John Turner, Canada’s 17th prime minister who spent decades in federal politics as a cabinet minister and Liberal Party leader during some of the most turbulent moments in modern Canadian history, has died at 91.
Turner led Canada for 79 days in the summer of 1984 — the second-shortest time in office of any prime minister.
Dubbed “Canada’s Kennedy” as a stylish, up-and-coming young MP in the early 1960s, Turner was Pierre Trudeau’s chief anglophone lieutenant in cabinet for years. Turner served as justice minister when the government decriminalized homosexuality and suspended civil liberties during the October Crisis in 1970, and was the finance minister as Ottawa struggled to control deficit spending and inflation during the oil crisis.
After a shock resignation from Trudeau’s government and a period of self-imposed exile on Bay Street, Turner eventually completed his climb to the Liberal leadership in the mid-1980s. But he inherited a party suffering from years of accumulated scandals and an electorate ready for change after more than two decades of nearly unbroken Liberal rule.
In the end, Turner’s most enduring moments in federal politics came once his short stint at 24 Sussex was over — namely, years of bitter battles waged with Brian Mulroney over free trade with the United States. They were fierce fights that Turner eventually lost, but the legacy of those debates continues to shape Canadian politics today.
Turner was born in the English town of Richmond upon Thames on June 7, 1929. When his father died just three years later, his Canadian-born mother moved the family to Canada, where they eventually settled in Ottawa’s posh Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood, surrounded by members of the country’s ruling political class.
After the Second World War, his mother remarried — to industrialist and future B.C. lieutenant governor Frank Ross — and the family moved west, where Turner attended the University of British Columbia. He became a track star, setting a national record for the 100-yard dash in 1947, and narrowly missed his chance to compete at the 1948 Olympics after smashing his knee in a car accident.
“Chick,” as the popular athlete became known, graduated from UBC in 1949 and received a Rhodes scholarship to study law at Oxford. He was called to the bar in London and started a doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris, but he returned to Canada in 1953 before it was completed, joining the Montreal law firm Stikeman Elliott shortly thereafter.
Turner’s first taste of national politics came when C.D. Howe, the storied “Minister of Everything” under Mackenzie King, recruited him in 1957 to help organize a Liberal re-election campaign.
The young lawyer’s profile swelled within the Liberal ranks as he started speaking at policy conventions, but it truly took off after he made headlines worldwide for dancing with Princess Margaret during a 1958 royal tour of British Columbia. Letters from the princess published in 2015 revealed she “nearly married him,” and it was reported the pair only broke up after Buckingham Palace ordered an end to the relationship.
In 1961, with the Liberals languishing in opposition and eager to recruit young talent, Turner was wooed into running for the party in the 1962 federal election.
The 32-year-old lawyer accepted, winning his Montreal riding and joining a cohort of rookie lawmakers — including Herb Gray and Gerald Regan — that Maclean’s magazine called “probably the brightest group of MPs ever to appear simultaneously in a Canadian Parliament.”
Turner married his wife, Geills McCrae Kilgour, in 1963, at a time when he was quickly rising within the Liberal caucus. By 1965, he had joined Lester Pearson’s cabinet as minister without portfolio, and by 1967 he was minister of consumer and corporate affairs.
When Pearson stepped down as prime minister in 1967, Turner eagerly entered the race to replace him on an anti-establishment platform that pledged to lower the voting age and improve skills training for young Canadians.
“My time is now and now is no time for mellow men,” Turner told delegates at the 1968 Liberal leadership convention.
Trudeau emerged the victor at that convention, but Turner hung on until the final ballot. The 195 delegates who stuck with him until the bitter end were rumoured to have subsequently formed the “195 Club,” a secretive cadre of well-placed political organizers quietly waiting for his next leadership campaign.
Trudeau heir apparent
The promising Liberal would soon be considered Trudeau’s heir apparent and the natural choice to continue the Liberals’ traditional anglophone-francophone leadership rotation.
Appointed justice minister in 1968, Turner championed key reforms to Canada’s Criminal Code that opened the door to LGBTQ rights and legal abortions. He also implemented, defended and eventually dismantled the controversial War Measures Act during the FLQ crisis and appointed Canada’s first Jewish Supreme Court justice, Bora Laskin.
Shuffled into the finance portfolio in 1972, Turner faced mounting economic pressures due to the global oil crisis. He also became the government’s main economic interlocutor with the White House, playing tennis with Treasury Secretary George Schultz and frequently ironing out bilateral issues over dinner with President Richard Nixon.
Successive Turner budgets prioritized low unemployment levels, but at the cost of double-digit inflation and soaring deficits. Still, some Liberals would later defend Turner as a voice of fiscal prudence at the Trudeau cabinet table, implementing the government’s policy in public but privately advocating restraint while other ministers clamoured for ever-bigger budgets.
