John Turner was born in Richmond England on June 7th, 1929 to and English father and a Canadian mother.. When he was 3 his father died and his mother Phyllis decided to return to Canada to bring up John. They at first lived in Rossland British Columbia but she worked her way up in the civil service and was promoted to a position which required that they move to Ottawa.
John was a bright and hard working student and when his mother was remarried to Frank Mackenzie Ross, a Vancouver businessman, the family moved west once again to Vancouver where John was accepted at the University of British Columbia. While attending UBC he distinguished himself as an outstanding athlete and earned a Political Science degree with honours, graduating in 1949. He continued on with his academic career after winning a Rhodes scholarship to study law at Oxford where he earned his BA in jurisprudence in 1951, his Bachelor of Civil Law in 1952 and his MA in 1957. In that period he also enrolled in graduate studies in French Civil Law at the Sorbonne in Paris.
He returned to Canada to study for his bar exam and in 1954 joined the Montreal law firm of Stikeman and Elliott after passing his Quebec bar. In 1957 the Liberals were looking for young up and coming people to help regenerate the party and C.D. Howe recruited Turner to work in he party machine during the election. By 1962 he was ready to run for office himself and chose the riding of St-Laurent-St-Georges in Quebec which he won.
Turner was affiliated with a group of new Liberal MP's who were striving to reform the party and Canada and quickly earned the nickname of the young Turks. He was recognized by Lester Pearson as a talented, brilliant personality and when Pearson became Prime Minister he made Turner a Cabinet Minster without portfolio in 1965 and Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs in 1967. 1968 was a pivotal year with the emergence of both Turner and another young MP from Quebec, Pierre Trudeau, as the shinning starts of the parties future. When Pearson decided to resign, Turner quickly threw his hat into the ring and in an exciting and tense leadership race lost to Trudeau.
He was made Minister of Justice, which was to position that Trudeau had held before becoming Prime Minister and while in that position reformed the Criminal Code in 1970, appoint the first Jewish judge to the Supreme Court of Canada, created the Law Reform Commission in 1971, oversaw the actions of the department during the FLQ crisis while the War Measures Act was used to fight the actions of the terrorists.
By 1972 the main challenge the government faced had become the economy and the Ministry of Finance had become the graveyard of many a prominent and rising stars in the Liberal Party. His tenure began with the Liberals in a minority position in Parliament and he managed to stickhandle through the partisan battles until 1974. Trudeau and the Liberals won the 74 election by opposing wage and price controls but once in power, Trudeau switched horses and decided to bring them in. Turner under growing pressure in his position as Finance Minister and with no other interesting options available to him decided to leave politics and in 1979 joined the Toronto firm of McMillan Binch.
In 1979 the Liberals were defeated and Trudeau stepped down. Turner was asked to run for the leadership but seeing the fortunes of the party at low ebb and a potentially a long hard battle to rebuild it at hand, he decided against it. Through the twists of political fate, Joe Clark was defeated during a vote of confidence, Trudeau returned as leader and the Liberals won another majority mandate. Throughout 1983-84, the Liberals recognized that Trudeau was going to resign before the next election and many supports of Turners tried to lay the groundwork for his return as leader. Although he was viewed by many within the party and across the country as the natural successor to Trudeau, the Chretien forces put up a strong fight and the battle between the two split the party just enough to make Turners win bitter sweet. Upon become leader of the Liberal party in 1984 and hence Prime Minister he faced a nation which, except for Clark's brief interlude, had been governed by the Liberals for almost 20 years. The polls took a big upswing for Turner and the Liberals during the leadership convention and right after he entered office. He was face with the choice of gambling that his popularity as new leader might help him win a quick election call or he could wait and try to put together a new plan and rally the troops while hoping that the poll numbers for him would not evaporate. He chose to go to people early. The campaign was a difficult one with a still tired Turner, from the leadership campaign, out on the road again. He was also saddled with the negative issues of the Trudeau years and the desire by many for a change. ne of the main issues of the election were some patronage appointments which were made and which he approved of which although traditional and in line with past practices and standards, did not go down well with the electorate. The Conservatives jumped on these appointments and made them into a banner of corrupt Liberal practices. Turner and the Liberals were badly beaten. After the election Turner undertook to rebuild the party and worked tirelessly in redefining, reinventing, re-energizing and refilling the coffers of the party. In 1988 Mulroney called and election and the real only issue was that of the North America Free Trade Agreement. The debate which had stretched back time in Canadian political history to before confederation once again emerged as the question of the day. The debates between Turner and Mulroney were fierce and personal. The Liberals once again were defeated and Turner worked for another 2 years as opposition leader but resigned in 1990. John Turner retired from politics after that but had returned to help when his country has called such as the 2004 election observation duties in the Ukraine. He is looked upon by many as a potentially great Prime Minister whose timing was unfortunate and who never really had the full opportunity to fulfill his talents or ambitions.
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