Liberal leader John Turner (left) and Conservative leader Brian Mulroney point fingers at each other during a debate from the 1988 federal election campaign. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)
This is the story of two prime ministers.
Two titans of our past still very much in our present. Two men who went at each other head to head in the most spellbinding television debates ever seen on the Canadian political stage.
Brian Mulroney is now 73 years old, John Turner 83. Mulroney was PM for nine years, Turner for only a few months. But their battles in the 1984 and 1988 elections won't be forgotten by anyone who watched them. Fingers pointed like daggers - Mulroney accusing Turner of selling out on patronage in 1984,Turner countering in 1988 by accusing Mulroney of selling out on free trade.
Their ways parted in the early '90s, still political foes, but never personal enemies. Both men retreated to law offices - Mulroney to Montreal, Turner to Toronto.
Canadians have various images of both men, many not so flattering, others fiercely loyal. Be that as it may, this column is not about that. Instead two little anecdotes that show sides of both men many Canadians probably don't know about.Former Canadian prime minister John Turner at question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill on June 23, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Aging has been, as it eventually is for all of us, challenging for John Napier Turner. The once dashing Robert Redford figure, who first took Parliament Hill by storm in the 1960s, has slowed down quite a bit in the "dash," but not in the "staying current." In Toronto you see him regularly at various social, political and business events. I had lunch with him a few months ago and while he was a bit deliberate in getting around, he was as sharp as ever in his analysis and his wit.
Then just after the holidays I got a message on a Friday night from a friend with a story to tell. It was a stormy night in downtown Toronto, wind howling, snow falling. She'd been on her way home, when she saw an elderly man exiting an office tower, no coat, struggling with a walker, briefcase under his arm, trying to position himself for a cab.
When one finally arrived my friend moved up to make sure the old fellow got inside okay and that's when she realized who it was. "Prime Minister" she said, "let me help you" and with that guided him into the back seat, made sure the driver knew who his fare was and where he was going, and then sent them on their way.
I love that story, it's so Canada. A former prime minister, on his own in a snowstorm, pushing his walker through the slush, grabbing a cab. You think Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr, Jimmy Carter are doing that? And let me tell you, it's not a one off - I've seen our 17th prime minister waiting alone for his bags at airport terminals too, ditto for Paul Martin, Jean Chretien and Joe Clark too. No RCMP/Secret Service for these guys - nope, when you're out in Canada, you're out and all the extras go too.
Here's to you Prime Minister Turner. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney leaves Parliament Hill on June 6, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Anyone who knows Brian Mulroney will be able to tell a dozen stories like this next one. Other Canadians who don't, not so much.
Last week we lost an honest, good man who politicians of all stripes liked and respected. John Wise was his name. He lived and farmed on land just outside St Thomas, Ontario. John Wise believed in public service and wound up a township councilor, county warden, and then won a seat in Parliament and in 1984 became Agriculture Minister in Brian Mulroney's cabinet. He was never one of the flamboyant ministers, just quiet and hardworking. Served his prime minister, served his country.
When John Wise died, Mulroney was overseas on a visit to France. But through a friend, word got to him late in a Paris evening. He didn't hesitate, he got on the phone and called John's wife Ann in St. Thomas and spent time with her, consoling, remembering. It helped.
But then the country's 18th prime minister went one step further. He found out where the service would be, and recorded an audio tape eulogy for his friend and colleague. Those who were in the service told me it was classic Mulroney - that deep baritone voice booming over the speaker, at times it made them smile, at times it made them cry.
Here's to you Prime Minister Mulroney.
You know, sometimes the lens we use in our minds to frame people, doesn't capture the whole subject. Sometimes there's more to see.
Prime Ministers, here's to both of you.