Canada

Four days in February

MICHAEL ENRIGHT March 8 1976
Canada

Four days in February

MICHAEL ENRIGHT March 8 1976

Four days in February

MICHAEL ENRIGHT

It was in late June last year that Charles Joseph Clark, Conservative MP for far-off Rocky Mountain, decided to buy a house in Ottawa. He and his wife Maureen were tired of their apartment—it was noisy and had no air-conditioning. So they closed a deal for a house on Rockcliffe Way, on the perimeter of the most exclusive ghetto in the capital. Joe Clark had already pretty well decided to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada; if he won, he would automatically have an official residence, a drafty place called Stornoway, official home of the Leader of the Opposition. But Clark is nothing if not pragmatic and he decided to go ahead and move. As it turned out, he needn’t have hedged his bet, and now, as he and his wife prepare to move to Stornoway, the house on Rockcliffe Way will probably go up for rent. After a low-profile campaign, Clark is the 17th leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, ajob he expected to win but was prepared to lose.

The making of Joe Clark, Conservative leader, is a chorus of contrasts and a clash of ironies. In $ party of old men, he is, at 36, the youngest leader in its history. A westerner, he has fervid support in the eastern quadrant of the country. An Englishspeaking Canadian, he recognizes the fibrillating ambitions of French Canada. The Clark crusade was as deceptive as it was decisive. To the many who didn’t know him, he was Alberta’s favorite son, always the “next year” candidate. To the few who knew him well, he was marked as a winner, the best man in the right party at the right time. To the country at large, he was perceived as a hardworking, nice young man from the west who sought to magnify his importance by making a grab for the brass ring of leadership. But behind the easy smile and the benign expression was a sophisticated network of old friends and classmates across the country. The glue

that held them together was the knowledge that Clark could win.

The elements that formed the matrix of Clark’s victory came together at the fourday leadership convention. But they were assembled painstakingly for more than a year before. The Conservative leadership was on Clark’s mind as soon as he realized the Tory defeat in 1974 was a prelude to the resignation of Robert Stanfield. In December, 1974, the Clarks retreated to the Caribbean island of Martinique. Clark needed the rest and wanted to polish his French. They were accompanied by two old friends, Dave and Dreena Jenkins. Clark had known Jenkins since the late Fifties when they were both student politicians. Jenkins and Clark walked the beaches of Martinique, talking about politics in general and Joe in particular. Jenkins argued that none of the potential successors to Stanfield had Clark’s qualities. Finally he pressed the point: “You know, Joe, why don’t you run for the leadership? If you finish third or fourth, it would be good for your career.” Clark thought a moment and replied: “If I ran, it would only be to win.” As Clark spent the winter mulling over his friend’s suggestion, one thought preoccupied his mind—if his old boss, Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed ran, he, Clark, would not.

In the spring of 1975, Clark and Maureen questioned Lougheed privately about his intentions. The Premier assured them he would not run, but in June made a speech in Halifax that left the matter open to question. Clark went back to Lougheed and pressed him further: “Some of us have to know,” he said. Satisfied that Lougheed would stay out, Clark began to listen seriously to the pleadings of some of his closest friends. Many of them had worked to elect Lougheed. Some were old schoolmates of Clark. Two bright young Montreal lawyers—Jean Bazin and Michel Cogger, who had worked with Clark in the 1967 leadership run of Davie Fulton— thought he should run, although Cogger and Bazin would later support and work for another good friend, Brian Mulroney. Last fall, after five weeks in France, Clark seemed ready to move, although he was still worried he was too young. The key meeting on the road to candidacy took place October 8 in Edmonton at Dave Jenkins’ home overlooking the North Saskatchewan River. Clark arrived about 11 p.m. after a flight from Ottawa. Tired, he slumped in a white, curved-back Swedish chair in Jenkins’ living room, listening to the nine people in the room urging him to run. “We all went at him in turns,” Jenkins recalled. Clark indicated more than a vague interest. Then Harold Veale, an Edmonton lawyer, put it directly to Clark: “Does that mean you’re ready to go?” Clark replied: “Yes.” The room went wild with friends jumping around hugging each other. Clark, sufferingjet lag, went to bed.

Clark’s affirmation was the signal that kicked into gear the network of ardent

friends across the country. Veale volunteered to take on the role of finance chairman, a tough position in that Clark was not a national name and money was not easy to get. At one point Veale, Jenkins and another Edmonton lawyer, Robert Lloyd, had to sign a note for a loan of $20,000. Ultimately, Clark’s finance committee would raise $125,000 and spend $125,000. It was Clark’s intention to sell his candidacy gently, in contrast to the media splash made by Brian Mulroney, the attractive labor lawyer from Quebec. Sometimes the soft sell was too soft. At one stop in Toronto, he called a press conference and nobody came. Throughout the fall and winter, he worked quietly at delegates’ convention meetings and fund-raising dinners across the country. When the campaign opened in Ottawa, Clark arrived on a crest of goodwill, while Mulroney’s campaign was largely based on a media buildup. Says Ralph Hedlin, a former journalist and Clark adviser: “They converted Brian from a potential leader into an actor. By the time they were finished, people could see the wrapping but they couldn’t see the man.”

