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John Turner retires as Liberal leader

The Story

After six tumultuous years and two failed elections, John Turner is finally stepping down as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. With less than week to go before his final farewell the 61-year-old sits down to reflect on his quick rise and long slow climb to power, including his backroom battles with Jean Chrétien and his admittedly "rusty" performance during the 1984 election campaign. In this engaging and refreshingly honest clip, CBC Radio's Dale Goldhawk and Turner explore his legacy with the Liberal Party.

Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: June 18, 1990
Guest: John Turner
Host: Alan Maitland
Interviewer: Dale Goldhawk
Duration: 17:32
Photo: Libraries and Archives Canada (PA-152413)

Did You know?

• It took him 24 years to win the role of prime minister, but less than three months to lose it. Then, after surviving several attempts to dethrone him from his Liberal leadership, he finally relents and announces his resignation in 1989 after five years as leader of the Opposition.
• The move brings to an end a political career that spans four decades and such historic moments at the FLQ crisis, the decriminalization of homosexuality and the failure of the Meech Lake accord.
• But he remains proud of his struggle against the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, describing it as "the fight of his life" saying "when history is written, it will prove me right."
• In the 1988 exposé Reign Of Error: The Inside Story of John Turner's Troubled Leadership, author Greg Weston chronicled the efforts of disgruntled Grits including Turner's longtime friend Donald Johnstone.
• In a letter of January 1988, he wrote "The strength of a political party rests on four pillars: people, organization, policy and money." (cont.)
• "On the eve of an election, our party finds the first two pillars weak, the third confused and incoherent, and the last represented by a multi-million-dollar debt."
• Johnstone joined with more than half of Turner's cabinet to ask for his resignation. Turner resisted, and brushed off a subsequent split vote by his Quebec caucus on his future leadership.
• Watch Turner discuss his leadership woes with Peter Mansbridge.
Reign of Error was packed with accusations about Turner's lack of political conviction, his urge to please and rumours of an alleged drinking problem.
• Though he lost that winter's election, his boost in popularity restored some of his party's faith and allowed him to remain for 18 more months. He announced his intention to resign in May 1989 and officially departed in the Liberal leadership convention in June of the following year.
• Included in the many tributes to Turner was his old foe, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Asked by reporters what he thought of Turner's resignation Mulroney said "What gives us the purity of our democracy is the collision of ideas democratically exchanged...He conducted himself with as much elegance and thoughtfulness as others would ascribe to me."
• Turner's successor, Jean Chrétien, would go on to easily win the 1993 general election against Mulroney's replacement Kim Campbell.
• Turner returned to his law practice in Toronto, but kept his seat in Parliament for Vancouver-Quadra until shortly before the 1993 election.
• In October 1994, Turner was named a companion of the Order of Canada in honour of his careers in both politics and the legal profession, as well as his charitable work with Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and the Community Foundation of Toronto.
• In the 1999 book, Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada's Leaders, historians J.L. Granatstein and Norman Hillner placed Turner 18th on a list of 20 former leaders - between John J.C. Abbott and Mackenzie Bowell.
• "John Turner's period as prime minister was cruelly short, no longer than the 1984 election campaign," they wrote. "He never really governed the country or had the chance to demonstrate the skills that had made him such an effective Cabinet minister."
• "In the modern media age," they concluded. "The trip from being a 'man of our time' to an anachronism takes only a few seconds."
• Turner has kept a low profile in the years since, occasionally granting interviews in which he argues his case against free trade. In 2006, he appeared on a TV contest called The Next Great Prime Minister alongside fellow ex-PMs Kim Campbell, Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney.
• During the show he argued that the ongoing softwood lumber debate was proof that Mulroney's free trade deal was flawed.


The Long Run: The Political Rise of John Turner more