The Great Canadian Gambler from
The Great Canadian Character Anthology
Eden Press: ISBN: 0-920792-54-5 1985
If you still look upon Canadians as a bland and boring
bunch, this book is guaranteed to
change your mind! The Great Canadian Character Anthology will introduce you to a new breed of unforgettable personalities. Real people. True Canadians whose careers, hobbies, ideas, achievements or passions make them GREAT!
This cross-country collection of a few of our more colourful characters allows you to travel the country and meet these special people without ever having to leave your easy chair.
HE ALSO RAN .... AND RAN.... AND RAN
by Hubert Bauch
OTTAWA, Ontario - On the morning after every election day they find themselves facelessly lumped together in the dense agate type columns of the newspaper riding breakdowns as "Others."
They are the fringe players of the political parties who operate without the brand-name security that adherence to one of the major parties imparts They are the vast army of independents of all stripes, Social Crediters of assorted colorations, western separatists, Quebec separatists, Northern Ontario separatists, wildly clashing hues of Marxists and/or Leninists, fundamental communists, Libertarians, Rhinos, Greens and many, many more.
They are a faceless legion, marching out of step with each
other to the beat of private
drummers whose irresistible rhythms pound in their skulls, making them go out and march. They are never seen chatting with Mike Duffy on "The National." Generally the only media recognition they get is in the nether paragraphs of election-time newspaper stories. Paragraphs that begin: "Also running in Effluent Creek-Sasquatch are ..." In fact, the only times they are assured of getting their names in print are on the ballot itself and in the final report of the Chief Returning Officer, which dutifully records their participation along with their inevitably dismal vote tallies that once more injure the sustaining illusion that maybe this time they could beat the odds.
It is therefore consistent that we should find the name of
John C. Turmel in the returning
officer's report, buried deep in the field of candidates who contested the federal riding of Beaches last summer. It was an eight-man race and Turmel finished seventh.
Beaches has a reputation as a granola-fed, upwardly mobile constituency, widely hailed as the creeping white paint centre of Metro Toronto and the major papers rated it as one of the most exciting individual riding contests in the country, one in which all three of the major parties had a clear shot at winning. Eventually Neil Young retained it for the NDP with 14,914 votes to 12,443 for Conservative Jack Jones and 8,155 for Terry Kelly of the Liberals. Between them they accounted for 96 per cent of the ballots cast.
Few people paid attention to the other five guys who staged their own race for the remaining four per cent. Here, judging from the final result, the real contest was to avoid finishing last. It was a fate that would have befallen John Turmel had it not been for one Ron Thersen, standard-bearer for the Commonwealth Party, who wound up with 27 votes in his column, or .07 per cent of the grand total.
Turmel could take comfort that he had whipped this guy good with his own 285 votes and .31 per cent. Still, he'd taken it in the ear from the Libertarian wimp who wound up with 353 votes, and he was way behind the upstart from the Greens who came close to breaking 600. That hurt a bit. After all, John Turmel isn't just another fringer, he's the current king of the fringers.
Compared to John Turmel, most of these characters are mere fly- by-nighters. At age 34, Turmel is the Dr. Gonzo of fringe politics. He works the fringe with a vengeance, and he works it full time. He runs in every election he can get to, federal elections, provincial elections and by-elections. He has run for public office nineteen times during the past six years(1). Not only does he run often, he runs hard. He is loud and outrageous, and though most people try to ignore him wherever he goes, he has a way of making himself noticed. In the morgue of his home-town paper in Ottawa, his file is thicker than those of most members of the current cabinet.
There are pictures of him in his trademark white hard hat with THE ENGINEER stenciled across the front, picketing the Bank of Canada head office with a huge sign that declares "Bankers Are Crooks." Here's one from '82 where he is being led out of the International Monetary Fund general meeting by two Toronto constables. This time the sign says: "Bankers Starve Third World Babies."
Here is a story that explains the latter sign. Turmel dragged Bank of Canada Governor Gerald Bouey before the Supreme Court claiming that the bank's interest rate policy is genocidal because it drives farmers into bankruptcy at a time when people are starving in Ethiopia. He himself has lost count of the number of times he has launched court actions against banks but he figures he's getting close to two hundred. Here he is up against the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission in the Federal Court of Appeal claiming he was discriminated against because the local CTV outlet didn't give him equal air time during one of his federal election runs.
There are various accounts of stunts he pulled during his various election campaigns, most notably the time he ran for mayor of Ottawa in 1980. And, hello, what have we here? An item that recounts how John Turmel was sentenced to three weeks in jail for running what the authorities insisted was an illegal blackjack game in the basement room of an all-night restaurant on Bank Street.
Other politicians, even of the fringe variety, might be inclined to regard such a conviction as detrimental to a career in public life, but not John Turmel. He freely admits that he earns his living playing cards, and he insists it was the conviction for running the game on Bank Street that led him into politics.
