THE NEW JOE CLARK
It was the kind of incident that not so long ago would have sparked another round of Joe Clark jokes. Canada’s external affairs minister had mounted the podium in the baroque ballroom of Vienna’s Imperial Palace to address a crucial international conference on East-West relations. His speech did not start well—Clark followed Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and many delegates were streaming out to brief their political masters on the Soviets’ position. But there was worse to come. Suddenly, the 25-foot screen that was to relay Clark’s message to hundreds of journalists and delegates in an adjacent room blacked out for four minutes, leaving Clark speaking to a dwindling audience. But no one made much of the foul-up. Instead, media coverage back home focused on the content of Clark’s address: a forceful condemnation of the Soviet record on human rights. And Clark himself just shrugged and said: “This a hazardous life. Things happen.”
Winner: It is a remarkable change. Only two years ago Clark was widely regarded as a national embarrassment. Now, the man for whom the label “wimp” seemed to have been invented has shaken that image and become a winner. As external affairs minister in Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government, Clark has earned the respect of diplomats around the world. And with increasing success, he has made Canada’s views influential in international affairs.
Clark’s stature seemed likely to increase after last week’s dramatic operation by his department to bring five Soviet deserters out of Afghanistan. External Affairs officials negotiated the release of the Soviet citizens, who had been held by Afghan rebels, and for their transport to Canada. Clark had undertaken last April to try to help the men. Said a source familiar with the operation: “You’ve got to give Joe Clark his due on this one. External made two efforts before and failed, and basically he said this time, ‘Do it, period.’ ” (page 18).
At home, Clark is riding high as one of Mulroney’s most trusted ministers, consulted by the Prime Minister on issues far beyond foreign policy. Against all odds, he even appears to have a gen-
uinely cordial relationship with Mulroney—the man who took the Conservative leadership from him. Clark’s department is firmly under his control. He is well-liked by the band of diplomats and trade officials who represent Canada abroad. And his human qualities—honesty, integrity and decencycompare favorably with Mulroney’s public image as fiercely partisan and less trustworthy than other political leaders. Said Bill Neville, Clark’s former chief of staff: “He’s finally being judged on what he’s doing rather than on what he is.”
Clark’s closest political allies concede that they once thought it unimaginable that he would bounce back to become one of the most consistent and dependable performers in the federal cabinet. But Canadians, they say, are only now getting to know the Joe Clark who won their loyalty years ago.
Even before the Afghanistan operation became public, Clark was active on half a dozen fronts last week. In Parliament, he fended off opposition charges that the government had knowingly allowed the Canadian subsidiary of an American company, Pratt & Whitney Canada Inc., to sell helicopter parts and engines to Iran for use in its war against Iraq (page 28). On Thursday, he issued a stern warning to companies that do not voluntarily follow Ottawa’s guidelines on trade with South Africa. The government, he said, is prepared to pass legislation forbidding them to invest there. And on Friday, Clark hosted U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz for their regular quarterly meeting.
Since September, 1984, when he took over External Affairs, Clark has quietly changed the thrust of Canada’s foreign policy. He has dismissed the attempts of Pierre Trudeau to play a high-profile solo role in world affairs, such as the former prime minister’s abortive “peace initiative” of 1983-1984. And he has steered carefully away from Mulroney’s own strongly proAmerican rhetoric. Instead, Clark has moved closer to the role Canada has traditionally played since the Second World War: a middle power that can best influence events through such organizations as the United Nations and the Commonwealth.
Among his major achievements:
• Apartheid: Mulroney was prepared to sever all ties with South Africa’s white supremacist government. Clark persuaded him to act in step with other Western nations and to push for joint action by the Commonwealth on sanctions against Pretoria. Ottawa’s position clashed with that of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan—both of whom have resisted sanctions.
• Arms control: Six months after the
March, 1985, Shamrock Summit between Mulroney and Reagan, Clark guided a delicate compromise through cabinet on Washington’s Strategic Defence Initiative—the “Star Wars” missile defence project. The government decided not to take part in the $70-billion project, but did allow private Canadian companies to compete for Star Wars contracts.
• Ethiopia: In the fall of 1984, when gruesome images of mass starvation flashed across television screens around the world, Clark set up a special task force to channel money and food to Ethiopia. His actions—and the activities of many nongovernment groups— helped to win this year’s United Nations Nansen Medal for humanitarian service. It was awarded to the Canadian people for their aid to refugees around the world.
Clark has also won praise for things that did not happen. When the Conservatives were elected 26 months ago, some analysts voiced concern that Mulroney’s pro-American rhetoric heralded a sharp turn to the right in Canadian foreign policy. In fact, even the government’s critics acknowledge that External Affairs has kept its distance from the state department in Washington. Said Liberal foreign affairs critic Donald Johnston: “The overall thrust has been for Canada to continue as a moral leader, a middle power prepared to take stands on principle.”
