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John Turner: ‘My time is now’

The Story

In December 1967, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson stuns his colleagues and the country by announcing he is retiring from politics. The move sparks four months of furious campaigning by his possible replacements, all of which culminated in a dramatic Liberal convention in April 1968. Presenting himself as the voice of Canada's younger generation, leadership contender John Turner takes the stage in this television clip to utter the prophetic words "I'm not here for some vague -- future convention in say, 1984.""My time is now," Turner says to his fellow Liberals in this stirring speech. After six years in Parliament, the ambitious cabinet minister is finally granted a chance to vie for the leadership of his party. But he has to overcome one obstacle: a charismatic, world-traveller named Pierre Trudeau who is being touted as the future of the party. Sensing that his dream may already be beyond his grasp, Turner addresses the delegates and explains his vision of Canada. 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: April 5, 1968
Guest: John Turner
Host: Norman DePoe
Duration: 5:31

Did You know?

• There were nine candidates going into the Liberal leadership convention, including a slate of established Liberals such as Robert Winters and Paul Martin Sr., and up-and-coming stars, including Turner and Trudeau.
• Turner, who considered Pearson a father figure, was annoyed that he and other candidates had secretly thrown their support behind Trudeau in the last days of the campaign. Despite a stirring speech, Turner would end up a distant third to Trudeau after a hectic night of balloting.
• Turner's nomination speech was delivered in front of thousands of Liberal delegates in Ottawa the evening before voting day. He took to the podium right after Trudeau delivered an address that spoke of "a just society" and referenced the assassination of Martin Luther King the previous day.
• Claude Ryan, a journalist and co-anchor for the CBC's convention coverage, summed up his impression of Trudeau's address by saying "it had an aura of victory that was undeniable."
• Turner's speech touched on themes that he would return to throughout his long political career, including a desire to shrink the gap between the rich and the poor, to invest in small business and to settle the concerns of French Canada.
• "We may not all finish even," he said "but in my Canada we will begin even."
• "I'm not just in this race so you will remember my name at some future date," he told the crowd. "I'm not here now for some next time. I am not bidding now for your consideration at some vague convention in 1984, perhaps when I've mellowed a bit. My time is now. And now is no time for mellow men."
• Sixteen years later Turner would return to politics to win the leadership, at a 1984 Liberal convention.
• On voting day, it took four ballots for Trudeau to win the leadership. By the third ballot, Trudeau was in the lead with 1,051 votes, compared to 621 for Robert Winters, 377 for Paul Hellyer and 279 for Turner.
• Despite the pleas of Winters and Hellyer to combine their votes, Turner refused to pull out of the race. Instead, he held out to the last ballot and placed a distant third with 195 votes. Winters ended up second, with 954 votes.
• Trudeau would later appoint Turner to two prestigious cabinet posts, but the rivalry between the two would endure. Turner continued to hold out hope for a shot at the prime minister's job.
• As Justice Minister in Trudeau's cabinet, Turner did support Trudeau's implementation of the War Measures Act during the October Crisis.
• In The Long Run he said he discussed his dream with an ailing Lester B. Pearson in December 1972. "He said some day I would be Prime Minister and that I should be patient and just wait it out.  And I told him that I anticipated I would be having troubles with our great leader before it was over. He said he could understand that."
• Turner continued to plot and plan for his eventual leadership bid, with the help of the so-called "195 Club" - supporters who stuck with him to the end in the 1968 convention.
• To learn more about Turner's supporters, which included Lloyd Axworthy and Jerry Grafstein, watch The 195 Club.


The Long Run: The Political Rise of John Turner more