Canada

AFTER THE SUMMIT

An exclusive interview with Joe Clark

July 16 1979
Canada

AFTER THE SUMMIT

An exclusive interview with Joe Clark

July 16 1979

AFTER THE SUMMIT

An exclusive interview with Joe Clark

Canada

Prime Minister Joe Clark last week began the first of two weeks'rest at the government leader's Harrington Lake retreat. At the same time, his stewardship reached the end of its first month, with Clark's performance in Tokyo being called a “turning point" by personal staff and detractors alike. The energy summit showed a new Joe Clark, a man who perfo7'med with maturity and some presence, and his diplomatic victory stood in sharp contrast to the botched JÍ7'st week of his leade7'ship, when Clark reaffirmed and then backtracked on the election promise to move the Canadian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. By last week Clark was willing to admit that the promise had been illadvised, causing even a former member of Pierre Trudeau's staff to concede that “any prime minister who can admit a mistake can't be all bad. " Things were finally going well for Clark, and the change was having its effect. Appearing relaxed and confident, casually dressed and sipping on his constant Coke, Clark g7'anted a lengthy interview on the way back from Tokyo to Maclean’s Ottawa correspondent Roy MacGregor. What follows are several excerpts from the current thinking of the new prime minister:

On becoming prime minister: All the way through [the election] I thought we were going to win. I was unsure when the Manitoba results came in because I thought there might be an upsurge in the NDP that would be strong in B.C., and if the Liberals and I were very close that Mr. Trudeau might try to hang on. That was the one time when I began to wonder. I don’t think he would have said it [hanging on] if he didn’t contemplate it.

I’ve become aware as I take those black briefcases home at night and do two or three hours of reading each night that the workload is very different from the workload of the Opposition. You are more in control of events as prime minister, and that is psychologically less wearing than always having to be ready to respond. It is easier to punch than to counterpunch. But I enjoy it very much. It’s more than being leader of the Opposition—partly it’s that you are doing real things.

Joe Clark’s image: [The other summit leaders] were bound to be skeptical with the change in government. I wouldn’t be

surprised if they read the press and wondered about me ... There is no question that Mr. Trudeau was a strong personality. It became clear to me at the summit that whereas the words of the president of France and the words of the president of the United States were weighed and viewed in terms of their source, that I was being judged personally. Pierre Trudeau was being judged personally and I think that there was no question that he had a personal influence. And I think that there is some evidence that I had a personal influence.

It’s quite consistent with my view and my style that I will put my international focus on working well within conferences where a prime minister has to be. You know, that’s the kind of thing I have spent my life doing. I mean if there is a legitimate public concern about me it’s that my experience has been confined to political processes. Well, the work of a conference like the one we’ve come out of is a political process and that’s what my background is. Sure I am Joe Clark of High River, but I was also sitting down with Jimmy Carter of Plains and Helmut Schmidt of wherever and Margaret Thatcher of a suburb of London. Everybody comes from some place. I will confess that was on my mind for about the first five minutes of the breakfast the first morning, but after the first cup of coffee and after the conversation got going I did not feel strange ...

I’m pretty buoyant about those things [his bad press]. I guess the worst session I had was back in ’77, the spring of ’77, late spring and early summer. If I was going to get depressed I’d have gotten depressed then. But I didn’t. I think we’re coming into office at a time when there is unusual skepticism about politicians. I think there is some overreaction on the part of journalists in a sense that politicians are going to lead you astray on everything, so you’re skeptical about everything. So long as there were doubts about me, so long as there are doubts about me that are serious, that are fairly basic, people will be tentative.

Jerusalem: The toughest problem I’ve had. The lesson I’ve learned was one of tone. I think, however, that we may come out of the Stanfield commission with a very real plus. I

Clark with Canadian ambassador Bruce Rankin (top) and Flora MacDonald: ‘It is easier to punch than to counterpunch’

suspect Mr. Stanfield, whatever he reports on Jerusalem, will also have some very useful things to say on other aspects of relations within that region, and I don’t think that would have happened within the system. One of the problems we’re going to face as a government, which I intend to turn my mind to in the next couple of weeks, is how I can institutionalize some system of initiative that is related to, but not confined to, government. Now, I don’t want to follow the process we did on the Middle East question time after time, but I want some process.

That clearly was the toughest matter we’ve faced. It reached the point where I was afraid it was going to make it very difficult for the government to deal with other partners in the community, and to get attention turned to other important questions. It’s not the kind of question that you can move toward resolution. Everybody is talking about it. It is very much one where you need some calm. There are different kinds of issues. Jerusalem is one that is best left to quiet diplomacy.

Energy: We’ve got to establish a public will to do some things. It would have been a little handier, I suppose, if OPEC and Tokyo had come late in August—but they didn’t. People coming back to the autumn rather than going into the summer [would pay more attention]. Three events are important.

The two obvious ones are the OPEC factor and the Tokyo summit. The one that isn’t obvious is the National Energy Board report on diminishing Alberta production which I missed and I think everybody else has. I think a lot of Canadians have been disbelieving talk about the energy crunch because they assume that there is always some oil well or some oil field in Alberta that would carry us through.

In the final analysis, there are obviously going to be some times when somebody is going to have to make a decision as to the rate of increase of price. That’s me. I will be wearing a black hat to the degree, and only to the degree, that we have failed to create a consciousness of, first, the importance of conservation and, second, the possibility of moving to other sources.

The Liberals: I think they stopped governing about two years ago and kept looking around for ways to survive. One issue preoccupied the prime minister and the party and that was the Quebec issue. Such creative energy as they had left they focused there almost exclusively, and other things were pushed to the side. We saw that with the economy until the prime minister felt he had to dramatically take some economic initiatives; we were clearly seeing the results on energy. Governments have to govern. That’s what they’re there for.

The failure of Conservatives in Quebec: Disappointment, but not frustration, because I think there is a lot of room to move there and I’m relatively pleased at the response in Quebec. There has been no reaction that the English have won, the French have been betrayed. There is a general interpretation, which I believe is true, that the vote for the Liberals, the vote for Mr. Trudeau, was a vote for federalism, that there is no strong feeling against me, that there is a sort of wait-and-see attitude.

Election promises: There are some that are obviously compelling immediately—mortgage deductibility most clearly of all. There are others that can come in later. There is none, to my knowledge, that is impractical or impossible. We’re going through them all now, seeing what was said by me or by others authorized on my behalf, seeing what they’ll cost and trying to assign some priority to their introduction. [There is] the need for the government to be believed. And the usual difficulty of that in this age is that I’ve got to be seen taking my campaign pledges seriously. And the only way to be seen to be doing that is to do it.

Commonwealth conference: The conference that is coming is one in which the potential role for Canada as a country is probably greater than at the summit. I don’t demean at all the importance of Canada as a country at the summit, justly we deserve to be a summit nation, but we’re not fooling anybody—we are not as important as the president of the European Community or the president of the U.S.A. In Lusaka it could be different.

Vision of Canada: [Jim Gillies] made the point that the election campaign, as well as serving the useful purpose of getting us elected, also forced us to look at questions like that in fairly concrete terms. And the idea, speaking culturally for a moment, the idea of the country as the community of communities became much more real to me as I travelled from community to community in Canada. And that view of the identity of the nation ... is a quite fundamentally different view from the one that has guided the country and governments previously. That view is reinforced in my mind, and will be in the government. I don’t regard our cultural diversity or regional differences as being at all a threat. Quite the contrary. I am comfortable with that view. I’m comfortable also with the sense that the country is maturing,