In time, Turner and Trudeau developed a notorious rivalry, and after 10 years as a senior minister in the Trudeau government, Turner resigned from cabinet in 1975 with a terse, enigmatic letter.
Waiting in the wings
Turner formally vacated his seat in Parliament in 1976 and decamped with his wife and four children to Toronto. On Bay Street, he became a high-paid lawyer at McMillan Binch and joined the boards of some of Canada’s most powerful companies, including Canadian Pacific, Seagram’s and Holt Renfrew.
He remained in Toronto for the ensuing eight years, refusing to give interviews but maintaining a public profile as the Liberal Party’s leader-in-waiting.
Turner would also prove a thorn in the side for many former cabinet colleagues, pumping out corporate newsletters to clients that lambasted the Liberals’ economic policies. While Jean Chrétien, another of Turner’s bitter rivals, dismissed the newsletters as a “gossip column,” opposition MPs eagerly weaponized the missives in Question Period.
WATCH | Turner returns to public life:
After Trudeau’s second resignation in 1984, Turner finally won the top Liberal job, becoming leader and prime minister at a convention many saw as a coronation.
But he inherited a party sagging and scarred from too many years in power. Turner’s decision to move ahead with over 200 appointments proposed by Trudeau in his final days as prime minister cemented the party’s image as out of touch and too comfortable in power.
During the ’84 televised election debate, Mulroney eviscerated Turner when the Liberal leader unconvincingly argued he had “no option” but to follow through with the appointments. In one of the most iconic exchanges in modern Canadian politics, Mulroney replied: “You could have said: ‘I am not going to do it. This is wrong for Canada, and I am not going to ask Canadians to pay the price.'”
WATCH | Behind the scenes at the 1984 Liberal leadership convention:
In the end, the Liberals suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of the Progressive Conservatives, receiving just 40 of 282 seats — at the time, the party’s worst-ever showing.
Turner had been prime minister for little more than 11 weeks. Only Charles Tupper held the country’s top job for less time — 68 days in 1896.
Turner hung on as Liberal leader, however, rebuilding the party and duelling with Mulroney over the Meech Lake Accord and, most memorably, Canada’s trading relationship with the U.S. — a battle he called “the fight of my life.”
He also weathered the firestorm created by Reign of Error, a searing biography by journalist Greg Weston that portrayed Turner as a heavy-drinking, hypocritical loose cannon. One CBC reporter said it was “written with acid.”
Free trade fight
Fearing the impact Mulroney’s Free Trade Agreement would have on Canadian sovereignty, Turner made the controversial move in 1988 to instruct Liberal senators to block legislation that would have ratified the deal.
Turner was accused of misusing the powers of the unelected Senate, but told CBC’s Bill Cameron at the time, “I believe if Canadians are given a choice to vote on this trade deal, people will reject it.”
WATCH | Mulroney battles Turner on free trade in 1988:
The decision triggered an election dominated by Canada’s trading relationship with the U.S., during which Turner, with the support of Canada’s labour unions and arts community, fiercely fought the future agreement. In another iconic live TV election debate, Turner told Mulroney “You’ve sold us out” with “one signature of a pen,” and argued the deal would “turn us into a colony of the United States.”
In the end, although the Liberals increased their share of the House of Commons to 83 seats, Canadians returned the PCs to power with a second majority. The FTA was successfully ratified in Parliament, and after surviving an attempted caucus putsch, Turner eventually retired as Liberal leader in 1990.
Retreat from public life
In an exit interview with CBC Radio’s Dale Goldhawk in 1990, Turner said the trade agreement was “a bad contract for Canada,” adding “history will prove me right.”
He also said that he wished he’d done more to create opportunities for education, protect the environment, promote gender equality and “[bring] Aboriginal people back into the mainstream.”
Turner retained his seat in the House until 1993, but largely retreated from public life after stepping down as Liberal leader.
In 1994, he was named a companion of the Order of Canada and, in 2004, led the Canadian delegation of election monitors in Ukraine.
After leaving full-time politics, he returned to practising law in Toronto, but remained an outspoken advocate against the centralization of power in Ottawa, the manipulation of House of Commons debates and bills and the diminishing role of parliamentary committees in the legislative process. He also showed a particular interest in speaking about politics with young people.
“Democracy doesn’t happen by accident, you’ve got to work at it,” he told the Globe and Mail in 2009. “At the moment, Canadians are getting a little lazy about it, a little inattentive, and we’ve got to revive it.”
Turner is survived by his wife and four children.
