Discovering the existence of John Turmel was a complete accident. While looking up information on Brant County's incumbent Minister of Provincial Parliament, Dave Levac, I found the Brant County Ontario General Election electoral records for 2003 and 2007, both of which Levac won by a landslide. In last place for both years was this man, Turmel. In 2003, he received 295 votes compared to the incumbent’s 24236 votes. In 2007, it was 289 to 23485. For the two years combined, Turmel's electoral campaign had a total expenditure of $0.00. Needless to say, I wanted to learn more about this man. When I learned online that he had a world record for both the most election losses (77) spread over federal, provincial, municipal and mayoral levels and also the record for most contested election results (77) I knew I had to meet him. Little did I plan on emailing him only about three hours after reading his name for the first time asking him for an interview. Even more surprising was that less than half an hour later he replied saying he would be glad, we planned on meeting two days later in a local restaurant. The topics I planned on discussing? Some things that I learned while scouring the internet were important to him. A wide list including; having no such thing as interest on any form of loans or in banks, gambling, marijuana, the belief that the nuclear disaster that happened in Japan on March 11th 2011, would (and still might) kill millions of Canadians from cancer, the show Dragon's Den disgracing his reputation, his criminal record, his views on the now deceased Libyan revolutionary, politician and political theorist Muammar Gaddafi, and of course, his election losses. All of which are mentioned in his (at this point) 324 YouTube videos ranging from a few minutes to nearly three hours long.
To say the least, many may disagree with how John Turmel thinks, how this 61 year old man views the world. It should be noted that the following are the views of John Turmel, and should not be seen as the authors, my own.
Following John back in my car from his weekly solo accordion concert at various nursing homes, I get ready to start learning all about his life, today, discussing his political career.
Now, Turmel has been criticized a lot online. In fact, that may be an understatement. In one case (July 1995) he was voted “ Internet Kook of the Month” by a foreign website. When watching his videos, hearing his passion for some things others find.. less important (even things that are currently illegal).. I can see where it could come from, I even felt before this interview that it would be hard to write an interview without any form of condescending remark at least once. Luckily, this was not the case. Although he was.. intense, in some areas, he had a passion in regards to the benefits of others and I eventually realized that behind the loud voice and the cursing, he is doing nothing but standing up for what he thinks is right, in his own way. I could never criticize that, unless it was detrimental to society.
I first saw this only a short while back, sitting in the nursing home while he was playing accordion at the aforementioned concert. Every resident of the home, and every worker, had a smile on their faces. One elderly lady in particular was tapping her feet, swaying in her wheel chair and singing along. For her, the 'smiling' was an understatement, she was beaming. When I asked her if she enjoyed John's monthly visits, she told me she in fact looked forward to them. John told me while we were leaving the home that he finds pleasure in doing these concerts since a lot of nursing homes are rather bleak areas, and he knows that the concerts give a happy mood to all present. In fact, he says that these shows may be “the last happy time some have before they die”, that makes him love the experience, makes him continue. He then told me that his experience and practice with accordion, and his initial work in nursing homes, came from avoiding marijuana and gambling sentences and instead doing this as community service sentences. This is the conundrum that is John Turmel.
Since John is an avid user of poetry to get his messages across, I start by asking him once we sit down if the following section from his 846 verse poem “The Story of Money and Banking Throughout History and How to Fix It” is an illustration into the platform of this perennial candidate.
“It strikes me odd that in this age of scientific note,
That mankind stumbles on and on, like carrot leading goat.
With planetary dangers threatening our biosphere,
If you can learn just what is wrong, your knowledge you'll hold dear.
If I can show you how to fix this planetary threat,
The duty of the citizen's to learn and not forget.”
Agreeing with my guess, I learned that John in fact had a poem and catchphrase to sum up his electoral platform, his “two line ethos in politics”, which was rather coincidental for the sake of an interview. It went like this, “I want no cops in gambling, sex, or drugs or rock and roll. And I want no interest on loans, pay cash or time- no dole.” Already for an interviewer and a reader, this is a lot to sum up and understand. A guy who jumps around in the way he speaks and acts, is normally illustrated the same on paper. All over the place. So what I decided to do is flashback 34 years. To May 22nd, 1979.
John Turmel's first ever election, where he was Federal Candidate for Ottawa West, as an Independent Candidate....
