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On October 6th, citizens from coast to coast bade their final farewells to Canada's 17th Prime Minister, John Turner, whose body was laid to rest in Toronto at St. Michael's Cathedral.  He died peacefully on September 19 at the age of 91, and, as is fitting of all former prime ministers, was given an official state funeral to mark his passing.

Unlike previous state funerals, however, of which there have only ever been 31 in Canadian history, Turner's did not receive quite the attention and fanfare that was warranted for such an occasion.

There were no funeral processions in the streets, nor was Turner's body made accessible in Parliament for members of the public to pay their respects.  Even the cathedral itself, a space that normally would have been packed full of mournful observers, was near empty as a result of social distancing protocol.

Once again, the COVID-19 pandemic can take credit for infringing upon the country's historical customs and traditions.

Of course, the news media did their best to cover the event with the attention Turner's funeral deserved.  Many outlets live streamed the funeral to provide Canadians the opportunity to tune in for Turner's official valediction.

Yet even this substantial coverage was no substitute for the extensive spotlight which typically occurs for those who have been granted the rare honor of a state funeral.

I suppose such an ending was somewhat fitting for Turner though; a man for whom timing, in death, as in life, has never been his forte.

Instead, it has often proven elusive; a curse of sorts that has plagued Turner for decades, beginning in his days at university.

In his early, adolescent years, Turner proved an outstanding athlete.  He excelled best at track and field, and at one point, set the Canadian record for the 100-metre dash.  He even qualified for the 1948 Olympics, though was unable to compete after suffering an injury to his knee, effectively ending his future in competitive sports.

Unfortunately for Turner, that setback was the first of many such instances of poor timing which sidelined his ambitions, and never more so than when he pivoted from sports to politics.

From the moment Turner began his political career, he appeared destined for greatness.  He had all the qualities one would typically expect to find in a leader.

He was intelligent and worldly; having succeeded in winning a Rhodes Scholarship and later going on to study in Oxford and Paris.  He was also athletic and affable, and handsome to boot.  With piercing blue eyes and movie star good-looks, Turner soon became referred to as "Canada's Kennedy", and at one point even famously courted Princess Margaret.

With such an appealing background, it was little wonder he was considered the Liberal Party's "golden boy", a natural successor to outgoing prime minister Lester Pearson, for whom he served ably in cabinet under.

Yet again, though, poor timing proved his undoing.

In the party's 1968 leadership race, Turner had the bad luck of facing off against the strangely seductive and charismatic Pierre Trudeau, who bested him, as well as every other competitor, for the Liberal crown.  Always the good soldier, Turner carried on faithfully for Trudeau, and helped his former rival implement his vision of a 'just society' in the important ministries of justice and finance.

After seven years of loyal service, though, Turner grew tired of playing second fiddle and withdrew from the Liberal cabinet to join the world of corporate law.  He eventually returned to electoral politics in 1984, after Trudeau took his final 'walk in the snow', and finally did win both the Liberal leadership and the prime ministership for which he so badly coveted.

Yet, even though he succeeded, Turner's victory would prove pyrrhic, as unfortunate timing once again offset his best laid plans.

After 20 years of almost uninterrupted rule, voters had grown tired with Canada's 'natural governing party.'  They began to seriously consider their Conservative alternative, just as Turner took over the reins of the moribund Liberals.

Of course, Turner did not help matters either.

He stumbled right out of the gate by foolishly dissolving parliament and calling an early election, as well as allowing himself to be scolded down in the July 25th debate by Brian Mulroney over the issue of patronage appointments.

When the ballots were counted in the aftermath of the 1984 election, Turner not only led the Liberals to defeat, but also to its lowest seat count (at that time) in the party's history.

He had served just 79 days as prime minister, the second shortest in Canadian history, yet dutifully stayed on as Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition to rebuild his shattered party and hopefully reclaim his lost mantle.

In opposition, however, Turner proved no less ill-timed.

While Turner did succeed in rebuilding the Liberals back, more than doubling the party's seat count in the 1988 election, his misguided support of the Meech Lake Accord lost him support throughout English Canada, just as his commendable crusade against the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement helped splinter the progressive vote, leading to another Tory victory.  Less than two years later, Turner would resign as Liberal leader, and from electoral politics altogether.