Today happens to be Thursday, so John and his brother Ray are in the ramshackle two-room suite they occupy in a low-rent, two- storey box-like structure on the unfashionable edge of Ottawa's Centretown. They are preparing for their weekly march on Parliament Hill and the Bank of Canada.
"We're at the Bank of Canada about noon every Thursday," says John. Ray lets John do all the talking. "Then at about 1:30 PM we move up to picket Parliament Hill. We've been doing the Bank of Canada for about four years and Parliament for about three. It's been effective. Eccentric and a little out of the ordinary, but effective."(2)
The boys are freshly back from Atlantic City, where they
say they had an outstanding
weekend. "See here,"" says John, reaching into a filing cabinet drawer beside the desk. He comes up with a brown envelope and pulls out an inch-thick wad of greenbacks. "God," he says, "gave me the gift to walk into a game and walk out with all the cash."
He is a card counter who has mastered the knack of keeping track of the cards that have been played from a given deck in a blackjack game and taking advantage of the shortening odds as the game progresses. He says he's been barred from the casinos in Vegas, but Atlantic City is still prime territory. " They haven't caught on there yet," he says. "I play craps too. I used to go to Vegas and it was only blackjack, and they'd say card counter, you know, throw him out. Now I go in and I play craps too. I mix up a game where I can't win with a game where I do win."
He says a natural aptitude for mathematics led him to bridge and then to blackjack, which he played throughout his university years at Carleton, where he took a degree in electrical engineering. He also showed enough expertise at the mechanics of blackjack that he was subsequently hired as a teaching assistant in the mathematics department for a course on gambling. That lasted for four years before he was abruptly dismissed for running a widely publicized blackjack game in the Carleton faculty lounge.
By then he was heavily involved in a campaign to legalize gambling by running games under the noses of the local police department, inviting them to come and arrest him. They did this on several occasions and each time Turmel defended himself claiming he had observed obscure provisions of the Criminal Code that rendered his games technically legit.
A succession of magistrates was unimpressed with his arguments. In February of 1882 he was dispatched to spend two weeks in the Ottawa Regional Detention Centre, where he said he spent most of his time playing cards. "Imagine that, I get put away for having a deck of cards and look what I wind up doing." In September he was back up on the same charge. This time he got a choice: no card playing for three years or twenty-one days in jail. He chose the twenty-one days. "I couldn't face three years without intellectual stimulation," he said as they led him away.(3)
The first time he ran in an election, in 1979, he says he
ran on a platform that called for
legalized gambling. "I figured that they ought to have something better to do than chase gamblers. Especially when I wanted to legalize the industry. That was mainly the thrust of my first campaign when I decided to run."
The combination of gambling and politics turned out to be the catalyst for the vision that struck him six years ago at age 28. The vision was a variation of the old Social Credit doctrine of Major C.H. Douglas, which he had first heard of at the knee of his grandfather, Adelard Turmel, who had stumped with Real Caouette in northwestern Quebec during the '30s. The vision was that the world would be right if the banking system worked on the same principle as a casino bank.(4)
"It's so difficult for people to believe that you can run it as simple as a casino bank because it would be an admission that they've been conned, that they've been ripped off," he says. "If you understand a casino bank that doesn't inflate, you can understand maybe how."
One of the few things that most fringe candidates have in common is that they tend to subscribe to a grand universal scheme that would transform society, a system so simple that everyone should be able to grasp it, but that is never implemented because it is opposed by powerful vested-interest groups and because people would feel foolish once its basic simplicity became clear.(5)
What sets Turmel apart is that few such people have the massive ego to pursue their ideal with quite the intensity he shows. He has distilled his system into a complex algebraic formula, and his modus operandi between elections is to collar economists and other bank types as they emerge from the Bank of Canada and give them odds of 10,000 to 1 that they cannot disprove the formula. So far, he says, none of them has taken his money. They used to stop and try to debate with him, but they don't any more. "It's just too unbelievable to believe that you could run it like a poker game. You've got collateral, they've got chips. No interest, no inflation. At the end of the game the chips buy back exactly what the collateral was."
The economists, of course, think Turmel is a nut case, as do many people who have been exposed to his high-octane rhetoric. They try to make their points with him, then walk away shaking their heads under a barrage of Turmel's insistent, speedy rap that makes no concessions to the sacred cows of contemporary economic talk.
He is, of course, convinced he's a genius. "My claim to fame," he says, "is that if Einstein made it big by algebraically linking energy and mass accurately, I claim I've made it bigger by algebraically linking interest and inflation, because it's a far more relevant problem to society's misery." Now who's going to counter that by quoting him John Maynard Keynes or Milton Freidman?(6)
W.J. Schneider, the Carleton professor who hired Turmel as teaching assistant for the gambling course, recalled, with understatement, that he found his protege somewhat rigid in his thinking. "Sometimes he gets simple things wrong and sometimes he grasps sophisticated ideas very quickly, but either way he's stubborn about it. He went from totally apolitical to running for everything. One day his interest in interest rates was nonexistent, the next day it was the single motivating factor in his life."
