How ‘Harperman’ flipped Tony Turner’s life upside down
He was a stone’s throw from retirement when a song Tony Turner wrote and recorded thrust him into the spotlight and turned him into a political crusader.
An Environment Canada scientist by day and folk singer by night, Turner never intended for his kitschy tune “Harperman” — a call to action for a change in government — to create waves from coast to coast. And he certainly didn’t think it would put his career at risk by way of a very public suspension.
“I was surprised. I was shocked,” said Turner Friday in a phone interview with Global News from his Ottawa home.
“I knew I wrote a political song, but my life as a public servant was very separate from my life as a singer-songwriter.”
Back in March, Turner entered a song-writing contest for “a song of hope or a song of protest”; he chose the latter, considering the looming election. He won the contest, performed at a May Day rally, and in June filmed a YouTube video now widely seen.
Turner said it was the initiative of others involved with a “more political motivation” who posted the song online, and created a website to promote its message.
“It took on a life of its own.”
“I think that most Canadians that are really relating to this song, in a big way, feel the same way,” Turner said. “I don’t think I’m much different than the average Canadian in that regard.”
As the video racked up views, Turner was suspended with pay from his federal position on Aug. 10.
He said his suspension was enforced by “officials doing their job,” who deemed his song a violation of the values and ethics code federal employees are required to follow.
“So I was shocked. And I believed I was adhering to the values and ethics code, because I maintained impartiality and objectivity in the course of my conduct and duties.”
He kept the news quiet, until the information was “leaked” a few weeks later. Suddenly, more than ever, his song and its message was in the spotlight again.
“The thing that resonates with me the most is the line in the song that says ‘makes us feel the future’s bleak’,” said Turner.
“I want my leader to present a vision of Canada that involves cooperation, fairness, openness. You know, just something that’s positive.”
So with retirement already on his radar, Turner decided to retire rather than wait out an investigation into the matter, which was seeming to drag on. At 62, he was already in a pre-retirement transition leave program. He now plans to wind down, spend time with his wife, Sharon Reeves, and focus on his music.
But, for the time being, he has (somewhat reluctantly) embraced his new role.
“I think these times are just too important not to speak, so even though I’m not so comfortable doing it, I think I have to,” said Turner.
“I will sing for anybody that wants to hear me sing, because I think that this is a really important election.”
Over the next few weeks he is due to perform at some rallies in British Columbia, where he plans to spend time with his daughter. And you may see him pop up elsewhere as voting day approaches, especially as he’s now free to speak as he pleases.
“Be strong: there’s a better Canada.” said Turner. “And I would encourage everybody to vote on Oct. 19.”
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