Plot: That thrust was evident again last month. No sooner had the trial of Jordanian terrorist Nezar Hindawi concluded in London—with damning evidence of Syrian involvement in a plot to blow up an Israeli airliner—than a call went out from Clark’s office on the 10th floor of the Lester B. Pearson Building in Ottawa to British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe. Backing the British decision to sever diplomatic relations with Damascus, Clark told Howe that he was recalling Canada’s ambassador to Syria for consultations—a clear signal of Ottawa’s concern about state-sponsored terrorism. The prompt, unsolicited show of support increased Canada’s stature among grateful British officials.
In Western diplomatic circles, Clark is regarded as well-briefed, a quick study and someone who can think on his feet. Said one European diplomat: “He is a decent chap to do business with—honest and trustworthy.” Clark has also earned respect in Washington. Said Charles Doran, director of Canadian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington: “When he takes a position, we know it really is the government’s position and it won’t be reversed or altered. He’s a real professional.” One American official said that when
he first met Clark, “my initial impression was that he had gotten bad press in Canada. He has been very impressive-very well-briefed, forceful and intelligent.”
The results have generally been positive. Said one diplomat who has observed Canadian foreign policy for several decades: “Pierre Trudeau was happier on the sidelines of an alliance. Joe Clark feels that if Canada is going to influence policies it will do it from within the club, rather than running off and doing its own thing. From a Western perspective that has meant a more successful foreign policy.”
In part, Clark has built respect through personal friendships with London’s Howe and Washington’s Shultz. Although his rapport with Howe is better than with Shultz, he has broken through the formalities of diplomacy with both men, enjoying dinner at Howe’s country estate at j Chevening, south of London, and barbecued steaks at Shultz’s home in Bethesda, Md., outside the U.S. capital. Clark meets Shultz every three months to discuss everything from lumber to acid rain. And, according to participants, they have a great deal in common. Said Thomas Niles, the U.S. ambassador to Canada: “They don’t have to go back to Genesis each time. They can start at Deuteronomy or Leviticus.”
Firm: Despite Clark’s high-profile role, Mulroney has kept firm control of the two most contentious aspects of Canada’s foreign policy: relations with our largest trading partner, the United States, and the South African dossier. Using his personal relationship with Reagan, Mulroney has made improved ties with Washington his main goal in foreign affairs, changing the often tes-, ty tone of earlier dialogues. Declared one well-placed Canadian official: “In that relationship, Mulroney is chairman of the board and Clark the chief executive officer.”
On the South Africa issue, Mulroney has played a leading role in meetings of the Commonwealth. In Nassau in October, 1985, Mulroney worked with prime ministers Bob Hawke of Australia and Rajiv Gandhi of India to establish the so-called “Eminent Persons’’ group, which strongly endorsed sanctions against South Africa. Said Liberal critic Johnston: “Brian Mulroney has
made South Africa his own issue and Joe Clark is a loyal trouper.”
Pain: The long march of Joe Clark’s political resurrection began on June 11, 1983, the night he lost the Conservative leadership to Mulroney. It was his second public humiliation—following the defeat of his government three years earlier. His face etched with pain, Clark stood awkwardly in an Ottawa arena and forced himself to sing 0 Canada along with the Tories who had just rejected him. Most ob-
servers expected that Clark would take a rest, perhaps join the speaking circuit, and quietly withdraw from the cruel microscope under which he had lived for seven years. Instead, he used the moment to urge fellow Tories gathered on the floor of the sweltering Ottawa arena to be loyal to their new leader.
Boos: Later, Clark spoke to his supporters at the Château Laurier. As Mulroney’s name was mentioned, a chorus of boos and hisses began. But Clark called again for loyalty. Recalls former aide Neville: “Even when you would have forgiven the guy if he’d allowed the accumulated grievances to flow out, he didn’t.” Clark’s determination to keep peace in the party was repeated during the following weeks, when he travelled the country urging leading Conservatives to rally around Mulroney. Said Jim Hawkes, MP for Calgary West and a longtime personal friend: “That’s vintage Clark. The goals are more important than the individual.”
But Clark faced a personal cross-
roads—to stay in politics and work to get the party re-elected or leave. Said Senator Lowell Murray: “He’s smart enough to see that you have to do one of two things: either close the door, walk out and start a new life or stay and play a full part. You don’t sit there grousing and grumbling. He decided he was going to stay.” His friends say that Clark would have felt unfulfilled had he left politics in 1983 at age 44. Said Murray: “He wanted to wait and see what he could do.”
