 to Geills McCrae Kilgour (b. 1937), a great-niece of Canadian Army doctor, Col. 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. [cite web|url=|title=A future prime minister rescues a former prime minister|date=2002-01-29|work=First Among Equals|publisher=Library and Archives Canada|accessdate=2008-05-01]

"The Golden Boy"

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 claimed that "My time is now," [] and remarked during his speech that he was "not here for some vague, future convention in say, 1984." (It would later turn out that the next Liberal Leadership Convention was in fact held in 1984 and John Turner was not only a candidate but he successfully won the leadership in that year.) Turner was far behind winner Pierre Trudeau and runner-up Robert Winters, but stayed on until the fourth and final ballot anyway, finishing third.

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 due to personality conflicts with Trudeau.
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. ["Memoirs", by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, McClelland & Stewart, 1993.]

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.Fact|date=October 2008 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.

Trudeau recommended that Governor General Jeanne Sauvé appoint over 200 Liberals to well-paying patronage positions in his final days in office. These appointments generated a severe backlash across the spectrum.Fact|date=October 2008 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 himself appointed over 70 Liberal MPs to patronage positions.Fact|date=October 2008 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.Fact|date=October 2008

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.Fact|date=October 2008 Accordingly, on July 9ndash only ten days after being sworn inndash he advised Sauvé to call an election. 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-TremblayFact|date=October 2008, causing an uproar among feminists who saw such behaviour as sexist and condescending.

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. Mulroney famously responded, "You had an option, sirndash to say 'no'ndash and you chose to say 'yes' to the old attitudes and the old stories of the Liberal Party." [ [ Mulroney vs. Turner - Television - CBC Archives ] ] (This quote is usually paraphrased as "You had an option, sir; you could have said 'no.'") 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. The party relied on Trudeau's appeal, patronage, and traditional dislike of the Conservatives for victory in the recent elections.Fact|date=October 2008 Trudeau himself did not endorse Turner as a leader,Fact|date=October 2008 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.Fact|date=October 2008 Mulroney, a native Quebecker, was able to harness that discontent to the Conservatives' advantage by promising a new Constitutional agreement.Fact|date=October 2008

The last days of the campaign saw one Liberal blunder piled on 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.Fact|date=October 2008

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 Conservatives. They were nearly 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.Fact|date=October 2008 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), and implemented no 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, the NDP were not far behind with 30 seats, and 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 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 1984Fact|date=October 2008, 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 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 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, and was succeeded by Chrétien.

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 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.

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

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.

Having for many years been regarded as an exceptionally talented and bright young man in politics, with impressive academic and athletic records, Turner has taken on the mantle of Elder Statesman and oldest living former Canadian Prime Minister.


Turner's changes to the Liberal Party's ideology, policies and membership during his years as party leader may be his legacy, rather than his brief months as prime minister. While Turner campaigned against the Free Trade Agreement in 1988, he was largely pro-business and favoured smaller government and tax cuts for corporations during his six years as Liberal Party leader.

Although Chrétien was portrayed as a left-wing Liberal in his contest against both Turner and Paul Martin (who had the support of many of Turner's followers in the 1990 Liberal leadership convention), the Chrétien government proved to be fiscally conservative. The business Liberal wing of the party eclipsed the "left" during the 1990s with its authority being consolidated under future prime minister Paul Martin. The philosophically left-wing elements of the party, who embraced Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien instead of Turner, were moved into the party's periphery after Martin was elected Liberal leader in December 2003. After the 2006 election and Martin's departure, it remains to be seen in which direction new leader Stéphane Dion will take the party.


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


* Magdalen College Register, Magdalen College, Oxford (OUP)
* Oxford University Calendar, 1956 (OUP), p. 202
* Statutes of the Province of Quebec, 1954 (Printer to The Queen), p. 977 ("An Act to admit John Napier Wyndham Turner to the legal profession")


External links

* [ Federal Political Biography from the Library of Parliament]
* [ University of British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame]
* [ CBC Digital Archives - The Long Run: The Political Rise of John Turner]
* [ John Turner profile] from "The Prime Ministers of Canada" project

NAME=Turner, John Napier
SHORT DESCRIPTION=17th Prime Minister of Canada (1984)
DATE OF BIRTH=June 7, 1929
PLACE OF BIRTH=Richmond, Surrey, England

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