Former Canadian Prime Minister, John Turner, has had an affinity for Jamaica over several decades. The octogenarian was a very close friend of the Caribbean island’s third Prime Minister, Hugh Shearer, a part-owner in the 1950s of the Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios and a member of the Jamaica Bar.
As Attorney General, Turner encouraged nearly 750 Canadian lawyers to attend the Canadian Bar Association’s annual meeting in Jamaica. While Turner was on one of his numerous vacations in Jamaica in early 1984, he signalled his intention to succeed Pierre Trudeau, who a few days earlier announced he was stepping down as Prime Minister after 16 years at the helm.
Turner renewed his bond with Jamaica last week when he accepted a Jamaica government invitation to become honorary chair and patron of the Jamaican-Canadian Initiative for Disaster Resilience & Response (JCIDRR).
“Jamaica is one of the world’s greatest treasures and there is a special bond between that country and Canada,” said the 83-year-old Rhodes Scholar who was PM for just two months and 17 days. “We are both resilient nations and my determination and support for this initiative is unwavering. I look forward to working with this distinguished group to demonstrate to the world that being prepared always trumps reaction.”
Jamaica’s PM Portia Simpson-Miller lauded Turner for accepting the challenge.
“Your compassion and care for the peoples of the Caribbean region have been widely recognized and appreciated over the many years of your public service, but it has never been more appreciated than in this important initiative,” she said. “Your friendship and sincerity is not taken lightly and will stand as a pillar in encouraging all of us in Jamaica to go forward as we overcome the many challenges that we experience from time to time.”
The JCIDRR will support Jamaica’s mission to develop its capacity for disaster resilience and response to minimize the effects of natural disasters in the country.
“The launch of this initiative comes at a time when natural disasters are increasing in frequency and magnitude causing more and more countries to face extreme challenges in recovering from these events,” said Jamaica’s Consul General, George Ramocan. “The Haiti earthquake of 2010 exposed many of the challenges that are often experienced by less developed countries which depend heavily on external aid to recover after a catastrophe. Nearly two years later, Haiti has not fully realized the pledged funding and a significant portion of the reconstruction work is yet to begin.
“The traditional approach has been for our Diaspora to contribute primarily to emergency response or early recovery operations. The current situation however requires a proactive approach for engagement of the Jamaican Diaspora and its overseas partners to support national initiatives for disaster resilience and response.”
Turner heads a task force that includes former Jamaica Office of Disaster Preparedness director Franklin McDonald, who has been a Visiting Scholar at York University for the past two years; Toronto Police Service deputy chief, Peter Sloly; crown assistant, Celia Lindo-Butler; Revivaltime Tabernacle Worldwide Ministries Inc. founding pastor, Bishop Dr. Audley James; health care executive, Marc Kealey and Hitachi Canada Ltd. president and chief executive officer, Howard Shearer.
“This is truly a unique endeavour borne from lessons learned of being witnesses to disasters and answering the call to duty and compassion that is certainly so much part of all of us,” said Shearer, the son of late Jamaican PM, Hugh Shearer.