What the Clark campaign lacked in style, it made up in energy. If organizers weren’t sure of the next move, they were not too proud to ask people who knew something about leadership campaigns. “The organization was good enough to capitalize when the breaks went the right way,” said one worker. Three weeks before the convention, his campaign took off and with the help of some flattering editorials Clark was a candidate to be taken seriously in the cavernous Civic Centre when the convention got underway. While the organization was in presentable shape for the convention, there were some problems. As late as two weeks before the opening, Clark organizers had no banners, flags or buttons. Finally, they bought the hundreds of yellow scarves and banners that would eventually dominate the convention hall.

The aim of Clark convention workers was to ensure their man finished at least third on the first ballot, ahead of Flora MacDonald, the populist candidate. Flora was seen as the first obstacle for Clark because she was perceived as similar in ideology and outlook by delegates at large. They were cast together as Red Tories against the rightist forces of Paul Hellyer, Jack Horner, Sinclair Stevens and Claude Wagner and the charisma of Brian Mulroney. In tone and temperament, the Clark-MacDonald forces were a study in contrasts to the supporters of Hellyer, Horner, Wagner and Mulroney. Flora, with her politics-of-joy approach to the campaign, was as open as Wagner was secretive. She invited reporters to sit in on strategy meetings and instructed her supporters not to disparage her opponents. The Hellyer campaign was peopled by a stern mixture of Diefenbaker Tories, flinty right-wingers and more than 20 MPS from the Tory caucus. They saw in Hellyer expe-

rience (which the delegates would later discount as unimportant) and a rallying point against the so-called Red Tory element in the party. Jack Horner’s supporters were unquestioning in their loyalty and suspicious of “Toronto forces” and the eastern press. Mulroney’s people reflected the slickness of his campaign: crisply-tailored young Montreal lawyers, beautiful women and squads of intelligent young people with walkie-talkies snaking through hotel corridors and lobbies keeping tabs on delegates. Then there was Stevens, the man who would be kingmaker, with garish signs promising to “Sine Trudeau” and get the country back to basic Conservative principles.

It was not a brokered convention. Most of the negotiating among candidates was done on the convention hall floor in full view of delegates and the ubiquitous television cameras: outside the hall, rented trailers for the candidates went virtually unused. If, as he said, Clark became a Tory because of Diefenbaker and a candidate because of Stanfield, he became leader because of Stevens. The ever-smiling Stevens (who described himself as a cuddly Conservative) had been targeted by the Wagner, Hellyer and Horner people as a kindred spirit and generator of second ballot support for the right wing of the party. Wagnerians were particularly upset when Stevens left his box and walked down the hall past the Hellyerites to Clark’s enclave. Hellyer, a legend in his own mind, had damaged himself irretrievably in his Saturday speech with a harsh cut at Red Tories. It was no surprise to the Clark forces that Heward Grafftey, John Fraser,

Jim Gillies and Pat Nowlan did badly on the first ballot and that Hellyer stood an unflattering fifth. What did surprise them was the unexpectedly strong showing of Jack Horner and the poor performance of Flora; her energetic campaign produced only 214 votes. (“That figure of 214 is a number I’ll run through my mind for the rest of my life,” said Patrick Martin, Flora’s press secretary.) Some Wagner supporters had counted 379 first ballot votes for Flora on the basis of badges worn to the polling booths. When she finally moved to support Clark, she walked like a queen through the parting bow wave of the crowd, making her way to Clark’s box;

When Stevens pledged his allegiance to Clark, he took 71% of his delegates with him, according to a poll by Alan Frizzell, visiting professor at Carleton University. Frizzell also deduced that 70% of the combined Horner-Hellyer vote on the second ballot went to Wagner on the third. The pressure on Horner to support Wagner had been intense. As the Crowfoot MP, his advisers and brothers huddled feverishly in his box shoving off reporters, Nowlan cut through the crowd to say: “Jack, you’ve got to get off that ballot.” Finally the two men pushed their way to Wagner’s box. The fact that Homer, Diefenbaker and Hellyer all supported Wagner on the fourth and fi-

nal ballot destroyed the possibility support might be divided along racial lines. It became apparent that any divisions were based on loyalties, not ideologies. While waiting for the last ballot, Clark went over telegrams he had received and started scribbling his acceptance speech. At no point had he prepared a speech acknowledging defeat. About 15 minutes before the results of the final vote were known, the phone rang in Wagner’s box. A worker told him he had lost. He leaned over to tell his son, Richard, who winced. When the announcement was made from the stage, Wagner smiled tightly and kissed his wife, Gisèle.

Wagner was generous and gentlemanly in defeat. “Yesterday I said I was under the impression that we’d be writing a page of history—now I think we’ve written a book.” It was his opening remark and a sense of relief ripped through the convention hall like a spring breeze. Later, in the restaurants and hotels, Tory delegates agreed, for the most part, they had made the right choice. They had picked a young man, an intelligent politician with few enemies and, with time and application, a leader who might just head them to power. For four exhausting day the Conservative Party went looking for itself—and found Joe Clark. MICHAEL ENRIGHT