Pandemic politics: Biden shuns 'false promises' of fast fix – CTV News
BULLHEAD CITY, ARIZ. —
Focused firmly on COVID-19, Joe Biden vowed Wednesday not to campaign in the election homestretch “on the false promises of being able to end this pandemic by flipping a switch.” President Donald Trump, under attack for his handling of the worst health crisis in more than a century, breezily pledged on his final-week swing to “vanquish the virus.”
The Democratic presidential nominee also argued that a Supreme Court conservative majority stretched to 6-3 by newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett could dismantle the Obama administration’s signature health law and leave millions without insurance coverage during the pandemic. He called Trump’s handling of the coronavirus an “insult” to its victims, especially as cases spike dramatically around the country.
“Even if I win, it’s going to take a lot of hard work to end this pandemic,” Biden said during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware. “I do promise this: We will start on day one doing the right things.”
His comments reflected an unwavering attempt to keep the political spotlight on the pandemic. That was a departure from the president, who downplayed the threat and spent his day in Arizona, where relaxed rules on social distancing made staging big rallies easier.
The pandemic’s consequences were escalating, with deaths climbing in 39 states and an average of 805 people dying daily nationwide — up from 714 two weeks ago. Overall, about 227,000 Americans have died. The sharp rise sent shockwaves through financial markets, causing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 900-plus points.
Trump, who frequently lauds rising markets, failed to mention the decline. But he promised that economic growth figures for the summer quarter, due Thursday, would be strong, declaring during a rally in Bullhead City, Arizona, “This election is a choice between a Trump super-recovery and a Biden depression.”
As Trump spoke, an Air Force fighter thundered nearby and released a flare to get the attention of a non-responsive private aircraft that was flying in the restricted airspace. North American Aerospace Defence Command said the plane was escorted out by the F-16 “without further incident.” Trump was at first caught off guard but later cheered the fighter, proclaiming, “I love that sound” as it roared overhead.
The president also condemned violence that occurred during some protests in response to the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man, in Philadelphia saying Biden stands “with the rioters and the vandals.”
But Biden said in Wilmington, “There is no excuse whatsoever for the looting and the violence.”
Bullhead City is just across the border from Nevada, a state Trump is hoping to flip during Election Day next Tuesday. A Trump Nevada rally last month attracted thousands and led to the airport that hosted it being fined more than $5,500 for violating pandemic crowd restrictions.
Rather than curb his crowd, Trump moved just across the border and used his rally Wednesday to scoff at Democratic leaders in states like Nevada for trying to enforce social distancing rules. The event’s crowd looked to be mostly from Arizona, though there were attendees from Nevada. Few wore masks.
The weather was far milder than during a Tuesday night Trump rally in Omaha, Nebraska. After Trump left that one, hundreds of attendees at Eppley Airfield spent hours waiting in the cold for transportation to cars parked far away. Several people were taken to hospitals amid concerns about exposure.
“Because of the sheer size of the crowd, we deployed 40 shuttlebuses — double the normal allotment — but local road closures and resulting congestion caused delays,” Trump spokeswoman Samantha Zager said in a statement.
Trump is trailing Biden in most national polls. Biden also has an advantage, though narrower, in the key swing states that could decide the election.
Biden voted early in Wilmington on Wednesday and received a virtual briefing from health experts. One, Dr. David Kessler, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, warned, “We are in the midst of the third wave, and I don’t think anyone can tell you how high this is going to get.”
Trump was nonetheless defiant, declaring, “We will vanquish the virus and emerge stronger than ever before.”
In a campaign sidelight, the president lashed out after news that Miles Taylor, former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, was revealed as the author of a scathing anti-Trump op-ed and book under the pen name “Anonymous.”
“This guy is a low-level lowlife that I don’t know,” he said. “I have no idea who he is.”
Trump views Nevada favourably, despite it not backing a Republican for president since 2004. Hillary Clinton won it by less than 2.5 percentage points in 2016.
And Biden wants to flip Arizona, which hasn’t voted Democratic for president since 1996. His running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, was in Arizona on Wednesday, meeting with Latina entrepreneurs and African American leaders as well as holding two drive-in rallies.
On Friday, Harris will visit Fort Worth, Houston and the U.S.-Mexico border town of McAllen in Texas — a state that hasn’t backed a Democrat for president since 1976 or even elected one to statewide office since 1994. Texas was long so reliably red that top national Democrats visited only to hold fundraisers.
“I am really grateful for the attention that they have given Texas because it has been so long since a presidential campaign gave this state a look,” said Beto O’Rourke a former Texas congressman and onetime presidential hopeful. But he declined to predict that Biden would win the state, saying only “There is a possibility,” contingent on turnout breaking records.
Biden heads later in the week to three more states Trump won in 2016, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan, where he’ll hold a joint Saturday rally with former President Barack Obama.
