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John Turner says he is in favour of a ‘formal’ Canadian prime ministers’ club

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By Roderick Benns

Canada’s 17th prime minister says he is in favour of a formal prime ministers’ club that could concentrate on national and international issues.

Former Prime Minister John Turner says the idea of a club where former leaders gather to meet doesn’t have to be in the American tradition.

“We don’t seem to have that tradition here, like the Americans do. If we did it, we could be a little more formal and less haphazard,” he says.

In the U.S., the presidents’ club was established at Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration by Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover.

According to the book The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, “Truman enacted one Hoover recommendation after another, and sent the 71-year-old former President on a 50,000-mile mission around the world: with Truman’s encouragement (he)…met with seven kings, 36 Prime Ministers and the Pope. When he was in Cairo in April of 1946, he and Truman did a joint radio broadcast exhorting Americans to conserve food…And it worked; by the end of that summer, Truman could announce that America had shipped five and a half million tons of grain to the ravaged regions of Europe, thereby keeping the nation’s promise and forestalling a humanitarian catastrophe.”

However, after this auspicious beginning the cooperation level of the presidents would stall and occasionally be revived depending on circumstances.

After Nelson Mandela’s death, Canadians were recently surprised to see Prime Minister Stephen Harper aboard Royal Canadian Air Force 001, flying to the funeral with three of his predecessors — Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney. Former Prime Minister Joe Clark met the three in South Africa.

Even public photo ops among former PMs are rare. However, Mr. Turner tells Leaders and Legacies that it’s logical for former leaders to meet and discuss issues.

“Overall it makes some sense to discuss international and national concerns.”

In a previous interview with Leaders and Legacies, former Prime Minister Paul Martin said he will soon be working on an initiative that will involve one former prime minister — Joe Clark. He said it has something to do with Aboriginal Canada, the cause closest to Mr. Martin’s heart.

When asked who else he might like to work with and on what issue or cause, Mr. Martin singled out former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney as someone who “is very interested in Aboriginal issues.”

Mr. Martin says that working with former leaders for Aboriginal Canada and Aboriginal education would be something he would be interested in.

“I would welcome any involvement that helps with this.”

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