Editorial

‘Joe Who?’ is still a question, but the answer seems a little clearer

Peter C. Newman September 25 1978
Editorial

‘Joe Who?’ is still a question, but the answer seems a little clearer

Peter C. Newman September 25 1978

‘Joe Who?’ is still a question, but the answer seems a little clearer

Editorial

Peter C. Newman

He steals into my office like a wild fawn caught eating broccoli. His limbs arrange themselves into various tableaux of discomfort, the hazel eyes remain wary, and his composure betrays the studied confidence of the eternal “Big Tory on Campus.” Joe Clark has come a-calling.

He is an easy man to caricature, yet it has become difficult not to take him seriously. Here is the constitutionally designated head of the country’s alternate government, the man who may be one Goldfarb survey away from Pierre Trudeau’s throne. Until recently, there was about him the uncertain aura of a politician being swept away in a sea of impulses; now he is at last beginning to appear in charge of his own destiny.

Clark has managed to survive the cruelest tag ever to haunt a Canadian politician: the JOE WHO? headline coined by an anonymous Toronto Star deskman, as baffled as the rest of the country on the morning after his triumph over the Conservative party. Thirty-one months into his job, “Joe Who?” remains an open question. During his stewardship, at least 21 Tory MPs have deserted Clark’s cause—many of them for the kind of patronage plums the Government Party usually reserves for its own electoral casualties.

But he has become a man in motion and for those who take the trouble to listen, his words make sense. Under Clark’s leadership, the Conservatives are becoming less disunited by the day. Part of this trans-

mogrification has of course been due to the astonishing performance of Liberal cabinet ministers pledging more restraints and better priorities with all the intellectual élan of kamikaze pilots flying into the sun without parachutes.

Canada’s current dilemma is not so much whether the Man from Yellowhead is adequate to his calling, but rather whether anyone is equipped to govern a country that appears to be becoming ungovernable.

There is in traffic law a seldom-used doctrine which holds that other evidence to the contrary, the driver who has the “last clear chance” of avoiding an accident must be held responsible. With Quebec’s impending referendum; an economy performing the fiscal miracle of both higher unemployment and doubledigit inflation; and a dollar whose value threatens to equal that of late Czarist bonds—the man who wins the next election could well be exercising our “last clear chance” as a nation. Whether Joe Clark can master this awesome responsibility has yet to be established.

What bothered me most, after the couple of hours I spent with him recently, was that there is no existential dimension to his quest for political office, little gut yearning and no visible sweat. There seems to be much in life still inaccessible to him, a whole litany of hardearned truths he has failed to grasp. Joe Clark has yet to spend his apprenticeship in the anterooms of some personal hell—a handy training ground for any man who dares covet this nation’s highest political office.