Democrats point to a larger number of their party members returning absentee ballots — results that could be decisive since more people are likely to vote by mail during the pandemic. Trump’s campaign argues that enough of its supporters will vote on Election Day to overwhelm any early Biden advantage.
Around 71.5 million people nationwide have so far voted in advance, either by casting early, in-person ballots or voting by mail, according to an Associated Press analysis. That’s already far more than the total advance ballots cast before the 2016 presidential election.
“We’re talking to people everywhere,” Harris said. “And there’s no area that’s off limits.”
Weissert reported from Washington, Jaffe from Wilmington. Associated Press writers Michelle Price in Bull City, Arizona, Kathleen Ronayne in Las Vegas and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.
UNBC Alumni dipping their toes in politics atop Parliament Hill
Hughes graduated UNBC earlier this year with a joint major in Global and International Studies and Political Science.
“The jobs that I held as a research assistant, student assistant, and journal assistant at UNBC were invaluable for the development of critical research and writing skills necessary for a parliamentary intern.”—Hanna Hughes, UNBC Alumni
Hughes says that she applied for the internship in part to gain non-partisan experience to prepare her for a potential career in government.
For her, her most memorable moment, two months into the internship, was when she was able to Zoom with former Prime Minister Paul Martin where she was able to “ask questions about the formation of the G20, his role as Finance Minister, and how to operate in a minority government,” said Hughes.
Lukac is grateful for his time at UNBC and says that it prepared him with writing and analysis skills which he says have been crucial for him professionally, “and perhaps more importantly, nurtured my passion for politics and political philosophy,” he adds.
Two Religion Reporters Cover Where Faith and Politics Meet – The New York Times
Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.
The discourse surrounding the background of the Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and the support of white evangelicals for President Trump has deepened political divisions in the country, and the conversations are two examples of why it’s important to understand conservative Christians and their impact. For our religion reporters, Ruth Graham and Elizabeth Dias, covering more political stories as the election draws nearer has become inevitable. We asked them a few questions about digging into the facts on the faith beat.
What challenges do you face covering religion in the United States?
RUTH GRAHAM One challenge in this particular moment is that the pandemic has made reporting so much harder. That’s true on every beat, of course, but religious observance in particular has so many sensory elements that really have to be experienced in person: music, prayers, food, décor, incense, emotion. Calling people up on the phone and asking direct questions about their beliefs will never capture it all.
ELIZABETH DIAS The polarized political climate has made reporters’ jobs harder all around. I’ve found conservatives are increasingly wary of talking with us no matter what the story is, from sexual abuse in evangelical churches to Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. That means these important stories often take longer to do because access to accurate information is harder to get.
Religion and politics seem inseparable these days. Has that always been the case, or has something shifted?
GRAHAM I think they seem inseparable partly because it’s election season, and as journalists we tend to view things through that lens ourselves. For ordinary believers, the connection is not always so clear. Some people clearly draw a connection between their faith and their views on national politics; others definitely don’t. I try to keep that in mind as a reporter and not force every story into a political frame.
DIAS Religion and politics both reflect shared, larger questions. They are both about power. They are both about people. They are both about how people structure life together. For centuries religion was politics, and it still is today in many parts of the world — the Vatican is a city state. Each generation works out its own relationship to these bigger questions and to history, and the election is just one way we are seeing that play out now in the United States.
How is covering religion during the 2020 election different than in 2016?
DIAS So much was revealed in 2016: the political influence of prosperity gospel preachers, who connect faith with financial wealth; the complete marriage of white evangelicals to President Trump; the depth of the racial divides within Christianity. Four years later these themes are all present, but that does not necessarily mean the election outcome will be the same. When the votes are tallied we will learn how the president’s religious coalition has and hasn’t changed after four years.
Would QAnon ever cross into your beat? What would that look like?
GRAHAM Yes, I’m actually starting to work on a Q-adjacent story right now. It’s a movement that has really taken off among Christian conservatives, and some have argued that QAnon itself is best understood as a homegrown religious movement. So there’s a lot of natural overlap on the religion beat.
What considerations do you take when reporting on religious groups that feel distrust toward the media?
GRAHAM The rising distrust of the media among a lot of conservative religious people is a major challenge, and one that is not going away. My starting assumption these days is always that I will have to work to convince conservative believers to talk with me. I do my best to acknowledge their wariness and explain why I want to include their voice in the story. All I can do is try to build trust by continuing to produce work that takes religion and faith seriously.
DIAS Trust grows over time, so I try to build long-term relationships with people I interview and to think of the body of work I’m building, versus only one specific story. Deep listening happens slowly, and requires appropriate empathy. I also spend a lot of time talking with people off the record, even though it means I may need to do more interviews, because I want to learn from them however I can.
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