Starting off, I asked a simple question. What inspired John Turmel to run for his first election. I have to say the answer put a smile on my face, seeing as it was short and to the point, but comical in its own right. He was tired of getting busted for gambling. That led to the bases of his first platform, hinted at in his “ethos in politics”: legalizing gambling, prostitution and marijuana. This first election brought upon an observation to Turmel. He was shocked “how conditioned the population was to vote for the majors”. Yet also a realization, that this must be from the “gambler vote”. John came to the conclusion that people must be voting for a winner “like a horse race”, not a candidate based on their policy. Of course, this is an observation that many may contest an inaccurate. As well, any race he noticed was based on “what people want to do”, but never promises. Again, could be contested. But this is based on his observations that sprouting from the first election. During this 1979 campaign, the then 27-year-old John had no support system back home. Just himself and a typewriter, producing his ideas and his programs. For this, I think he deserves credit (well, maybe time service.. credit is against his ideals). Upon asking what he felt his chances of winning that first election were, becoming Prime Minister, he felt his “chances were high because he was smarter than all the other guys”. Think about it he told me. Getting cops out of sex, drugs and gambling would not only leave him alone for once, but also save a lot of money. Ideas anyone could agree with, right? Well, that didn't come to pass. John received 193 votes. These results are not part of John's world record for contested election results, he realized that he didn't get enough votes to possibly be cheated. Probably a reasonable assumption.
It was now time to move past that first election. Already in asking some initial questions to him about his first election, John somehow incorporated Dragon's Den, poker chips, inflation of currency and the Argentinian debt crisis, but those are maybe stories for another day.
It was now time to go to another specific election. A municipal election on November 12th, 1985 in Nepean, Ontario. In this election John received 1405, which was 7.25% of the total vote. Making this, his twentieth election, his most successful (in regards to highest percent of total vote). This didn't stand out to him in particular. But he threw out two more election dates that did stand out. The November 14th, 1994 election of the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton where he received his most votes number wise (being 4563) and the November 12th, 1991 election of the same riding. I noticed that this had a large number of votes as well (3574 votes) but I had no idea why this one was important to him, he told me he thinks he won a world record for this election. The reasoning? He was arrested half-way through the campaign and was in jail during the election. John thinks he very well may be the man to get the most votes for an election while in jail, well, who knows. He was “busted in May, tried in October and jailed in November”, this was for an underground gaming house he ran that was busted in Hall, Quebec as part of “Operation Blackjack”. John had already been busted in Ontario for similar charges so he moved to Quebec to try his luck again, needless to say, he did better in poker than in keeping legal. Moving from here he talks to another world record he thinks he may have, another underground casino he ran which was busted in “Operation Robin Hood”. According to an Arizona Press article I found on Turmel's website, police think he made between $1.3 and $3 million in the year of Operation Robin Hood, he wouldn't tell me the specifics. This man has for sure had an interesting life. But, back to politics.
I asked if moments like his 4563 votes keep him going, but he says that in his journal he wrote to himself wondering what an interest-free world would look like. The ideas he developed to try and make this world a reality, that's what keeps him going. Once again, what John mentioned next was another curve ball of an adventurous life lived. Instead of ignoring it, it deserves to be delved into. After all, it's part of what keeps him going. An interest-free world.
In 2001, John was invited to the United Nations Headquarters during one of their global summits. In 1993 he won a million dollars from gambling, which he used to form the Abolitionist Party of Canada. He applied to go as a non-government organization, his application was approved and he was invited. While there, someone mentioned how one of the ideas he financed (LET's software) helped her all the way in Australia. The idea behind LET's (Local Employment Trading Software) is along the lines of our settlers before us, trading services with one another in the community to mutually benefit. The example he told me was how this Australian lady would babysit people's children, and they would fix her car. Things got better for her economically so she could put money elsewhere, pulling her from debt. With this idea expressed to the United Nations, John was invited to explain the idea of a global version (UniLET's) to all the non-governmental agents present, and he did. They passed a Declaration for time-based (interest-free) currency (Declaration C6), or so John tells me. Maybe he didn't reach his goals as a political leader, but this step in front of a thousand NGO's at the United Nations Headquarters is one amazing step in the right direction.
Then we come to June 17th, 1996. His election that won the record of most-lost elections. Although he lost this election in Hamilton East, John showed me an article of how only a month later, Hamilton opened a LET's centre. He lost, but his idea won.
When it comes down to it, John thinks that his elections are like a slot machine. He's lost seventy-seven elections, but who knows how big the pay off will be when he finally wins that one election. Starting his way to defeat the “greatest scourge of humanity”, interest. This could lead to a world that was better for him, better for his friends, and better for everyone. For this, John is proud that he's continued after being knocked down several times. He's not given up. As he says, this is his duty. What happens if he loses and leaves a LET's system left in the riding he tried to win? He still wins.
As stated earlier, John has had an interesting life. A professional gambler, a prisoner, an accordion player, a politician, a speaker at the United Nations, a protester a poet, a YouTube video blogger, an engineer, a teacher's assistant for Canada's first ever mathematics of poker class and many more adventures as well as his share of misadventures. Call him a kook if you want, call him crazy, call him odd.
In my eyes, he's for sure odd. No denying that. But he's an odd man, sticking to his dreams, his ideals, and what he thinks is right. For that, I say cheers.