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at the party

Decades after they first locked horns, Joe Clark and John Turner are in the same building again - it's a delicious coincidence that could happen only in Ottawa.

On Thursday night, Canada's 16th and 17th prime ministers were at separate celebrations at the venerable Fairmont Chateau Laurier, just down the street from the House of Commons.

Mr. Clark, who took office for nine months in 1979, was in the Burgundy Room, marking the 30th anniversary of the swearing-in of his cabinet. Downstairs in the Laurier Room, Mr. Turner, who served for three months in 1984, was attending a party in honour of his 80th birthday.

There were so many famous Liberals and Conservatives from the past roaming the corridors that Michael Wilson, a minister in the Clark government, can be forgiven for wandering into the Turner gathering. But another Clark colleague, 82-year-old Sinclair Stevens, made no mistake, striding in to shake Mr. Turner's hand - a touch of class Liberals certainly noticed.

This was the 17th year that Mr. Turner's friends and former aides have thrown him a party - and the second time in five years that it has been held at the Chateau Laurier, a favourite hotel of Mr. Turner and one that is no stranger to political intrigue.

The same is true of the Turner birthday bashes. His friends insist that when Jean Chrétien was prime minister, he held votes in the Commons on the night of the Turner fete to keep MPs from attending - or at least to make them late. Such was the animosity between the two men.

Once, the PM's aides were said to be outside the party, reporting back to Mr. Chrétien which of his caucus members had shown up.

This year, there was none of that. Joined by Mr. Turner's wife, Geills, and two of their four children (David, 41, and Andrew, 37), CTV news anchor Lloyd Robertson, who has known Mr. Turner professionally for decades, introduced the guest of honour, saying that "John Turner long ago graduated beyond partisanship to statesmanship."

Mr. Turner walks with a cane now, but he still has a strong, deep voice and spoke eloquently about the importance of public service and the need to restore Parliament's "dignity."

With the Tories strategizing nearby as his words rang out, the Chateau Laurier seemed very much like the House of Commons, at least for one night.

Jane Taber is a senior political writer with The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau.