Rt. Hon. John N. Turner 90th Birthday Celebration

Notes for Remarks

Rt. Hon. John N. Turner P.C., C.C., Q.C.

90th Birthday Celebration

June 10, 2019


Ottawa, Ontario

 

 

Check against delivery

 

 

Thank you, Merci , Speaker Regan, for your comments and best  wishes.

 

At 90 years old – I’m probably the oldest person in this room and, as such,  I’m allowed the chance to say whatever the hell I want!

 

Permettez-moi de commencer par vous remercier tous d’être venus ici pour célébrer cette étape avec moi.  Vous tous dans cette salle ont été une partie de ma vie publique et privée depuis des décennies et je vous remercie tous d’être ici

 

I’m particularly happy that Prime Ministers Trudeau, Clark, Chretien and Martin have come tonight to honour this milestone.  Your presence here means a lot to me, but more importantly the roles each of you have played in making Canada what she is today –

 

le monde connaît le Canada plus intimement grâce à vos réalisations personnelles et collectives. Je vous suis reconnaissant.

 

Encore, je voudrais dire merci Monsieur le president, Speaker of the House of Commons –

the Honourable Geoff Regan

for being here this evening and making the venue available for us to celebrate.  I also want to thank Speaker of the Senate the Honourable Chuck Furey for his support of this event as well.

 

I want to acknowledge and thank my daughter Elizabeth for being here tonight to celebrate with me and her own daughter – my grand-daughter – Fiona.  Your love and support are appreciated.

 

I also want to thank and recognize the Co-Chairs for tonight – Lisa Haley and Marc Kealey.  Both have worked for me for many years and their efforts to make this event so memorable for all of us does not go unnoticed.  I especially want to recognize that today is Marc’s birthday and I wish you the very best, my friend!



 

 

I’m delighted that so many former and current Cabinet Ministers are here this evening – many of whom I served with in Cabinet in the 60’s, 70’s and my own in the 80’s. 

 

Vous avez tous été une partie importante de la croissance de ce pays et j’apprécie que vous soyez ici pour célébrer avec moi.

 

I want to thank the High Commissioner for Jamaica -her Excellency Janice Miller for being here.  I know Jamaica is in mourning over the recent passing of my friend – former Prime Minister Seaga, which is why the Prime Minister of Jamaica could not attend tonight.  Many of you don’t know that Marc Kealey and I sit on the Board of the Jamaica Canada Disaster Relief and Resilience Initiative that Howard Shearer – who is here tonight – Chairs. 

 

The initiative was set up because Canada is recognized as a leader for disaster resilience and response and I’m proud of the work we have accomplished so far to set a staging area in Jamaica for the entire Caribbean to prepare IF any disaster should befall that region.  I will be returning to Jamaica in the fall for meetings to follow up with the Prime Minister on the initiative.

 

I want to recognize Carolyn Bennett, my MP – she is a strong member of parliament and an even stronger woman.  I look forward to campaigning with her this fall.  That’s my small way to give back!

 

Il est important de redonner. 

 

Il est important aussi, que nous reconnaissons la force.

 

force de caractère et

 

la force de l’action.

 

As a young man, I actually grew up here in Ottawa around strong women – particularly my mother Phyllis. She was an extraordinarily strong woman -she was senior advisor to the Minister of Finance.  She was actually the focus of a cover of Maclean’s Magazine years ago noted as Canada’s highest- ranking female civil servant.  It was she who instilled in me a commitment to democracy!

 

The point I’m making is that involvement in democracy does not happen by accident.  My mother’s career offered me and my sister, Brenda, the opportunity to have a lot.  We were engaged as young children in political society in Ottawa – we’d often times spend quality time with Cabinet Ministers, the Prime Minster and very senior government people from around the world. My mother instilled in me the St. Augustin principle.   I have always tried to govern myself as outlined by St. Augustin “to him (or her) who has been given talent let him (or her) give some of it back.

That means become involved in our community.

Volunteer for work.

Attend meetings.

Discuss ideas for action.

Share in accomplishing a project.

Stay involved.

 

At the local level, neighbourhood, town, or city communicate with city councilors, provincial MLA’s and federal MP’s.

 

Help make things happen.

 

Run for office if that becomes possible.

Make it possible!

Democracy does not happen by accident!

 

 

Je continue à lutter durement pour la démocratie au Canada.  Je vois comment l’accès et les droits et libertés peuvent être compromis et je continue à travailler pour essayer de changer cela. 

 

Let me give a very real example.  When I was practicing law as a junior associate at the law firm I was working at the time in Montreal (Stikeman Elliot), I was invited to the Kingston Conference – 1960.  At that conference, I delivered a paper on the necessity to provide access for all Canadians to Canada’s justice system.  I said that as a democracy we should ensure that no one despite their cultural or economic circumstance should fall victim to a lapse in access to the justice system.

