Monday, 27 January 2014

Joe Clark


Joe Clark, born in 1939, 16th prime minister of Canada (1979-1980). Clark became prime minister on June 4, 1979, succeeding Pierre Elliott Trudeau after the defeat of Trudeau's Liberal government in the general election of May 1979. Clark became leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1976 and was the first Conservative to head a Canadian government since the defeat of John Diefenbaker in 1963.

Although the Liberals received a larger percentage of the popular vote—40 percent compared to 36 percent for the Conservatives—Clark's Conservative Party won the 1979 election with 135 seats in Parliament to the Liberals' 115. For a majority in Parliament, Clark had to rely on the support of the Social Credit Party with its six seats or the New Democratic Party with its 26. Without this support, he was subject to defeat by the Liberals at any time.


Clark was born Charles Joseph Clark in High River, Alberta, in 1939, the son of the publisher of the local newspaper. Clark attended local schools and the University of Alberta, where he earned a bachelor's and a master's degree in political science. He went on to study law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Clark was active in student politics and eventually left law school to work full time for the Conservative Party.


First he became an aide to E. Davie Fulton, the Conservative leader in British Columbia, then returned to Alberta to work for its Conservative leader Peter Lougheed. In 1967 Clark ran unsuccessfully for the Alberta legislature. After Robert Stanfield was elected national Conservative leader in 1967, Clark became his executive assistant, leaving in 1970 to go to Europe to improve his French.

In 1972 and again in 1974 Joe Clark was elected to Parliament from the Alberta seat of Rocky Mountain, even though his party lost nationally in both years. After these Conservative election defeats Robert Stanfield resigned as national party leader. Joe Clark campaigned hard for the post, visiting many delegates to ask for their support on later ballots if their personal favorites were defeated. He urged moderate policies and stressed his command of French, since national unity was a pressing issue and most of the other candidates did not speak Canada's second language as well as Clark. At the Conservative Party convention in 1976 Clark was a compromise English-speaking candidate. He won as most of the delegates from English Canada moved to him when their favorites were defeated.

Many observers thought Clark young and inexperienced compared to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. But the Liberals were losing popularity after 15 years in office, and unemployment and inflation were serious problems. The victory of the separatist Parti Québécois in the 1976 Québec provincial election frightened many English Canadians. Trudeau postponed elections as long as he could, but in 1979, with Parliament's term due to expire, he was forced to dissolve it and call a new election.

During the campaign the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the New Democratic Party all received public funds under a new electoral law, and more money was available from individuals because of new tax rebates for political contributions. These changes favored the opposition. No party won a majority of either votes or seats in Parliament, but the Conservatives won the most seats, and so Trudeau resigned and Joe Clark formed a new government on June 4, 1979. Clark had no assurance from either the New Democratic Party or the Social Credit Party that they would support him in Parliament, but he declared that he would govern as if he had a majority and the other parties could decide whether or not to support him.


At 39, Joe Clark became Canada's youngest prime minister. In contrast to the sophisticated and worldly Trudeau, he projected the image of a sober family man. His wife, Maureen McTeer, a lawyer, made many official appearances with her husband while he was opposition leader in Parliament and was much in the public eye.

Considered a moderate in his own party, Joe Clark took pride in keeping the Conservative factions working together. He was committed to maintaining national unity and in his campaign rejected the Parti Québécois's claims to independence for Québec.

In his campaign Clark had also promised to cut taxes to stimulate the economy. But once in office he adopted a budget designed to curb inflation by slowing economic activity, and he also proposed additional taxes to help conserve energy. In December the minor parties combined with the Liberals to defeat a gasoline tax increase, and Clark resigned. In February 1980 new elections swept Trudeau and the Liberals back into power with 146 seats, against 103 for Clark and the Conservatives.

After the Conservatives lost the election of 1980, support for Clark as party leader declined. In June 1983 Clark lost his position as Conservative Party leader to Brian Mulroney. After Mulroney became prime minister in 1984, Clark served on his cabinet as secretary of state for external affairs. In 1991 Clark was appointed minister of constitutional affairs, a post he held until 1993. From 1993 to 1996 he acted as special representative of the secretary general of the United Nations in Cyprus. In 1998 Clark was once again chosen to lead the Progressive Conservative Party. In 2000 he was reelected to the House of Commons after a seven-year absence from that body.

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