'Old blue eyes' Turner could replace Trudeau in Canada

The nickname ''old blue eyes'' does not mean Frank Sinatra to Canadians. It brings John Napier Turner to mind. John Turner has had those blue eyes on the leadership of the Liberal Party before - in April 1968, when Pierre Trudeau won that position at the Liberal leadership convention.

Now that Trudeau has resigned, Turner has another chance at the party leadership - and the Canadian premiership. He will almost certainly be running in the convention which has to be held soon, probably in June. He will give the word on March 16.

Turner has been a cool customer since he left federal politics in 1975. He has practiced law, joined boards of companies such as Canadian Pacific and Massey Ferguson, played tennis, led a quiet life seldom touching politics.

Turner is restrained for one who was once the second most powerful man in the Cabinet, the minister of finance. Only twice in more than eight years did he stray and publicly criticize the policies of the government.

At a recent Liberal conference, Turner grew bold, at least for him. He gave an interview criticizing the people who had surrounded Trudeau - and by doing so subtly joined with the anti-Trudeau forces.

''I don't believe the party ought to be run by people who aren't accountable to anybody,'' he said.

While that remark seems to make good, simple sense, in Canadian political shorthand it is a sharp dig at the clique of advisors who have worked for Prime Minister Trudeau, in particular Jim Coutts.

Coutts, who may also be a contender in the leadership contest, was principal secretary to Trudeau. By attacking that part of the Liberal Party, Turner has signaled that he wants to move the Liberal Party to the right.

That won't be hard. Trudeau has taken the Liberal Party as far left as it has ever been, even swallowing up part of the support for the socialist New Democratic Party.

John Turner was born in Britain in 1929. His father was a British journalist and his mother a government economist. His father died when he was two. His mother came to Canada and married an industrialist who later became lieutenant-governor of British Columbia.

Turner went to private schools, was a Rhodes scholar, and attended Oxford and the Sorbonne. In his late 20s, he was a society favorite and spent a night at a ball dancing with Princess Margaret.

But Turner has paid his political dues. Elected to Parliament in 1962, when he was only 33, he has been minister of justice and minister of finance. He has a loyal following in the Liberal Party.

He has one more thing going for him: He is an English-speaking Canadian. The Liberal Party tradition is to switch from a French leader to an English one. Turner's main competitor at the convention would be Jean Chretien, but the party may feel it has to elect an English-speaking leader after 16 years with Mr. Trudeau.

The prospect of John Turner as leader of the Liberals has the Tories sweating. Pierre Trudeau was the best thing the new Conservative leader, Brian Mulroney, had going for him. Trudeau's unpopularity in the country, especially western Canada, has given the Tories a 20-percentage-point lead in the polls. John Turner could change that.

Brian Mulroney is a bilingual lawyer with business experience; so is John Turner. Brian Mulroney has the financial backing of rich business interests; so does John Turner. And the prospective Liberal leader has more political experience than the new Conservative chief.

John Turner might not beat Brian Mulroney outright in the next election, but if he keeps his Quebec support he could win enough to form a minority government.

Talk of even a minority Liberal government would have seemed foolish a week ago. But with John Turner as leader, the Liberal Party has a chance - which is why the leadership is probably his, should he decide to run.

Canada is almost certain to have a federal election this year and it is bound to be an exciting match.

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