Elusive Destiny
536 pages, 6 x 9
41 b&w photos
Release Date:21 Oct 2011
Release Date:01 Sep 2011
Release Date:21 Oct 2011

Elusive Destiny

The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner

UBC Press

“Going my way?” asked John Turner’s campaign brochure in 1962, “my way is the Liberal way.” It was, that is, until Pierre Trudeau came to power. Turner was his party’s star apprentice in the Liberal art of managing a heterogeneous nation through brokerage politics, but in the 1968 election Canadians opted instead for a newly minted celebrity leader for a re-imagined nation.

Turner played a key role in the Trudeau cabinet as a reform-minded minister of justice and as a highly effective minister of finance during difficult economic times. Universally acknowledged as the heir apparent, he rocked the Liberal party by resigning in 1975. As a private citizen Turner became a mythical figure, a prince in exile whose return would redeem Canadian politics. When he did come back in 1984, winning the Liberal leadership and becoming prime minister, image problems quickly burst the myth, contributing to his party’s catastrophic loss in that year’s federal election. Turner later fought a glorious campaign to preserve Canada’s independence in the 1988 free trade election, only to be brought down by Tory tactics that impugned his motives and character.

A political biography extraordinaire, Elusive Destiny reveals the inner workings of the Liberal Party in its heyday as charted through the meteoric rise and fall of John Napier Turner. It highlights Turner’s vision for the country and tallies the political price he paid when he deviated from the Trudeau legacy on matters such as language rights, social spending, and Quebec. It also provides a new perspective on federal politics from the 1960s through the 1980s while giving John Turner his rightful place in Canadian history.

This book will be of interest to political scientists and historians and find wide appeal with the general public.

Finally, at 82, Turner's life and career in politics receive appropriate recognition in Elusive Destiny, a biography by Carleton University historian Paul Litt that is one of the best Canadian political books of the year. L. Ian MacDonald, London Free Press
Former prime minister John Turner’s life and career receive appropriate recognition in Elusive Destiny: The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner, one of the best Canadian political books of the year. L. Ian MacDonald, Montreal Gazette
Exhaustively detailed and based on interviews with key people, including Turner himself, the book provides the first complete account of a man whose rise and fall still stands as one of Canada's most intriguing political stories. Mark Kennedy, Postmedia News
New biography of Turner ... is a valuable, new addition to that recorded history ... the book chronicles Turner’s political career through some powerful Liberal highs and lows of the latter half of the 20th century. Susan Delacourt, The Toronto Star
If John Turner had been elected prime minister, Canada would be an entirely different country ... there would never have been a Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the Bloc Québécois and Reform parties would likely not have been formed and ‘the fiscal base for Canadian social democracy would have been stronger and social programs better preserved under a Turner administration,’ according to a new biography on the former prime minister by Carleton University professor Paul Litt. Bea Vongdouangchanh, The Hill Times
A compelling biography of a tragic political figure ... [and] an important history of Canadian politics in the 1970s and 1980s and, most important, chronicled the first years of the decades-long self-immolation of a once-great political party. John Ibbitson, The Globe and Mail
With the advantage of time and the depth of Litt's book, the accusations that Turner was yesterday's man by the late 1980s seem more accurate than ever, especially given a media environment closer in time and tone to the Kardashian-Humphries wedding than the Kennedy-Nixon debate. Dan Rowe, Quill and Quire
Is it time to revisit the record of John Turner? Thanks to biographer Paul Litt, and his new book on John Turner, the answer is yes. Michael Harris, iPolitics
There is much in this biography that I witnessed personally – from John Turner’s friendship with my father to his very successful tenure as finance minister; from his leadership of the Liberal Party to his integrity, his belief in the political process, and his love of country. There is also much that I viewed only from afar. The insights to be gained from reading this book will be important to anyone interested in the events and debates that signposted the evolution of postwar Canada. John Turners’ is a life well worth knowing and this fascinating book is well worth reading. The Right Honourable Paul Martin
This is an important book, presenting not only a former prime minister but also a man who was at the centre of many of the defining issues of the 1980s in Canada, including Meech Lake and the free trade debates. The narrative is compelling and contains rich new material of interest to scholars and general readers alike. Clearly John Turner is a man who found himself in the right place at the wrong time – brought down partly by personal failings, but more significantly by a combination of bad luck and the deliberate acts of rivals. Brooke Jeffrey, former Liberal adviser and author of Divided Loyalties: The Liberal Party of Canada, 1984-2008
A fascinating and compelling political biography of an exceptional Canadian, scrupulously researched and elegantly written. John Turner had a profound impact on our political history, and the telling of his story illuminates our past, helps us understand our present, and sheds light on the challenges of the future. The Honourable Irwin Cotler, Member of Parliament, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Paul Litt is a historian at Carleton University in Ottawa. His account of John Turner’s political career is based on extensive research in the Turner papers and other archival collections, contemporary journalism, and scores of interviews with Turner's friends, family, and colleagues. He also spent considerable time with Turner himself.

Foreword by John English

Introduction: The Right Man at the Wrong Time


1 The Making of an Extrovert

2 Circling Home

3 Getting Ahead in Canadian Politics

4 Shoals of Candidacy

5 Close to Power


6 Driving the Omnibus

7 Implementing the Just Society

8 Apprehended Insurrection

9 Intranational Diplomacy

10 Shokku

1 1 The Price of Gas

12 Stalking Stagflation

13 Citizen Turner


14 A Myth and a Muddle

15 Oiling the Tinman

16 Prime Minister for a Day

17 Things Fall Apart

18 The Road Back

19 Participatory Democracy

20 Creature from the Black Lagoon

21 Image, Substance, and Subversion

22 Mad Dog and Businessmen

Conclusion: Legacies and Might-Have-Beens


Selected Bibliography


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