External Affairs Minister Joe Clark spent several days in Vienna recently, representing Canada at a conference on human rights and East-West relations. On board the flight back to Ottawa, Clark relaxed, changed into a sweater and spoke with Maclean’s Ottawa correspondent Hilary Mackenzie. They began by talking about Clark ’s political resurrection—his climb back after losing the Progressive Conservative leadership to Brian Mulroney at the party ’s 1983 convention. Part of their conversation:
Maclean’s: You are part of the inner circle. You are a survivor. How have you sustained the defeats and come back? Clark: I don’t know that’s a question one can answer. Partly, it is an act of will. You say, ‘I am not going to give up.’ The rest of it is simply carrying on. I had a duty, I believed, after the leadership convention to stand for office. One of the unique advantages that I have had in the cabinet is that I understand better than others do what a prime minister requires of his colleagues. Another advantage one shouldn’t underestimate is that on most foreign policy questions, the PM and I have a similar view. Maclean’s: Many people facing a similar situation would have said, T can’t take any more of this. ’ Why did you decide not to switch careers?
Clark: Remember the circumstances. I believed that there needed to be a change of government and that I had an important role to play in causing that to happen. It’s essential in a system like ours that there be an alternation, because the old ways and notions that belong to a party become ingrained into public habit and become more and more difficult to change.
Maclean’s: Was it a difficult decision for you to stay on?
Clark: It wasn’t difficult to stay, no. It was difficult to lose the convention. Maclean’s: You lost the prime ministership, then the leadership, and suffered what many called a public humiliation. How did you endure that?
Clark: I didn’t regard it as an extraordinary public humiliation. I was off-balance for quite a while, but I didn’t take it personally. I didn’t doubt myself. I thought that people who doubted me
were wrong. I haven’t changed my view. Maclean’s: There were rumors when you started in cabinet that the Prime Minister wanted to run foreign policy out of his office. Was that the case? Clark: When we started this term, the habit very much was that the Prime Minister and his office ran foreign policy. Secondly, I had to make the adjustment [to answering specific questions in the House rather than general ones as I had as Prime Minister]. There was some stuttering at the beginning and that has smoothed itself out.
Maclean’s: You mentioned in 1981+ that you had not made up your mind whether you would run for Parliament again. Clark: I still haven’t—though my experience has been a happy one in the past
two years, and I would be more inclined to run than not.
Maclean’s: Given the leadership race, is it difficult working with Brian Mulroney? How do you sit across the table from him week after week?
Clark: He won the convention and, as I said in the letter to the people who supported me, those of us who have called for loyalty now have an opportunity to demonstrate it. It was awkward to walk into a caucus over which one had presided and to be a member of the caucus, but that became less awkward with each day. The Prime Minister made it as easy as one could—and gradually we both began to adjust to that new reality. I didn’t take an active part in things for a while because, while I thought that he and I could stand it, others would feel a little awkward if there seemed to be a disagreement between us. Now, when it arises, it is seen simply as two ministers having different views, and it’s generally accepted that the minister who is primus inter \ pares will make the final decision. There
have been cases where he has accepted my argument over his own.
Maclean’s: What problems did you have with your department at the beginning? Clark: There was confusion about the information that was given to me on the Armenian attack on the Turkish Embassy [March, 1985]. I was very annoyed at having given the House of Commons wrong information, because I try not to do that. I was annoyed at the department. Little glitches still occur, and we’re able to roll over them now. Morale is an odd thing—if there’s the impression that things are going well, it makes it easier for them to go well.
Maclean’s: In recent years we have seen Pierre Trudeau's peace initiative and now Mulroney’s open slant toward the United States. Where, exactly, is Canadian foreign policy headed?
Clark: This is not an age susceptible to solo leadership or solo ventures. The initiative that Trudeau took was doomed by that from the outset. We would have been similarly ineffective if we had tried to deal with the question of [South African] apartheid on our own. On the initiative with the United States, I believe it is very much bearing fruit. We have changed at least public utterances in the United States on the question of acid rain, which is a key bilateral issue to us. I think we are going to succeed on the trade initiative. Maclean’s: What role has your wife, Maureen, played in your trials?
Clark: Well, obviously, a very supportive role. She could have said, T have had enough of this,’ and made it difficult for me to do what I felt I had to do. I think she shared my sense of the obligation to the party and to the system. Maureen began to follow her own career more extensively after the leadership convention in 1983 than she had before. That has made it easier for both of us, because she became involved in the things that were her own. She could afford to be more assertive in what she was doing. That, I think, was helpful.
Maclean’s: What have your major
Clark: We have opened up the process of foreign policy formulation and discussion in the country. We have genuinely tried to bring people in—whether it’s
‘I was off-balance for quite a while, but I didn't take it personally. I thought people who doubted me were wrong 9
bringing the provinces in on the trade talks or making sure business leaders travel with me when I go to countries where there are investment people. Secondly, we have been able to revive some of the genuinely distinctive elements of Canadian foreign policy—the one for which I take most credit is the Commonwealth. The Trudeau government was not particularly enthusiastic about the Commonwealth. We’ve been able to breathe quite a lot of new life into it. A great challenge always is to take account of the American presence. It involves incredibly difficult problems, ranging from interests that are deeply different on issues through to a profound and permanent ignorance about basic Canadian interests. It is not a malicious ignorance, but it is there. Maclean’s: Does Mulroney consult you on issues beyond external affairs?
Clark: He consults fairly broadly, and there is a cluster of ministers who are consulted more than others—some because of a combination of position and ability, such as [Deputy Prime Minister] Don Mazankowski. Both Don and I have been involved in the discussion over energy and agriculture. Agriculture has become a foreign policy issue. Maclean’s: Are there any other cabinet jobs you'd like to have?
Clark: I am very happy where I am. Maclean’s: And if the leadership came open again?
Clark: I don’t think it is going to come open again. I consider that behind me.
Maclean’s: Is there an area in foreign policy that has proved more intractable than any others?
Clark: I think that the determination of the U.S. government on Central America is less flexible than I might have thought. It’s not just a foreign policy issue to them; it’s a domestic policy issue, and it’s pursued with a particular ferocity. I am not hopeful about southern Africa. The bulk of the progress has been made in the mobilizing of pressure and also fairly good progress in the restraint of black violence. But those may turn out to be accomplishments without result. What may happen is a very depressing situation.
Maclean’s: Is it frustrating to be a foreign minister with a very intelligent diplomatic corps in a middle power, with obvious limitations to your clout?
Clark: Quite to the contrary. What’s frustrating is to have people think that we are more limited than we are. Canadians do not fully understand the immense influence we enjoy in a range of countries. Our judgment is respected, and they are prepared to take us seriously on things. If you believe that the world changes in inches, and I think it does, then it’s very important for us to be exercising and keeping alive the capacity for that influence.^
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