The Liberal party’s riding presidents were meeting in Exhibit Hall A at the new Vancouver Convention Centre. Just before noon, they began letting reporters into the room to cover what would be Michael Ignatieff’s first public remarks at the party’s biennial convention.
Before Ignatieff made his entry, with the room slowly filling up, John Turner was sitting alone behind a table on the speakers’ platform. On June 7, the man who was prime minister for such a short time—late June to mid-September of 1984—will be turning 80. He walks with difficulty these days.
For a few long minutes nobody paid Turner much attention. Then Justin Trudeau strolled in, shaking a lot of hands, and headed straight up to the old man. They talked, just the two of them, for quite a while. I briefly considered slipping up closer to eavesdrop, but then thought better of it.
At one point, Trudeau, who is 37, stepped away to have his photo taken with one of his many fans in the party. Then he resumed chatting—rather purposefully, it appeared to me—with Turner. Finally, they simultaneously reached into their pockets and, yes, exchanged cards.
Turner spoke briefly before Ignatieff. It is rank sentimentality on my part, I know, to take as much pleasure as I did in hearing again that raspy voice, indelibly associated with the 1988 election debates.
As it happened, Turner didn’t just play the elder statesman. He used his brief remarks to urge a sort of grassroots radicalism: free votes on everything in the House except a throne speech or a budget, and an end to the always contentious practice of a Liberal leader imposing a candidate on a riding association that would rather nominate somebody else.
Ignatieff praised Turner, of course, but also had little choice but to get on the record that he didn’t agree with “every syllable” the former leader uttered. In specific, Ignatieff later told reporters he will be retaining the power to appoint a local candidate when he wishes, although he promises to do so as rarely as he can.
I wonder how many Liberals, in the next three day, will press for such precise, contentious, populist reform measures as Turner did. I wonder if any will. And I wonder what Turner and Trudeau were talking about.