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John Turner, from lawyer to Liberal

The Story

It's 1962 and John Turner is sitting pretty. A successful lawyer and bachelor, he spends his days in court and many of his nights in Montreal's renowned jazz clubs and restaurants. It's only after a chance meeting with longtime Liberal C.D. Howe that he even considers leaving it all behind to enter politics during the 1962 federal election. This clip from CBC Radio has the "brilliant young Montreal lawyer" - turned Liberal candidate - arguing against John Diefenbaker's Tory government.

Medium: Radio
Program: Political Broadcasts
Broadcast Date: June 4, 1962
Guest: John Turner
Host: J.J. Connolly
Duration: 4:48
Photo: Libraries and Archives Canada (PA-146847)

Did You know?

• Though Turner boasted many political connections, he expressed little interest in the political life. A staunch Roman Catholic, his original career goal was a life in the church.
• According to Jack Cahill's book John Turner: The Long Run (1984), from the age of 16 to 26 Turner seriously considered entering the priesthood. Though he abandoned his plans, Turner has repeatedly stated in interviews that he thought political life was the second greatest calling - next to that of a priest.
• Despite his pedigree, John Turner was not a shoe-in for federal politics. After being convinced to take a run at public office in the Montreal riding of St. Lawrence-St. George, he still faced a tough nomination race and incumbent Egan Chambers, who was both a war hero and cabinet minister.
• Many close to the 33-year-old thought he was "too soft" to enter the political fray. But Turner, with his good looks, intelligence and commanding voice, would prove them all wrong in the summer of 1962.
• Turner's introduction to politics came in 1957, when the 28-year-old was recruited by C.D. Howe to help organize a Liberal re-election campaign in New Brunswick. The candidate won his seat, and Turner was invited to speak at several Liberal Party policy conventions over the next few years.
• With an election looming, in 1961 Paul Martin Sr. travelled to Montreal to woo Turner into running. With the Liberals lingering in opposition, they were eager to recruit young new talent into the party to help defeat John Diefenbaker's Conservatives.
• Diefenbaker called an election in April 1962, and an as yet undecided Turner finally threw his hat in the ring.
• During the Liberal nomination convention in May, the rookie politician delivered a stirring speech that helped win delegates over and signalled his future abilities as a commanding speaker.
• "The present government," he said "although it was elected with the largest majority since Confederation, has become one of inertia, indecision, and confusion. It has puzzled every friend Canada has ever had." (cont.)
• "There is no doubt Mr. Diefenbaker has lost control of the country. He is just like a weather vane, blowing one way, then the other."
• Turner won the nomination, then launched an impressive election campaign that included marching bands, glitzy cocktail parties and a downtown billboard that was plastered with daily criticisms of the Tory incumbent.
• The ambitious, charismatic Turner was touted as the future of the Liberal Party and was compared to U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
• To learn more about the young Turner's 1962 campaign, go to our additional clip John  Turner: 'Canada's Kennedy'.
• Though the Liberals failed to win on election day, Turner came out on top in his riding with 7,227 votes versus Chambers, who won just under 5,000.
• During the race Turner also met and fell in love with Geills Kilgour, a young campaign worker and computer engineer.
• The daughter of Winnipeg businessman and future Alberta Liberal MP David Kilgour, she helped introduce computers to Turner's campaign.
• Geills uncle was John McCrae, the Canadian soldier who wrote the poem In Flanders Fields.
• The couple married in Winnipeg in May 1963 and went on to have had four children; one daughter, Elizabeth, and three sons, Michael, David and Andrew.
• In April 1963, the Tory minority government was forced to hold another general election. This time, the Liberals sent Lester B. Pearson to Parliament as prime minister.
• Not long after, Pearson recruited Turner, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien into his cabinet. Maclean's christened the trio part of "The Young Turks" and mused about their future leadership potential.
• Maclean's described the group, which also included Herb Gray and Gerald Regan, as "probably the brightest group of MPs ever to appear simultaneously in a Canadian Parliament."


The Long Run: The Political Rise of John Turner more