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 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 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 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 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 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 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

COVID-19. (Courtesy of CDC).
Interior Health reports 12 additional COVID-19 cases

The total number of cases in the region is now at 644

Photo: Submitted
LeRoi foundation donates to Kootenay Boundary COVID relief

The community foundation gave $19,370 for the cause

The house is located near two schools. Photo: Connor Trembley
Dog attack seriously injures young boy in Castlegar

Despite investigating the incident, city staff aren’t confirming if the dog has been put down

Former B.V. Nitehawk Craig Martin inked a deal with the Jacksonville Icemen of the ECHL earlier this week.  Photo: Jim Bailey.
Trail product, Craig Martin, re-signs with ECHL Jacksonville Icemen

Martin returns to the Icemen after collecting eight goals and 23 points during his rookie season

Telephone operators at the Trail exchange in the early 1900s. Photo: Trail Historical Society
Trail Blazers: Early communication began with 30 telephones

Trail Blazers is a weekly feature in partnership with the Trail Museum and Archives

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

Colin James put on a great show at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds as part of the 2019 Vancouver Island MusicFest. But his Okanagan tour for 2020 has been postponed until 2021. (Photo by Terry Farrell)
COVID-19 cancels Corb Lund’s Vernon, Penticton, Trail, Cranbrook concerts

The Contenders, Colin James and Lund postponed until 2021

Vancouver police reactivated the search for Jordan Naterer Thursday Oct. 22. Photo courtesy of VPD.
Mom of missing Manning Park hiker believes her son is waiting to come home

‘He’s going to come out of a helicopter and say ‘what took you so long?”

Environment Minister George Heyman, Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announce that B.C. Hydro is proceeding with construction of the Site C dam, Dec. 11, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Site C actions, costs won’t be known until after B.C. election, Horgan says

Peace River diverted for construction of reinforced dam base

One of the squirrels who ended up having their tails amputated after getting them stuck together with tree sap. (Facebook/Wild ARC)
Squirrels recovering from tail amputation after sap situation near Victoria

BC SPCA Wild ARC says squirrels will be released back into wild, fifth sibling was euthanized

Most Read