With such a history of bad luck and poor timing, it might be easy for some to pigeonhole Turner as a failure.

But that, however, would be completely inaccurate portrayal of the man.

For while Turner's was a life consistently hindered by poor timing, it was also a life full of accomplishment.

He served with distinction for an impressive 23 years as a Member of Parliament, for which he became known just as much for his graciousness and civility as he was for his competency.

As Finance Minister, he left behind a mixed record, pleasing some conservative observers with his fiscal restraint and tax cuts, whilst appealing to progressives with budgets that improved Canada's social safety net by increasing old age pensions and unemployment insurance benefits.

Crucially though, he displayed principle when he resigned in the wake of having to implement wage and price controls, a policy the Liberals had campaigned vehemently against in the 1974 election.  It was a classy move, and one not seen often enough in Ottawa these days.

Most importantly, under Turner's stewardship as Justice Minister, Canada took some incredibly important steps on its path towards full equality by implementing official bilingualism, as well as reforming the criminal code, which among other things, partially decriminalized homosexuality, and therapeutic abortions, while also liberalizing divorce and restricting gun possession.

As Turner's biographer Paul Litt has written, "More than any other Canadian politician, [Turner] translated the spirit of the 1960s into substantial changes to the laws of the land."

Regardless of the poor timing that hindered him throughout his political career, Turner leaves behind a rich legacy for the country he so dearly loved.

May he rest in peace knowing he left this country better off than he found it.

Photo Credit: CBC News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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Ah, anticlimax, hello old friend.  Welcome back to Canadian politics.

After days of bluster and posturing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has not fallen.  And while it has turned out we are not going to an election, this little bit of farce and theatre has taught us a little something about Trudeau: he's not afraid to face the voters, if the opposition gives him an excuse.

Which is something.  All the talk of Trudeau calling a snap election over the summer was an absurd one, his numbers may have been high, but in the middle of a pandemic calling a vote isn't going to necessarily go over well.

In BC, NDP Leader John Horgan seems to be getting away with it, but federally it might not go down so well.  At some point people get tired of opportunism, the trick is figuring out when you can still get away with it.

But, this proposed anti-corruption committee by the Conservatives gave the Liberals the perfect chance to pounce.

It's deeply cynical, and frankly dishonest, for the government to claim this committee would have ground parliament to a halt just by its existence.  It's extra terrible, given the reason they oppose the thing is so obvious: they don't want to have people look any further into the WE scandal.  That's why they prorogued, and that's why they made this motion into a confidence vote.

By raising the stakes and, essentially, putting the responsibility for calling the election at the feet — again, dishonestly, but no matter — of the Tories, they were able to test how willing their opponents were to actually fighting an election.  Calling that bluff this time paid off.  Eventually it will not.

What we know of the government's dealings with WE and how the proposal to get one of the many arms of the charity to run a rescue program worth hundreds of millions of dollars is pretty grim stuff.  There was a conflict of interest there, the set up of the whole contract is more than a bit dubious, and it doesn't really make sense to have an outside entity run a program the government could have run itself.

But in the middle of a massive crisis, is the WE scandal, however serious, really the issue that's going to move votes?  My bet is no.  And if things had gone to an election, the public mood for Conservative rule, with all their talk of problems with the deficit and so on, wasn't really going to fly when so many people are struggling because the virus has yet to be tackled.

While their programs have often been inadequate, and slow to be improved, the Liberals have offered real support for people to survive the pandemic.  That the provinces have largely dropped the ball leading to a surging second wave isn't something people are blaming anyone for yet — neither the premiers who are mostly responsible for it, or the federal government who have been sluggish to adjust.

And, let's be real, an election right now on top of two provincial elections — in Saskatchewan and B.C. — is really not something we need as a country generally.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, one time Liberal and justice minister, now just an independent MP, perhaps summed things up best in a statement she tweeted out after the vote was tallied and the Liberals officially survived:

"The choice this [government] placed before us — a potential election during a spiking pandemic or seeking to avoid transparency/accountability for ethical wrongdoings demonstrates an utter lack of leadership.  Imagine risking the health of [Canadians] to avoid taking responsibility," Wilson-Raybould tweeted in part.  "Shameful."