 

My paper clearly garnered some attention because two years later, Lester Pearson who was the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada asked me to run for his Party. 

 

I won that election because our campaign had a terrific groundswell of support from young people across Montreal/St. Lawrence – I believe the ability of all those young people to rally behind our cause was the reason we did. 

 

People like Jim Robb and Sharon Gray who are here tonight. 

 

My wife, Geills, was involved in the campaign and because she was one of the first people in Canada to have a degree in computer science she prepared the database for our campaign and we used THAT kind of innovative technology to out gun our opponents.  We could easily track voters and their preference and prepared faster than the other party candidates.  

When I went to Ottawa as a rookie MP, I was involved from day one in some of the more important issues of the day and became a Cabinet Minister in Mr. Pearson’s government.  In 1968, I ran for Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada when Prime Minister Pearson resigned and we all know the history. 

 

When I was honoured by Justin’s dad, Pierre, to be his Minister of Justice one of the first things I did was implement my paper from 1960 – to create a system where access for all Canadians to the justice system was paramount and THAT was the start of Legal Aid in Canada.

 

Je dois également dire qu’au cours des années qui ont suivi, j’ai participé à un dialogue de plus en plus éclairé sur l’avenir de la démocratie dans le monde. Le Canada a toujours été considéré comme un pays responsable lorsqu’il s’agit de stabilité et c’est une bonne chose. 

 

 But, there are still opportunities for improvement.  I don’t like the use of the term BACK BENCHER when describing MPs.  It is the MP who holds a prominent position in the House of Commons.  My thinking on this is honed from the Magna Carta – one of the greatest pieces of democracy ever.  Written in 1215, it laid out the essence of democracy in Great Britain and became the template for democracy worldwide. 

 

Even at that time, the Magna Carta spelled out how citizen involvement through the casting of a ballot created the opportunity for a House of Common people (the Commons) to collect at Westminster to govern the people who voted them to attend there.  Once there, did they choose what group would be government by virtue of the number of “seats” their group had in the House and only then did THAT group nominate the person who would become Prime Minister.  It’s  so different today, where Prime Ministers act in a manner that I can only describe as unilateral. 

 

The most important part of democracy in my view is that ‘people govern people’.  We have to hold that principle sacred… where debate and opinion of people matter.  In fact throughout the world they call it parliament from the French word ‘parler’ to speak.  To disallow MPs to speak their mind and offer their opinion compromises the very essence of democracy.

 

Over my political career I have had and still maintain good working and personal relationships with several US Presidents – Bill Clinton (and Hillary of course) remain good friends as well as the Bush Family. Many of you here know of my friendship with the Kennedy family and for the short time I worked with both John and Bobby Kennedy, we worked well together.

I had a particularly better working relationship with President Richard Nixon. I was often sent to Washington to manage issues between our two countries. And we worked them out and I did all that on a handshake.

 

 

I recall a time when I was Minister of Finance, that I went to Washington, had meetings with then Secretary of State George Shultz, who was a good friend of mine, we’d play tennis at the White House, then get ready for dinner with the President.   We’d have a few scotches beforehand as well.    The President once said to me ‘Turner, you’re taking a risk coming here alone – you have no witnesses’. I said ‘Mr. President, if I thought I needed witnesses, I wouldn’t be here ‘.

 

And he gave me a huge bear hug. THAT was the way we resolved issues to determine a course of action.

 

On this issue of democracy I continue to watch THIS closely.  I believe that young people are critical and even today every time Marc Kealey and I travel anywhere in Canada or globally – we visit schools –

 

where I can talk to young people about the need to get involved in the political process.

 

Je pense qu’il est important qu’ils apprennent les subtilités du gouvernement d’un point de vue politique.  J’ai confiance en moi.

 

If I had any advice for young people or those of you in this room, it  would be to get involved.  You know, I tell people all the time that the outcome of doing nothing to impact public policy is impactful! 

 

Nos normes en matière d’éducation et de soins de santé sont sans égales et le fait que nous puissions fournir des services dans les deux langues officielles est un avantage distinct ET que nous devrions célébrer.

 

Wilfrid Laurier said in early 1900’s that the 20th century belongs to Canada. I think, that with the kind of talent that I see around this room and from the constant travel I do today across this country and interaction I have with young people –I’m more than convinced that the 21st century also belongs to Canada.

 

Now that I’m 90, I learned that good relationships keep us healthy and happy.

 

Social connections like this one tonight help us to live longer.  And to that end, it’s not just the number of friends – but the quality of those relationships.  They help to protect our brains and keep our memories sharp.

 

Again, I want to thank each and every one of you for being here to celebrate this event with me – and as they say –

 

a la prochaine!!

 

Merci beaucoup a tous!!!!

 

-30-


 
 


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