COVER

A leader in search of a home

Jane O’Hara February 7 1983
COVER

A leader in search of a home

Jane O’Hara February 7 1983

A leader in search of a home

Jane O’Hara

The morning after Joe Clark, the leader, had been transformed into Joe Clark, the candidate, he told a breakfast meeting of his closest allies, “I will enter the leadership and I will win.” Despite the fire in his voice, however, Clark’s bold prediction prompted an uncomfortable squirming among the breakfasting army of vigilant supporters who had spent the past eight months coaxing and cajoling delegates on his behalf. The reason: even as Clark spoke, new political alliances were forming, and the foundations of his support were eroding.

Suddenly, longtime Clark loyalists like Manitoba MP Jake Epp hedged their support. The pro-Joe convention buttons began to vanish from lapels. Political workers from other camps, such as Brian Mulroney and worker Peter White, began stalking the corridors looking for Clark defectors. Although publicly many members of Clark’s net; work kept up a facade of continuing support for their chief, privately they were shifting to other camps. The reason was clear: overnight, Clark had gone from leader to liability. Many realized that Clark’s chances for the leadership were over. Said one of Clark’s closest caucus colleagues: “It is a question of self-interest. A lot of us are going to have to decide how much more time we can invest without

ruining our own careers.”

The erosion of support from longtime loyalists is just one of the icebergs facing Clark as he negotiates the troubled waters in the months leading up to the leadership convention. When Clark announced Saturday morning that he was resigning the party leadership—the move was mandatory under the Tory constitution—it meant forfeiting the very office that gave him much of his authority. As well, it will mean that Clark, his wife, Maureen, and daughter, Catherine, will have to move out of Stornoway, the leader’s official residence, if he is defeated in the leadership race.

Another roadblock in the way of a successful Clark comeback, according to Queen’s University Prof. George Perlin, is that he has no natural, independent power base in the party. Nor are his bread-and-butter supporters possessed of the kind of fanatical loyalty that would sustain him through a bitter, drawn-out campaign. Added to that is the fact that he is encumbered with an apparently unshakable image as a weak leader, exemplified by his inability to prevent the caucus revolt that led to his downfall. Finally, there is the public perception of Clark as a loser. Said Perlin of Clark’s chances to win back the top role: “I can’t see him having any prospects.” Added one of Clark’s former lieutenants: “The party does not create vacancies in order to fill them with in-

cumbents.” Perlin also predicted that the perennially disunited Tory caucus, which has been particularly and bitterly divided for the past year, will grow even more divisive as the leadership convention date gets closer. The parliamentary disarray may lead to a sharp drop in the 15-per-cent lead the Tories now enjoy in the Gallup poll, adding a further blow to their hopes of forming the next government.

The man who will suffer most is Joe Clark. Many insiders question how—or why—Clark could subject himself to even more potential shame, having already faced the worst humiliation of his > political career with admirable stoicism. Even Clark’s most flattering friends attribute the decision partly to his almost fanatical desire to be prime minister again. Others, less admiringly, admit that Clark, who dropped out of law school and has been wedded to politics since boyhood, would have trouble finding another job that would provide him with anything approaching the annual $105,600 leader’s salary and the perks that go with it. For Clark, the fall from grace Friday night is only a temporary way station in his dogged drive for the ultimate position in Canadian politics. For his critics, however, the message delivered by the delegates may be somewhat sterner, stranding him in the same place he began his federal parliamentary career—as a lonely MP from High River, Alta.