JWR is correct, it is shameful.  The government's reasoning for making this a confidence motion are, essentially, bullshit.  They wanted the other parties to blink, and they did.  It will be a long time before we get the full WE story, if we ever do.  And that's thanks to the political maneuvering of Trudeau.

One of the interesting things about the prime minister is how similar he is to his predecessor.  For all his invocations of Stephen Harper as some kind of malevolent spectre haunting the country, he uses a lot of the Bad Man's tactics.  Loading down MPs and ministers with say-nothing talking points, cynical misuse of Parliamentary maneuvers like prorogation to avoid accountability, threatening the opposition with a snap election if they do not bend to the government's will, closing off bureaucrats and information from public view.  And on and on.

Today was just one more exposition at the rot that has bloomed within this government.  For all Trudeau's half-assed sunny ways, he has become that which he once opposed.  Sure, the programs are more generous and the deficits are bigger, but how much different are this government's actions and demeanour different that the last Tory government?

But that's how things go in Trudeau's Ottawa.

Whatever optimism he rode in on is now well and truly dead.  The Liberals are the party of power. Hanging on to it, even if that means pushing around the opposition, is the name of the game.

After these few short years, that's what it comes down to.  Someday, perhaps someday soon, this emptiness will catch up with Trudeau.  But today, he lives on.

Photo Credit: Global News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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Justin Trudeau really wanted this election.  Despite the Liberals talking points, it is obvious that by declaring the Conservative motion to create a special committee to look deeper into the WE scandal a question of confidence, Justin Trudeau was more than prepared to go to the polls.  Worst case scenario, one of the opposition parties was going to blink, namely the NDP.

Because if Trudeau actually really, really didn't want an election, this motion would not have been a matter of confidence.  But he was confident enough to take the risk and gamble his current position to trade up.

In the current political context, and after seeing the Higgs minority government in New Brunswick go to the voters and get their majority, and after seeing the Horgan minority government in British-Columbia on its way to do the same, New Democrats decided they could not let Trudeau have the election that he wants in order to replicate the electoral successes we've seen from incumbents so far in this pandemic.

Of course, if a government doesn't want to fall, negotiations with an opposition party start in earnest.  Word from New Democrat officials is that the Liberals were not interested in negotiating much.  The choice for the NDP, therefore, was to either vote with the CPC and Bloc and trigger the election Trudeau wanted, or fold and get nothing in return.

Essentially, the NDP decided it was better to vote against Trudeau's bid for an election by voting with Trudeau against the CPC motion.  Do you follow?  It'll be a tough sell.

Jagmeet Singh has been using hard words against Trudeau, accusing him of being irresponsible.  Calling an election during a pandemic, while people are worried about their health, their jobs, their kids' education, all because he wants to cover up his tracks in the WE scandal, is, by Singh's account the height of self-centred irresponsibility.

Unfortunately for the NDP, the price Trudeau will pay for wanting an election and not getting it will be smaller than the price the NDP will pay for propping them up and being seen as helping them cover things up.  Certainly, Conservatives and Bloquistes will not shy away from quickly turning their fire towards the New Democrats despite the fact that CPC Leader Erin O'Toole himself said he didn't want an election.

For Trudeau, it was a win-win scenario.  Either he had the election he wanted.  Or he forced the NDP to prop him up while giving up nothing.  In both cases, the special committee to scrutinize possible misspending and ethical lapses during the delivery of federal aid programs was never going to see the light of day.

How long can the NDP afford to keep Trudeau in power before paying a price that is too heavy?  One only needs to recall the fate of Michael Ignatieff, who kept talking tough on Stephen Harper only to turn around and keep him in place, time and time and time again, without concessions.  While Jagmeet Singh was able to get changes on the Throne Speech, it was not the case this time.  Politically, that is a better template for Trudeau to follow for the remainder of 2020.

Photo Credit: CBC News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.