Turmel doesn't only blow his own horn. He advises others on how to use his guerrilla court tactics to stall bank foreclosures by tying up their cases in the judicial mill. "If a criminal can stall, stall, stall by appealing, appealing, appealing, why can't a poor person stall the same way?"
Jean Metcalfe of Smiths Falls, an Ottawa Valley town, is one person who doesn't think John Turmel is a nut case. Metcalfe, who suffers from severe allergies, was ordered to vacate her property by the Bank of Montreal a few years ago for non-payment of rent, despite her pleas that she could not survive in the outside world. "John offered his help," she said, "and now he keeps me here by appealing the eviction notices. He comes and goes with me to court because I'm not able, and he doesn't charge me anything. He really cares."
George Bothwell is a farmer from Owen Sound who got the same kind of help from Turmel. "His method will buy a lot of time if nothing else," he says. "I don't think he's a nut. A little egotistical - maybe even a lot - but what he's saying has a lot of merit."(7)
Besides playing blackjack and politics, Turmel also plays
the accordion. Ultimately, his
three-week jail term in '81 was changed to a hundred hours of community service, which he performed by playing the accordion in old folks' homes. The one hundred hours have since been put in, but he still plays for the golden-agers. "They kept calling," he says, "and how do you say no?"
He even got a kind word from Ottawa's mayor, Marion Dewar, against whom he ran in the 1980 municipal election. "You have to face the fact that there's nothing you can do to stop them," she said when asked about the nuisance factor posed by fringe candidates like Turmel. "It's a small price to pay for living in a democracy. Besides, he has a great sense of humor, and one-on-one he's very good. "
Turmel himself is only slightly put out by those who do call him crazy. "I hear it said behind my back," he says, "and I hear the odd media treat me that way. But I don't mind looking like the eccentric who is unassailable on his theory. I've been brutalized, but I'm tough, OK. I've taken a few lickings, but I want to fight the system. This way I'm doing good. I believe I'm doing good."
He has even been victimized by impostors. During the 1980
municipal election it was duly reported in the local papers that John Turmel had added a
new plank to his platform calling for the legalization of bigamy to protect children from
marriage breakdown. "This way if a wife decides to leave, " he was quoted as
saying, "she'll still have visiting rights and the child will still have a family
to live with."
Turmel had to deny this vigorously the next day. The papers, in their own defence, said they were easily misled by the prankster because they figured it was the kind of thing John Turmel would naturally come out with.
Not this, not all the brickbats nor his nineteen consecutive election losses have in any way deterred Turmel. For a political free spirit this looks like a perfect day. It's sunny outside, perfect weather for picketing the Bank of Canada. He's got his envelope full of winnings from Atlantic City and he's at work on a private, no-interest system of cashing people's welfare cheques that would undermine companies that do this for a profit.(8) He's also plotting to take over what's left of the federal Social Credit Party to avenge the indignity a few years back when they kicked him out.
"I like to think I'm the fourth force in Canadian politics," he says cheerfully, "There's the Grits and the Tories and the NDP. Then there's me, and then there's all the others."(9)
John C. Turmel
(1) 41 elections entered in 1997 Guinness Book of Records.
(2) 5 years picketing Bank of Canada.
(3) John Casino Turmel convicted 7 times of running an honest game. Acquitted once. Last conviction in "Project Robin Hood" raid in 1993.
(4) Local currencies from local Poker games could be used for Local Employment Trading.
(5) The World Hails LETS lifeboats without realizing they're merely computerized Poker chips.
(6) P < principle, I < Interest, i < Interest Rate, t < Time
ALGEBRA EXP. FUNC Production costs
(principal) 100 1
Production prices (Debt) 100+i P+I exp(it) Purchasable Value 100 P1 or ratio of money to prices ----- ----- ------- or survivors 100+i P+I exp(it)
i I 1 or forced
----- ----- 1 -
-------- or non-survivors 100+i P+I exp(it) For U=0, let i=0 I=0 i=0 or t=0
The odds of survival are always set by the interest
rate(i). P/(P+I) survive, I/(P+I) do not.
Verifiable by competent engineers.
(7) Stiff-the-bank Kit stall foreclosure record held by the Toronto Woodhouse family at 32 months before eviction.
(8) Foster Merchant Program pairing with cash-flush merchants with welfare recipients needing to have their cheques cashed after providing photo-ID and guaranteeing those government cheques. Over 500 Foster merchant cheque-cashing cards issued to needy Ottawa families to escape the 6% Money Mart Trap.
(9) That's because you could always count on the Big Four to show up with occasional smatterof the minor political presences.
This is the finest, fairest and funniest report of my
first 5 years on the job ever written.
THEN CAME L.E.T.$. "Local Employment-Trading System" Engineered by Michael Linton and Bet on by John "The Engineer" Turmel
a comment to John Turmel