It was on this date in 1989, a few months after the 1988 free trade election, that Liberal leader John Napier Turner, Canada’s 17th Prime Minister, announced his resignation. Well-regarded during his years as Justice Minister and Finance Minister under PM Pierre Trudeau, Turner had retired from politics in 1975 but returned to win the Liberal leadership (in a close battle over long-time rival Jean Chretien) in 1984.
Turner led his party through two campaigns against Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives and Ed Broadbent’s NDP. He faced a particularly tough challenge in the 1984 general election, given that the Liberals had been in power for all but 8 months of the preceding 16 years. The thirst for change resulted in a sweeping majority for the Conservatives as the Liberals were reduced to 40 seats.
Though he lost again in 1988, the Liberals had doubled their seat count to 80 MPs, helping to set the Grits on a path to victory that would see them assume office with a majority government in 1993. As my friend Tom Axworthy once wrote, Mr. Turner was indeed the Liberal “pilot who had weathered the storm.”
Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist. He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy. A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.