Clark emerged from a divided PC convention in Ottawa in 1976 as the surprise winner beneficiary of a mostly "progressive" consensus. In May 1979 the Conservatives won a minority government and he became Canada's sixteenth prime minister, the youngest ever and the first native westerner to hold the office. He believed that he could build public approval by governing as if he had a majority, but he failed to win support from the other parties, especially the NDP, for key parts of his program - namely, the "privatization" of PETRO-CANADA, a mortgage tax credit and austerity financing. The government fell that December on a vote of nonconfidence in the House on John CROSBIE's budget.
In the ensuing February 1980 election Pierre TRUDEAU's Liberals returned to power. As leader of the Opposition 1980-83, Clark delayed the Trudeau constitutional plan in 1981 until a judicial review was achieved and a federal-provincial compromise was reached. Even though Clark received support at 2 national party meetings and although by January 1983 his party held a wide Gallup Poll lead, a sizable minority of Conservatives still considered him too "progressive" and an electoral liability. He chose to settle the question of his leadership at a convention, held in June 1983, but lost on the fourth ballot to Brian MULRONEY.
After the convention, Clark worked to avoid the divisions that had long plagued the Conservatives and he played a major role in drafting PC policies on international arms control. His unique position in the party as a still young, bilingual and active former PM who had won the respect of many Canadians was recognized when he was named secretary of state for external affairs in the Mulroney government. His term at external affairs was distinguished. Many regarded him as one of the best secretaries of state in the history of the department.
In April 1991 Mulroney named Clark minister responsible for constitutional affairs, with the formidable task of patching together an agreement with the provinces in the wake of the failure of the MEECH LAKE ACCORD (see MEECH LAKE ACCORD: DOCUMENT). In July 1992 Clark and 9 premiers announced that they had reached a deal, which included a Triple-E Senate. When the deal made by Clark was met with a lukewarm response by the Québec caucus and the prime minister, and by less enthusiasm from Robert Bourassa, the First Ministers met again in mid-August. The conference brought forth another configuration, the so-called CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD, but it was rejected in a referendum by six provinces and one territory (see CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD: DOCUMENT).
Citing exhaustion after the long constitutional debate, Clark announced in February 1993 that he would not run in the next election.
Finding non-political life unsatisfying, he took advantage of PC Leader Jean CHAREST's departure in the spring of 1998 from the federal Conservatives to the Québec Liberals, and on 14 November 1998 at the party leadership convention Clark became Tory head once more. His return came at a low point for the federal Tories, with a $10-million debt and fifth-party status. He did not support the United Alternative Movement to create a partnership among right-wing parties, and he did not attend the February 1999 UA convention. Instead, in December 1998 he instituted a Canadian Alternative Task Force as a mechanism to revive his party.
Clark returned to the House of Commons in September 2000 after he won a by-election in the riding of Kings-Hants in Nova Scotia. He was re-elected again two months later in the general federal election as the Member of Parliament for the riding of Calgary Centre in Alberta. In the federal election that year, the Progressive Conservatives failed to win enough seats to become the Official Opposition. In the years that followed the federal election, discussions transpired between Clark and Canadian Alliance leaders Stockwell DAY and later Stephen HARPER that involved uniting the right and possibly merging the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties.
Early in 2003, Clark announced his resignation, citing a realization that Canadians did not want him to lead them into the future, but wished to maintain his MP seat for Calgary Centre. He was succeeded by Peter Mackay on 31 May 2003.
Author RICHARD CLIPPINGDALE
Links to Other Sites
Conservative Party of Canada
The official website for the Conservative Party of Canada.
First Among Equals
Learn about the private lives and political careers of Canada’s Prime Ministers. Includes biographies, speeches, and other historical documents. A Library and Archives Canada website.
The Man from High River: Joe Clark
This CBC website focuses on Joe Clark, former Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader.
Canadian Caper helps Americans escape Tehran
View a vintage 1980 CBC News story about the Canadian-led covert operation that rescued six American diplomats from Iran in the wake of the 1979 hostage crisis.