Clark believes he’s a man for his time, and he may be right

February 21 1977

Clark believes he’s a man for his time, and he may be right

February 21 1977

Clark believes he’s a man for his time, and he may be right

Since taking over as Tory leader a year ago, it could reasonably be said that Joe Clark has not succeeded in conveying a strong sense of himself to Canadians. But at 32,000 feet, flying over Western Canada in an Air Canada DC9, Clark, in an interview with Maclean's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Lewis, revealed himself as a man with firm ideas about himself and the country’s future. Excerpts from that conversation:

Maclean’s: You have spent virtually all of your political life as an organizer. Where is the other dimension?

Clark: That worried me more in the beginning. I have a particular kind of job to do and it involves making political decisions and managing people. That’s where my training and experience have been. I would argue that for the job of Prime Minister it is more germane to have had the type of experience I had than to have been a law professor, or even an international statesman who spent more of his time abroad than at home or, arguably, a trial lawyer, which have been the qualifications of my three predecessors.

Maclean’s: Is there in you something of the outsider?

Clark: Any successful political leader has to be an outsider. If a person thinks of himself as being captive of a particular community, it limits his access to other communities. Most Canadians consider themselves outsiders. They will respond to the independence, I suppose, of someone who does not appear to be kept. Maclean’s: The business community has not exactly embraced you.

Clark: They would have drawn another ideal leader. Most people would have drawn another ideal. That doesn’t trouble me. I don’t think successful political leaders are ever seen as ideals by the polity they are close to.

Maclean’s: You don't think you're the greatest?

Clark: Oh, no. I’m not the greatest. I think I'm the best available.

Maclean’s: How are people reacting to you?

Clark: I suppose there is still some question as to whether or not I can do it. That’s diminishing. I’m told that I’m communicating my own increased sense, over the past four, five or six months, that I can do it. Incumbents define offices. Part of the reason that the matter of strength is raised so often is that no one questions that Pierre Trudeau is strong.

Maclean’s: Does some of it have to do with the fact that you are not a “jock"?

Clark: Maybe; yes it might.

Maclean’s: A lot of males identify with that. It seems to be one of the things John Turner has going for him.

Clark: More with Turner than Trudeau. The other factor is that people are looking

for Trudeau without warts and don’t recognize that warts are part of the man. Maclean’s: One Tory told me she is looking for a Clark with warts.

Clark: I don’t know what that means— Clark with Trudeau’s warts? It doesn’t happen.

Maclean’s: Your people seem to be very traditional: businessmen. Rotarians, Jaycees, the campus party politicians of the 1950s— the squares.

Clark: Who are the un-squares? There was a lot of faith around in the Sixties about new models. Bobby Kennedy drew on an activist generation. That generation was very much of his time and it isn’t there anymore. Their brothers, 10 years younger, are doing something that is not student activism. I suppose they’re traditional in that they are in their thirties or early forties and earning a living.

Maclean’s: Around the Liberals you do find a different generation ofpeople, perhaps attracted because they are the government? Clark: I don’t think they’ve been doing that. The Prime Minister did in 1968. He attracted flower children because there were flower children; there aren’t any now. I can’t attract what isn’t there. I believe in

cycles. We’ve come through a cycle of centralization. It is time to have a cycle away from centralization, which may have some excesses of its own decade, which will then have to be corrected again. There has been a cycle of helping people rather than encouraging people to help themselves. Maclean’s: Isn’t your new policy advisory council a tactical move to delay statements on major issues?

Clark: There are two tactical advantages. One is that I don’t have to make any specific commitment that I’m not in a position to make. Secondly, it’s important to illustrate an interest in policy matters. The inspiration for the committee goes far deeper than that. I’m very much concerned about the fact that we will be going into office with very few people who have had ministerial experience anywhere. I’m convinced that governments can become captives of a status quo very quickly unless they have a quite specific sense of what they want to do and some indication of who in the country can help them do it before they get there. The caucus can’t provide that kind of assistance. They’re too busy doing other things. So we are going to need some help.

Maclean’s: How do you react to the assertion that you have not at this point conveyed a sense of what you would do in office? Clark: That’s quite correct. I really did look upon the first year [as Conservative leader] as a party phase, a phase of putting together the kind of structure that I think is essential to form a national government. The sense of functioning as a unit is quite strong in the Conservative Party right now. Now we have to get into a greater emphasis on giving some sense of direction of where that party in office would lead the country. Maclean’s: What do you mean when you say that since the November 15 Quebec election there is an opportunity for the Conservatives in Quebec?

Clark: The Liberal Party has suffered and federalists are looking for somewhere to go. The capacity of the federal system to manage will be argued out in Quebec between popular Péquistes and federalists. The popularity of the Péquistes is established. The unpopularity of the established federalist spokesman in Quebec is established. So there is an opportunity for us to attract articulate spokesmen for federalism. Just because they are there, the Liberals may attract a larger number of prominent names than we do. But those people will always be seen as occupying the second row. They will sit in the shadow of the discredited.

Maclean’s: How do you liberate yourself from the notion that the only good federalists in Quebec are Liberals?

Clark: We’re liberated from that notion now. The conclusion might be that there are no good federalists in Quebec now. We have to prove that there are.