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“I had no option”: Turner flustered in 1984 election debate

The Story

It is a turnaround of dramatic proportions. Heading into the leadership debate, Liberal leader and Prime Minister John Turner enjoys a comfortable lead in the polls. But, Progressive Conservative challenger Brian Mulroney is poised to pounce. Mulroney aggressively attacks Turner on the issue of patronage. Turner is visibly flustered and can offer little rebuttal, explaining that he had no choice but to accept former prime minister Trudeau's last round of patronage appointments. "You had an option sir to say 'no' and you chose to say 'yes' to the old attitudes and the old stories of the Liberal party," Mulroney argues. "That sir, if I may say respectfully, that is not good enough for Canadians." Canadians respond to Mulroney's righteous sense of honour and Mulroney is deemed the winner of the debate shown in this CBC Television clip. Turner's lead is dramatically eroded and the Conservatives will go on to win a record 211 seats in the House of Commons to the Liberals' 40. 

Medium: Television
Program: Encounter '84
Broadcast Date: July 25, 1984
Speakers: Brian Mulroney, John Turner
Duration: 3:58

Did You know?

• The Turner-Mulroney debates proved to be turning points in the federal elections. In 1984, Mulroney was widely regarded as the winner in this debate for his strong stance against patronage.
• The list of last-minute patronage appointments included former Liberal cabinet minister Bryce Mackasey and Eugene Whelan. Mackasey was assigned the ambassador to Portugal and Whelan became the ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

• After the appointments, Mulroney was quoted as saying: "Let's face it, there's no whore like an old whore. If I'd been in Bryce's position I'd have been right in there with my nose in the public trough like the rest of them." He later apologized, saying his comments were off the record. This is the "bantering" Mulroney refers to in this exchange.

• Turner and Mulroney faced off again in the 1988 election. The polls indicated that the Conservatives were poised to take the election with the NDP set to become the Opposition. But, Turner remarkably turned the tables and confidently attacked Mulroney on the issue of free trade. He was overwhelmingly declared the winner. While Mulroney's Conservatives went on to win the election, the Liberals moved from third to second place.
• Sir Charles Tupper holds the record for the shortest time of being the Prime Minister at two months and seven days in 1896. In the 20th century, Turner occupied the Prime Minister's office for the shortest span of time from June 30, 1984 to Sept. 17, 1984.
• Martin Brian Mulroney was born on March 20, 1939 in Baie-Comeau, Que. In 1973, Mulroney married Mila Pivnicki. They had one daughter and three sons.
• Mulroney governed the country through the Meech Lake discussions, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, the Free Trade Agreement and the Charlottetown Accord.
• Mulroney resigned from politics in 1993 and returned to the practice of law.


The Long Run: The Political Rise of John Turner more