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AUGUST 25, 1984 – Election Campaign Televised Leaders' Debate: Prime Minister John Turner Faces Brian Mulroney

Split-screen television image captures the instant of Brian Mulroney's decisive interjection against Prime Minister John Turner during the leaders' election debate.

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Photograph of Mulroney versus Turner Leaders' Debate, Election Campaign 1984 / Copyright (c) 1984 by William C. Stratas. All Rights Reserved.

A central issue of the 1984 Canadian election was Liberal Party patronage. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had appointed over 70 Liberal-affiliated cronies and hacks to various patronage posts the day before he resigned office, on June 30, 1984. When new Liberal leader John Turner was sworn in as Prime Minister that day, he did not rescind those opportunistic appointments, despite widespread outrage expressed by news commentators and the public.

In the televised leaders' debate during the federal election campaign two months later, Turner lamely defended his decision by declaring, in response to a journalist's question, "I had no option." His principal opponent, Progressive Conservative Party leader Brian Mulroney, shot back without hesitation: "You had an option, sir, You could have said 'I'm not going to do that, it's wrong for Canada' ... You chose to say 'yes' to the old attitudes and ways of the Liberal Party..." Turner froze and melted under Mulroney's snap attack, his panicked, darting eyes revealing vulnerability and uncertainty to the nationwide television audience.

From that decisive moment, with less than two weeks remaining, the outcome of the election campaign was no longer in doubt. On election night, September 4, 1984, Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservative Party won the largest majority in Canadian electoral history.

REFERENCE READING: Brief biography of John Turner

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