John Turner replaced Pierre Trudeau as Liberal Party leader in 1984

His tenure was the second-shortest in the country’s history

Former Canadian prime minister John Turner, who was in office for just 11 weeks and led his Liberal Party to a massive electoral defeat in 1984, died on Saturday aged 91.

Turner took over from Pierre Trudeau in late June 1984 at a time of increasing voter fatigue with the Liberals, who had been in power for 20 of the previous 21 years. Before becoming prime minister, he had held the posts of finance and justice minister.

Current Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Pierre’s son, offered his condolences and called Turner “a humble man with a strong social conscience”.

“His contributions to Canada will not be forgotten,” Trudeau said in a statement.

In 1984, Turner called an election for September and then presided over what many political observers consider to be one of the worst campaigns in Canadian history, marred by a series of gaffes.

One turning point came during a televised debate when Turner, under fire from Conservative leader Brian Mulroney, said he had no option but to approve a mass of patronage appointments proposed by Trudeau before he left office.

“You could have said ‘I am not going to do it. This is wrong for Canada’ … you had an option, sir, to say no. And you chose to say yes,” responded Mulroney in one of the most memorable moments in Canadian politics. The Conservatives swept to power with 211 seats of the 282 in the House of Commons.

The Liberals fell to just 40 seats from 135 but Turner hung onto his position. His 79-day tenure as prime minister is the second shortest in Canadian history.

In the 1988 election campaign he took a strong stance against a proposed free trade agreement with the United States but lost again to Mulroney, although not as badly.

He resigned as Liberal leader in 1990 and was replaced by Jean Chretien, who led the Liberals to victory in 1993.

Turner, a lawyer by training, served as finance minister from 1972 to 1975 but quit amid disagreements over policy with Trudeau. He returned to legal work for nine years before winning the Liberal Party leadership in June 1984.

John Napier Wyndham Turner was born on June 7, 1929. He is survived by his wife Geills and four children.

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