Clark, it seems, is just about what he appears to be
Clark, it seems, is just about what he appears to be
Joe Clark is a Coca-Cola addict, eats junk food, reads mystery novels, drives over the speed limit, likes violent movies and TV shows (especially Mannix), baits waiters in restaurants, and suffers from hydrophobia because he nearly drowned as a boy. These and other insights appear in a remarkable biography of the Conservative leader to be published later this month by Deneau and Greenberg. Joe Clark by David Humphreys, managing editor of the Ottawa Journal and an old Clarkfriend, is of more than passing interest since an election looms and Clark just might be the next Prime Minister.
Humphreys, because of his friendship with Clark and his active participation in his leadership campaign, would seem suspect as an unbiased biographer, but he promises in his preface to paint his subject “warts and all," and it is a promise he by and large keeps. Humphreys’ friendship also gave him access to his subject far beyond that normally accorded to a biographer of an active politician. For example, Clark entrusted him with a batch of his personal letters, which give the book much of its depth.
About 40% of the book—106 of its 267 pages—is devoted to a detailed account of Clark’s leadership campaign in 197576. It comes across far from the well organized, highly professional campaign often depicted by journalists: Humphreys describes a loose, haphazard operation that was starved for cash and would have fallen apart near the end save for Clark’s personal intervention. But it is the rest of the book—Humphreys’ description of the pre-leadership Joe Clark and his ideas— that makes it most worthwhile. “The country doesn’t know the Joe Clark I know," says Humphreys. “I offer this 8 book in the hope that it will help Canas dians get to know one of their political \ leaders better." But, instead of exploding § the media myths about Clark—that he is a loner, high-strung, intensely partisan, and a stuffed shirt, Humphreys reinforces them—perhaps unintentionally.
As a student at the University of Alberta, Humphreys relates, Clark shunned the popular fraternities, rarely dated, and customarily vacated his apartment for the peace and quiet of a motel room whenever his roommate threw a party. And Clark’s starchy attitudes stuck with him long after his university days. In the summer of 1970, for example, during a stay in Britain, he used to attend rock concerts— but not for the music. He was “keen on knowing what young people were up to," Humphreys quotes one of Clark’s companions as saying. “We therefore presented ourselves at two or three concerts
to observe young people in their natural habitat." Clark was all of 31 at the time.
Clark does possess a sense of humor, but it can be off-beat. Humphreys recalls an incident in an Ottawa restaurant where he was dining with Clark, by then an MP. “We noticed we had no sugar on the table," writes Humphreys. “Joe complained good-naturedly to the waiter that he was discriminating against Conservative MPS. Later he ordered a sundae that came with a choice of sauces, including marshmallow. ‘Is this sauce made from genuine marshmallows, grown in Virginia?’ Clark demanded of the bewildered waiter."
Clark's partisanship flashes throughout the book, perhaps most revealingly in a
that of France or Britain, more than that of Quebec or Ontario.” Such thoughts do not quite square with Clark’s more recent assertions that he is a “North American Canadian" while Trudeau is a “European Canadian.”
Many similarities between Clark and Trudeau emerge. Both are loners, both drifted as youths in search of themselves, both married late, and both have endured rumors that they are homosexuals or Communists. But there the similarities end. Trudeau is athletic, charismatic, and extraordinary; Clark is awkward, nondescript and ordinary. Humphreys attempts to elevate Clark’s ordinariness to the level of a virtue. “Clark does indeed have qualities usually considered ordi-
letter written in 1970 in Paris, where he was contemplating both his own future andthat of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. “I don’t consider Trudeau a representative Canadian," Clark wrote. “He is too much a rationalistto be French, too inflexible to be Anglo-Saxon. When he went to Harvard he followed his true instinct: he belongs in the modern Puritan society, where everything is coded and the code is everything. That is most alarming if one is worried about the various implications of continentalism because, if earlier prime ministers were continentalists by convenience, Trudeau is by conviction. He prefers the American value system more than
nary," he writes, “and they are, on balance, an asset because they are shared by most voters."
Where Humphreys fails is in describing what motivates Clark. He struggles to portray Clark as a “populist" and makes much of his roots in High River, Alberta, a small town south of Calgary where Clark grew up, but Clark has not lived there since he was 18. Clark is fond of saying he represents “the building end of Canada," an expression that appears throughout Humphreys’ book. But it is not exactly clear what Clark means by “the building end," beyond the trite observation that the future of Canada is in the West. In the end, Humphreys leaves the reader wondering just why Joe Clark wants to be Prime Minister at all. IAN URQUHART
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.