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Beyond Politics with Liberal Prime Ministers

Posted on July 2, 2013

Catherine Clark, daughter of Joe Clark, recorded engaging and informal chats with the six living former Prime Ministers. At times hilarious and at times poignant, these informal conversations with Canada’s former leaders were good TV. Here are the videos of the three Liberal Prime Ministers that aired on CPAC July 1, 2013.

John Turner served as Canada’s 17th prime minister from June 30 to Sept. 17, 1984:

Born in England, Turner came to Canada when he was only three after his mother, a native of Rossland, BC, was left widowed by her husband’s untimely death to malaria and was unable to find work in Depression-era London.

By all accounts his mother was a remarkable woman: Phyllis Ross was an economist, a civil servant and the first woman chancellor of the University of British Columbia.

Turner attended private schools in Ottawa, earned a BA from UBC, an MA from Oxford and did post-graduate work at the Sorbonne. Turner was first elected in the downtown Montreal riding of St. Lawrence–St. George in 1962 and in 1965 Lester Pearson named him to cabinet as minister without portfolio.

After Pierre Elliott Trudeau was elected leader in 1968, Turner was appointed justice minister and later finance minister. It was as finance minister that Turner faced his greatest political challenge. A dispute over wage and price controls compelled Turner to quit and for the next nine years Turner led a very successful and lucrative career as a Bay Street lawyer.

Lured back to politics by Trudeau’s resignation and the possibility of becoming leader, Turner offered his candidacy to the Liberal party. Turner defeated Jean Chretien on the second ballot to become the 17th prime minister of Canada despite not having a seat in the Commons or the Senate.

Less than three months later, Turner was thumped in an election that saw the Liberal Party reduced to 40 seats. Four years later, the Liberals lost again, and despite having doubled the party’s seat total to 83, Turner’s position as leader was untenable. He stepped down as leader but continued to sit as an MP for Vancouver Quadra until 1993.

Turner returned to the private sector and only recently retired from the law firm Miller Thomson.


Canada’s 20th prime minister, Jean Chrétien served in as Prime Minister for over ten years, from November 4, 1993, to December 12, 2003:

Jean Chrétien was born and raised in Shawinigan, Que, the eigth of nine children. He was admittedly a wayward soul as a youth and credits Aline Chainé for straightening out his life – they eventually married.

Chrétien graduated with a degree in law from Laval and practiced at a Shawinigan firm before becoming the MP for Saint- Maurice-La Flèche. He was only 29.

Chretien quickly established himself as a competent and capable minister with well developed political smarts. From 1967 until 1984, Chrétien served in all the major cabinet portfolios: Finance, Justice, Industry, External Affairs.

By 1986, the Liberals were out of office and Chretien left public life for a job in the private sector. When John Turner resigned as leader in 1990, it offered Chretien another opportunity to become leader and he did, defeating Paul Martin in doing so.

Looking back on his time as prime minister, Chretien points to the decision to not enter the war in Iraq as his greatest achievement, but he may be remembered best for his economic accomplishments, $42 billion in deficit eliminated, five consecutive budget surpluses and his political acumen that earned him grudging respect from his fiercest rivals.

Chretien is currently employed as counsel with the law firm Heenan Blaikie.


Paul Martin served as Prime Minister from December 12, 2003 to January 23, 2006:

Paul Martin was one of two children born to Paul and Eleanor ‘Nelly’ Martin in Windsor, Ontario. Martin’s father was an MP and served in the cabinet of four prime ministers.

Paul Martin Jr. earned a law degree from the University of Toronto and eschewed law for a career in business. By the age of 32 Martin was executive assistant to Maurice Strong, then the CEO of Power Corporation, and after only two years was promoted to president and CEO of Canada Steamship Lines, a company whose fortunes he turned around dramatically and eventually came to own.

In 1988, Martin decided to pursue his political aspirations and won the Montreal riding of LaSalle-Émard. After the Chrétien Liberals were swept into power in 1993, Martin was appointed to cabinet as finance minister and remained with that portfolio until 2002, when the simmering feud with the prime minister came to a head. Martin left cabinet and a year later, after Chrétien stepped down, was elected leader and prime minister of Canada.

Martin won only a minority in the general election of 2004. Despite his negotiation of a decade-long health accord with the provinces, and an ambitious aboriginal plan known as the Kelowna Accord, Martin failed to reach the promise expected of him. He was defeated by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in 2006. He stepped down as leader and now works as a consultant and on his own foundation, the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau with Jean Chrétien

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau with Jean Chrétien

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