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

More than $10,000 in donations and toys was presented to the Salvation Army by the Prince Rupert Harley riders on Oct. 20, from the 39th annual Toy Ride held on Sept 26. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Harley Riders rode to victory with $10,000 donation to Salvation Army

The 39th annual Prince Rupert Harley Riders gifted more than 280 toys from the annual Toy Ride

The Prince Rupert Port Authority Land Use Plan will guide the growth within lands and waters under its jurisdiction and facilitate Canada’s trade with the world for the next 20 years. (Photo: Supplied by Port of Prince Rupert)
Land Use Plan finalized by Port Authority

PRPA Land Use Plan plan guides the growth and trade for next 20 years within its lands and waters

Such sweetness with all this candy. Dylan Kennedy 7, with his mom Kerri Kennedy volunteer at the Halloween Fest Committee event to bag candy for students in SD 52 on Oct. 19. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
How sweet it is

Bags of candy were assembled by more than 25 Halloween Fest Volunteers for distribution to S.D. 52

Ashley Wilson officer in charge of Prince Rupert Marine Communications and Traffic Services said radio officers in Prince Rupert are the eyes and ears of the Canadian Coast Guard with the job as an ocean first responder being like a 911 dispatcher. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Coast Guard calling for radio officers

Deadline for radio officers applications extended specifically for Prince Rupert and area residents

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More calls come in for Cullen’s removal as NDP candidate

Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs demand Cullen’s removal. Ellis says, There’s no place in B.C. for racism

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after purchasing electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

The Anonymous YVR is an Instagram page that reviews restaurants and other establishments around B.C. based on how well they adhere to COVID-19 rules. (Instagram)
Anonymous Instagram page reviews COVID-19 safety measures at B.C. businesses

There are a number of public health orders various types of establishments must follow to slow virus’s spread

Jordan Naterer, an electrical engineer from Vancouver, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. (Facebook photo)
Search efforts to resume for missing Manning Park hiker; Trudeau speaks on case

PM says he’ll do what he can to ‘nudge’ efforts to find Jordan Naterer, yet has little leverage locally

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

École de L’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
B.C. records first COVID-19 outbreak at school, six weeks after students return to class

Three cases of the virus have been identified at École de L’Anse-au-sable

Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau is seen as she leaves media event during a campaign stop in West Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green leader hopes voters see value in minority government

The Greens received nearly 17 per cent of the popular vote in 2017 yet received just three seats

Most Read