Elusive Destiny: The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner

Elusive Destiny

UBC Press, $37.95
Paul Litt

If timing is everything, was John Turner doomed from the start? A young, successful Liberal politician, he was the “prime minister in waiting.” At least until Trudeau nabbed the spotlight, dazzling voters and pundits alike. Then, after an eight-year absence from politics and triumphant return, a comeback was derailed by vicious Liberal Party infighting and political gaffes, cumulating in the 1984 televised election debate. Brian Mulroney’s finger-pointing indictment of Turner’s broad patronage appointments: “You had an option, sir. You could have said I’m not going to do it,” stunned the nation, and heralded the end of John Turner’s political run.

John Napier Turner served as Prime Minister for only 79 days. But there was more to John Turner than the election failures indicate, much more. In Elusive Destiny: The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner his remarkable, and remarkably candid, story is told. During decades of roiling politics, the FLQ crisis, abortion debates, stagflation, the gay rights movement, foreign relations with Nixon, the Official Languages Act, and Meech Lake, John Turner’s decisions, speeches, and actions—as Minister of Justice, Minister of Finance, and as Prime Minister—were decisive.

This political biography extraordinaire reveals a progressive thinker, a civil rights advocate, a canny political manager—and a man with faults. Above all, it profiles a leader who has a profound dedication to Canada, a dedication never more evident than during his impassioned defence of Canadian sovereignty during the free trade election of 1988.

Historian Paul Litt charts the meteoric rise and fall of John Turner, exposing the inner workings of the Liberal Party during its heyday, devastation, and rebuilding.

(John Turner graduated from UBC with a BA in 1949. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university in 1994. As one of the greatest sprinters in UBC’s history, Turner was inducted into UBC’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.)


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