Mr. Turner was born in in London, England on June 7th, 1929. His family would move to Canada in 1932 after the death of his father. His mother was Canadian, settling first in British Columbia, and then in Ottawa.
He qualified for the 1948 Summer Olympics in track, but was unable to compete due to a knee injury. He would graduate from the University of British Columbia in 1949, with a B.A.
Mr. Turner would be elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for St. Lawrence—St. George in 1962, and represented the riding until is was dissolved in 1968. He would then serve as the MP for Ottawa-Carleton from 1968 until 1976, and then Vancouver Quadra from 1984 to 1993. He would serve as a member of the Liberal Party the entire time.
Mr. Turner would serve in several cabinet positions: Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs and Registrar General of Canada from December 1967 to July 1968 under Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Solicitor General of Canada in mid 1968,the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada from 1968 to 1972, and the Minister of Finance from 1972 to 1975 under Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
He would resign as the Minister of Finance and as an MP in 1975 after 13 years as an MP in order to move into private practise as a lawyer – serving as a lawyer on Bay Street in Toronto from 1975 until 1984.
In 1984, Mr. Trudeau retired from politics with the Liberals’ chances of success in the next election dwindling. Mr. Turner would run, and win, in the June 1984 leadership campaign, beating out Jean Chrétien as leader of the Liberal Party, and succeeding Mr. Trudeau as Canada’s 17th Prime Minister. Mr. Chrétien would succeed Mr. Turner as Liberal Party Leader, and leader of the Opposition, in 1990 – and would become Canada’s 20th Prime Minister in 1993.
Although an election was not required until 1985, but without a seat in the House of Commons himself, in July 1984, less than two weeks after becoming Prime Minister, he would call on the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. The other parties would expecting an election to be called in the fall, after planned visits by Queen Elizabeth II and Pope John Paul II.
The Liberals popularity slipped through the election campaign – especially as Mr. Trudeau had appoint 200 Liberal supporters to patronages in the last days of his service as Prime Minister – including Senators, judges, and members of several Crown corporations. Mr. Turner would appoint another 70 people after becoming Prime Minister. This, plus the Liberals being in power for nearly two decades (less Joe Clark and the Conservatives for a short period in 1979), meant that the public was looking for a change.
On September 4th, 66 days after becoming Prime Minister, the Progressive Conservatives won the election, winning 211 seats to the Liberals 40. It would be the Liberal Party’s worst showing in an election until 2011. Mr. Turner would resign as Prime Minister on September 17th, after 79 days in office. Only Mr. Turner and Kim Campbell would be Prime Minister and never face Parliament or over see the passage a single piece of legislation.
Mr. Turner would continue as party leader, and Leader of the Opposition until June 1990 when Jean Chrétien would take over as party leader. He would also see another political loss, losing the 1988 general election, although retaining his seat in Parliament. He would retire from politics in 1993.
Mr. Turner received several awards after retirement, including being made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1994, Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal for Canada in 2002, and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for Canada in 2012. He would also receive the Centennial Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal in 1967, Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal for Canada in 1977, and the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal in 1992.
Mr. Turner passed away on September 19th, 2020 in Toronto. He is survived by his wife and four children.