Clark says that he thought through the problems of being in a cabinet that he no longer headed, sitting around the solid oak table with the man who had defeated him. But Mulroney made it easier, extending the olive branch. After winning a massive 140-seat majority in the 1984 election, the Prime Minister often headed over from his own Centre Block office to Clark’s office to confer with him. Said Neville: “Mulroney was smart enough to know that he was an asset. Now, the PM knows that he can count on one person, and that’s Joe Clark, and he would be weaker without him.” Clark, in turn, came to terms with his new status and accepted his diminished role.
Key: In fact, Clark’s success at External Affairs is due to a considerable extent to the relationship that he has established with Mulroney. Clark is part of Mulroney’s kitchen cabinet of close advisers, consulted on major issues ranging from agriculture to arms control. In the Conservative caucus, Clark plays a key role. One minister said that Clark is there “especially
when he thinks the leader needs some support and the caucus has to be calmed down. He’s very good at that.” Indeed, on many issues Clark has become Mulroney’s biggest supporter. Said Mulroney’s special adviser, Geoffrey Norquay: “They’re very, very close. I can’t think of a situation on which there has been any ideological disagreement at all.”
As a former prime minister, Clark is also the only person who knows from experience the stress of leadership.
Many cabinet colleagues at first suspected that their old rivalry would remain a barrier between the two menor force Clark to hold his own views in check for the sake of party discipline. But according to Murray, “It wasn’t a matter of swallowing himself or of putting his own convictions aside—he never did that.”
By all accounts, Clark’s days at External are long and busy. A government limousine drops him at his office at around 8:30 a.m. for a 20-minute meeting with his chief of staff, longtime adviser Jodi White. A series of carefully regulated meetings and briefings follow —but he does have opportunities to put his stamp on the department. Recently,
Clark sent back a list of proposed ambassadorial appointments because it contained no women.
Shortly after, he increased the number of women envoys to seven from one, including new appointments to Hong Kong, Denmark and Sri Lanka.
Trio: At External, Clark relies
heavily on a trio of key officials: Undersecretary of State for External Affairs Si Taylor, known throughout the career diplomatic corps as a thoughtful adviser on foreign policy; Associate Undersecretary of State Derek Burney, who caught Mulroney’s eye for his deft handling of relations with the United
States; and Alan Sullivan, a former ambassador to Austria who is now in charge of East-West relations.
As an Albertan, who often returns to his home in High River to visit his mother, Grace, and other friends, Clark has had a special role in shaping government policy toward the West. Said one cabinet colleague: “He always feels he has to fight for the recognition of the West and western problems. He feels very strongly about local roots.”
Roots: Each• month Clark renews his roots by heading back to his home riding of Yellowhead, which sprawls from the western sub urbs of Edmonton to the B.C. border. There, he has always been the fa vorite son. One recent Saturday, Clark flew from Ottawa to Long view, Alta., 38 km from High River. The Eco
nomic Developers Association—made up of small-town businessmen and local officials—proudly displayed the local boy at an indoor rodeo arena. Clark, dressed in a suede jacket and turtleneck sweater, sat sipping black coffee in the stands while his mother downed a beer. To the background strains of “Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys,” Clark mingled with local officials and old friends. Said Lucille Dougherty, a former mayor of High River: “I know he’s ‘honorable,’ but he’s always Joe to me ... he grew up in our neighborhood.”
Steady: Doubts do remain about Clark. Some observers wonder whether the praise he is receiving now is due to the contrast between his steady performance at External and his often bumbling track record as opposition leader and Prime Minister. Others, including Neville, note that foreign policy has rarely been among the most contentious areas of Canadian politics: “In some ways he is operating in an area that’s out of the mainstream of politics. That’s probably not an unimportant factor. He is not threatening.” And there’s a larger, unanswered question: are Conservatives, the media and the
public now ready to accord Clark their long-delayed respect to compensate for the wounds they inflicted on him in the past? Said Arnold Malone, the Conservative MP for Crowfoot: “I think there is a latent source of guilt for how they may have responded to him.” Whatever the reason, Clark’s newfound respectability carries with it a final irony: his steady performance has been one of the bright spots in the government headed by his rival. As the government stumbled through its first two years in office and the image of Mulroney himself was increasingly tarnished, Clark’s unquestioned integrity and lack of self-consuming pride shone in comparison. But even that did not spark a rift between the two men. Clark was working hard to make the government —and by extension, Mulroney himself—look good. As Clark’s close friend Murray noted: “Prime ministers like people who do that.”
HILARY MACKENZIE in Ottawa with correspondents’ reports