Ex-PM John Turner eulogized as exemplary politician; COVID limits number of guests

Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police carry the casket of former Canadian prime minister John Turner out of St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica during his state funeral service for in Toronto on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan DenetteMembers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police carry the casket of former Canadian prime minister John Turner out of St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica during his state funeral service for in Toronto on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Former Canadian prime minister John Turner attends an Economic Club of Canada luncheon in Toronto on Monday December 15 2014. Former Liberal prime minister John Turner is being laid to rest in Toronto today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris YoungFormer Canadian prime minister John Turner attends an Economic Club of Canada luncheon in Toronto on Monday December 15 2014. Former Liberal prime minister John Turner is being laid to rest in Toronto today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Elizabeth Turner, daughter of former Canadian prime minister John Turner, pats his casket on her way to speak during his state funeral service at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan DenetteElizabeth Turner, daughter of former Canadian prime minister John Turner, pats his casket on her way to speak during his state funeral service at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police carry the casket of former Canadian prime minister John Turner out of St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica during his state funeral service for in Toronto on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan DenetteMembers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police carry the casket of former Canadian prime minister John Turner out of St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica during his state funeral service for in Toronto on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and wife Sophie Gregorie Trudeau kneel and pray during the state funeral service for former Canadian prime minister John Turner at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan DenettePrime Minister Justin Trudeau and wife Sophie Gregorie Trudeau kneel and pray during the state funeral service for former Canadian prime minister John Turner at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Msgr. Samuel Bianco wears a mask as he looks over the casket during the state funeral service for former Canadian prime minister John Turner at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan DenetteMsgr. Samuel Bianco wears a mask as he looks over the casket during the state funeral service for former Canadian prime minister John Turner at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Former prime minister John Turner was eulogized at a state funeral on Tuesday as a gifted politician with a strong social conscience and profound love for the environment who spent decades serving his fellow Canadians.

An invited list of 170 mourners — among them the current prime minister and Turner’s closest family — were on hand at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica for the televised service ahead of a private interment.

The U.K.-born Turner, Canada’s 17th prime minister, died peacefully at home on Sept. 19, his family said. He was 91.

One of the mourners, Sean Conacher, called Turner a “great Canadian” and a politician worth emulating.

“I’m here to honour him,” said Conacher, a long-time family friend. “In light of what’s happening now in politics, he hearkened to a past that I think we need more of, where public service is important.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who since childhood had known Turner, echoed that sentiment in an address to mourners.

“Today, more than ever, we need more people like John,” Trudeau said. “His legacy calls on us not to wait for change to happen but to stand up and build a better country for everyone.”

While the recently renovated cathedral has a capacity for 1,600 people, concerns over the spread of COVID-19 prompted organizers to limit the guest list. Many in attendance wore black face masks and were spaced out among the pews to maintain physical distance. There was also no communal singing.

As sunlight filtered through the stained-glass windows, Turner’s daughter Elizabeth Turner praised her father as a dedicated politician and public servant who, despite the demands of public life, never failed to make time for his family and friends.

“John Turner believed in taking the high road,” she said. “He handled himself with great grace and dignity and he always maintained his sense of humour.”

Once dubbed “Canada’s Kennedy” when he first arrived in Ottawa in the 1960s, the athletic John Turner ultimately represented three provinces as a Liberal member of Parliament. He served as solicitor general and justice and finance minister in various cabinets before his brief, 79-day stint as prime minister in 1984.

Others at the state funeral spoke of Turner’s unbridled love for the outdoors and travels to Canada’s Far North. When anyone complained about the weather, he would gently chide them with: “Are you a Canadian or a tourist?” his daughter said.

Born in 1929 in England, John Napier Wyndham Turner moved to Canada in 1932 after the early death of his father. An Olympic-calibre track star, he would go on to study law.

Turner first entered politics in 1962 when he won a seat in the Quebec riding of St-Laurent-St-Georges.

“Democracy does not happen by accident,” his family later cited him as saying repeatedly.

In 1965, then-prime minister Lester Pearson named Turner to cabinet, two years before Trudeau’s father Pierre Trudeau and fellow prime minister-to-be Jean Chretien landed cabinet posts.

Turner ran to succeed Pearson in 1968, but lost to Pierre Trudeau, who appointed him as justice minister, a post he used to help create Federal Court and a national legal aid system.

He defended the decriminalization of homosexuality and abortion in the 1960s, but also martial law and the suspension of civil liberties during the October Crisis of 1970.

He once saved then-Opposition leader John Diefenbaker from drowning during a vacation in Barbados.

Turner married his wife, Geills McCrae Kilgour, great-niece of Col. John McCrae who wrote “In Flanders Fields,” in 1963. Besides daughter Elizabeth, the couple had three sons, Michael, David and Andrew.

After leaving politics in 1976, he spent nearly a decade as a corporate lawyer on Bay Street before returning to politics after Pierre Trudeau resigned. Turner won the 1984 Liberal leadership race over Chretien in a bitterly divided contest.

Turner, who opposed free trade with the U.S., called an election nine days after he was sworn into office as prime minister. The poorly prepared and divided party proved no match for Brian Mulroney and his Progressive Conservatives.

Turner resigned as party leader in 1990 and left politics three years later, joining a Toronto law firm.

Despite declining health, he was a mainstay at many Liberal events. He gave speeches reminding the party of its golden years, sprinkled with wild stories about life on the political trail.

With files from John Chidley-Hill

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Canada

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Quesnel RCMP Detachment is one of seven northern police buildings which can now connect directly to Prince George for daily bail hearings. (Observer File Photo)
Bail hearings going virtual in B.C.’s north

A court pilot project will see virtual courtroom cameras set up in seven RCMP detatchments

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Angelique Houlihan gets her COVID-19 vaccine jab last week at the community-wide clinic. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
Vaccine clinic continues this week

Plenty of booking spots available

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

Most Read