Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the official opposition and the Conservative Party of Canada, I have the honour to pay tribute to former prime minister the Right Hon. John Turner.
Some people leave their mark on this place in a way that outlasts them by decades. To walk the halls and see their portraits is to be reminded daily that we stand where they stood.
The tributes that have poured out for Mr. John Turner in the last week could easily lead one to believe that the very existence of the modern Liberal Party is his greatest legacy. So many veterans of the Martin and Chrétien campaigns of the 1990s and early 2000s took to television, to social media, and to local radio and newspapers this week to pay tribute to the man they give credit for getting them involved in politics.
Their stories had one common theme. They spoke to a plain truth that John Turner never forgot and that so many who held the same lofty offices as his have never known. John Turner cared about individual Canadians, and not just those he encountered in the halls of power, where he spent more than 20 years as attorney general, finance minister, prime minister and leader of the opposition. Stories this week have been set in airplanes, taverns, church basements and coffee shops, stories of a man who took the extra time to know Canadians' stories and remember their names.
We have a tendency in moments like this to turn men into monuments, and with a prime minister who was an Olympic athlete and a Rhodes Scholar, that would be very easy to do. However, to Canadians who shared their stories this week of a man who remembered their names years after first meeting them, of a politician who inspired them to get off the couch, of an adversary without a shred of malice in his heart, the John Turner who comes through is one who always had more interest in being a person than he ever had in being a portrait.
I will relate a story. It is very interesting, and when I first heard it I questioned whether it was actually true. When I tell the story, I think those who have not heard it will share in my awe.
As the story goes, the young Liberal MP John Turner and his wife were vacationing in Barbados. While on the beach one morning, Mr. Turner's wife noticed a man out for a swim who appeared to be in trouble. The surf was rough that day. There was a strong undertow and the elderly man was not a strong swimmer. Mr. Turner's wife anxiously alerted her husband to the situation. Without hesitation, the young MP, who was a competitive swimmer in his university days, plunged into the surf. Grasping the man in a life-saving hold, he struggled against the undertow and finally made it back to shore.
Once on the beach, Mr. Turner set out to give the man mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. When the resuscitated gentleman came to his senses, who was the person Mr. Turner had saved? It was none other than the Progressive Conservative leader, former prime minister and then leader of the opposition John Diefenbaker. Is that not unbelievable? It is one thing to run into a colleague on a holiday, especially an opposition colleague, but it is another thing to save that individual's life. What an amazing and wonderful story.
They say that the greatest compliments are those that come from our staunchest adversaries, and in spite of being one of his fiercest adversaries, former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney had this to say about Mr. Turner:
The fact that he was a gentleman set him apart.... He was leader of the opposition...and while we had many battles...there was no malice in the man. He was a man of principle, so he brought a great sense of dignity both to himself and to the various jobs he held.
He always conducted himself with dignity and with elegance, so I think he's going to be remembered, of course, as a prime minister, but also as a parliamentarian, who contributed a great deal to Canada in the course of a highly successful life.
As I say, he brought to politics a very, very good mind and a vision for Canada. He brought all those values, including integrity and dignity, to his job. He symbolized, I thought, much of what was best about Canada.
What wonderful words from former prime minister Brian Mulroney about the Right. Hon. John Turner.
In closing, history has taught us that we always knew where John Turner stood. It did not matter if it was the prime minister he served, the Canadian people he faced or the party that he dedicated his life to. He did the hard job for every prime minister he served, and from what I have heard, when he disagreed with them they knew it. In fact, John Turner was the last finance minister to have resigned from cabinet on principle. Mr. Turner had all the qualities one would want in a Canadian statesman, even when people disagreed with him, and sometimes especially when people disagreed with him.
Our public life is richer because of the contributions the Right Hon. John Turner made. May he rest in peace.