John Turner gets his turn at Canada's helm
Ottawa — John Turner is the all-Canadian boy. He has had it all: college sports star, Rhodes scholar, the young Cabinet minister, the successful corporate lawyer, and as of Saturday, June 30, he will officially be Canada's 17th prime minister.
He has hardly missed a beat on the way to the top.
John Turner has been successful at almost everything he has done. Even his one big failure, leaving the Cabinet over economic policy 81/2 years ago, he turned to gold. He had a successful and lucrative exile in the business world, and now he has come back to be prime minister.
During his years in business, Mr. Turner led a quiet life. He gave few speeches, one or two interviews, and refused to comment on public policy, at least in public. But he was not a recluse. He could be seen in tennis whites steering his station wagon through the tree-lined streets of his Toronto neighborhood. He was big on lunch and could be seen at the downtown Toronto clubs or at Winston's, a restaurant that author Peter Newman described as ''a day-care center for the establishment.''
Some people envy John Turner and his seemingly effortless, successful life.
''Turner's so smooth, he's never made a mistake anybody can pin on him. He's the Liberal dream in motion,'' was a remark once made by Brian Mulroney, now leader of the Conservative Party and the man John Turner has to beat in the next general election. But Turner's supporters - and there are a lot of them in the Liberal Party and in the electorate - say he is a keenly intelligent, hardworking man with a sense of duty.
John Napier Turner was born in Richmond, a suburb of London, England. His mother, Phyllis, was a miner's daughter from Rossland, British Columbia. She had studied economics and political science at the Univeristy of British Columbia and won a scholarship to Bryn Mawr. She then went to the London School of Economics, where she married a British journalist, Leonard Turner. He died when John Turner was 2 years old and the family returned to Ottawa, where Phyllis Turner had a job has a government economist.
The British press has made a great deal of Mr. Turner being ''British.'' He is not, he just happened to be born there. If there is such a thing as a Canadian character, John Turner has it.
His mother was a working professional woman (a fact Mr. Turner now likes to plump in his speeches), who scraped the money together to send her son to private school, Ashbury College in Ottawa.
John Turner did not grow up rich, but he grew up in the Liberal Party establishment in Ottawa. Because of his mother's senior position in government he met Prime Minister MacKenzie King and his Cabinet ministers from an early age. John Turner instinctively understands the nuances of power.
Mrs. Turner remarried when John was 16. His stepfather was Frank Ross, an industrialist from Vancouver who also became the lieutenant governor of British Columbia, an appointed ceremonial post as representative of the Queen in that province. It was a position of great social importance and allowed John Turner to meet even more important people.
Turner went to the University of British Columbia, where he was a track and field star. He was the Canadian senior 220-yard sprint champion in 1948. A car accident ruined his chances of representing Canada at the 1948 Olympics. At university he was the most popular man on campus, according to an editorial in the student paper when he left British Columbia as a Rhodes scholar destined for Oxford.
At Oxford he took two degrees in civil law and jurisprudence and was on the rowing team. Once again he had an active social life. He tells of a party in his rooms at Oxford where among others he entertained Roger Bannister, the great miler, and Malcolm Fraser, a future prime minister of Australia. John Turner never ran a four-minute mile, but he has caught up to Malcolm Fraser now.
A year in Paris, studying law and learning French, rounded out John Turner's education. It was now back to Montreal and a successful career as a young lawyer. He made money and he made friends.
In 1958 he made headlines when he danced the night away with Princess Margaret, the sister of the Queen, at a dance given in her honor by Turner's stepfather. Turner has always played down any rumors of a romance. He was the only nonofficial Canadian guest invited to Princess Margaret's wedding.
So by the early '60s the socially and financially successful John Turner, familiar with the Liberal establishment, was ready to run for politics. He ran in a Montreal riding in the election of 1962 and beat Egan Chambers, a rising young Conservative sitting member. It was the beginning of Turner's political career, the end of Mr. Chambers's.
In Ottawa, Turner found it tough going. Even though he was talented, hardworking, and well connected, he didn't show up in the Cabinet right away.
The young MP had to work in the trenches, as a backbencher, then parliamentary secretary, and finally in 1967 as a junior minister in the newly created portfolio of Consumer and Corporate Affairs. It was the same series of Cabinet appointments that saw another rising lawyer from Montreal - Pierre Elliott Trudeau - take over as justice minister.
The next year there was a leadership race and both men were in it. Trudeau won, but Turner fought till the bitter end, ending up in third place on the final ballot. This has long been given great political significance in Canada, but it is hard to decide whether Trudeau owed Turner or disliked him for staying on the ballot and complicating that final vote.
The Ministry of Justice was Mr. Turner's next job and he brought in major reforms. He was then minister of finance, one of the most important jobs in the government but one in which a single slip can send a minister quickly to the political graveyard.
John Turner did not slip up. His hard work and attention for detail became an Ottawa legend. Here was ambition, but ambition backed by intelligence and the work ethic.
But Turner slipped. It was not his fault, he just did not agree with the way Pierre Trudeau wanted to take the economy on the more ''interventionist'' route. Some Canadian businessmen said ''socialist.'' Mr. Turner handed in his resignation in the fall of 1975 and it was accepted.
By 1976 he was in Toronto, practicing law.
John Turner now is back in Ottawa practicing power. On Saturday he will name the men and women in his Cabinet. He has promised that it will be a smaller body than the 37 people Pierre Trudeau ruled over.
The Cabinet ministers will be given more autonomy, according to Turner, and will take some power back from the unelected top civil servants, called deputy ministers, who have taken on so much power during the Trudeau years.
In July, Turner will be able to move into 24 Sussex Drive with his wife, Geill, and their four children. Mrs. Turner has indicated they may not move in right away.
Moving is not the No. 1 thought on John Turner's mind. He must be thinking of the next election, when he will call it, and how he can win it to hang on to the job and the power he has worked so long and hard to get.