Editorial

Joe Clark’s Tories knuckle down, but they remain a party in search of a mystique

Peter C. Newman October 22 1979
Editorial

Joe Clark’s Tories knuckle down, but they remain a party in search of a mystique

Peter C. Newman October 22 1979

Joe Clark’s Tories knuckle down, but they remain a party in search of a mystique

Editorial

Peter C. Newman

Any democratic government’s power is based on the size of its mandate; its authority is derived from the forcefulness of its leader and the popularity of his program.

Joe Clark’s main problem, as he met Parliament last week, was not so much that 64 per cent of voters had cast their ballots against him last May 22, but that he has yet to establish the source of his prime ministerial legitimacy—some sustaining myth to justify the exercise of political power.

In an era of high expectations and increasingly intractable circumstances, the governing of Canada requires more from the occupant of the Prime Minister’s Office than ever before. He must not only convince the voters of the worth of his leadership, but somehow move the policy levers to affect the fundamental changes required for the nation’s survival. The really significant legacy of the two issues that have most troubled this country for the past decade—inflation and English-French relations—may well be their effect in destroying the national consensus which made possible the assertion of prime ministerial authority in the first place.

The most remarkable gap in an otherwise commendable throne speech was any specific mention of how the Conservatives intend to deal with either problem. It surely is more than a little incredible that with the Lévesque referendum only seven months or so away not a word was injected into the government’s declaration of principle that might at least set out some semblance of a federalist position. It’s almost as if Joe Clark were depending on Pierre Trudeau to rekindle his magic in Quebec and slay the separatist dragon on the Tories’ behalf.

At the same time, the PCs’ high-handed transfer of off-shore mineral rights to provincial jurisdiction raises the prospect of further weakening Ottawa’s influence in future constitutional bargaining. Although the throne speech didn’t once mention Petrocan, Clark’s coterie of advisers seem determined to dismantle our only major toehold in the international oil game—not because it’s a policy that makes sense, but simply to redeem a silly election pledge which should never have been made.

During the five months since the election campaign, the Conservative leader has added dignity and subtracted arrogance from the PMO. But his stewardship will be judged by the quality of the policy initiatives he champions and by how successful he becomes in rallying popular support behind them. Unlike most Canadian political leaders who served in calmer times, Joe Clark has no margin for error.