CANADA

WHODUNIT? CLARK DID IT

JOE CLARK SAYS GOODBYE TO POLITICS—AT LEAST FOR NOWAFTER 21 YEARS IN PARLIAMENT

E. KAYE FULTON March 1 1993
CANADA

WHODUNIT? CLARK DID IT

JOE CLARK SAYS GOODBYE TO POLITICS—AT LEAST FOR NOWAFTER 21 YEARS IN PARLIAMENT

E. KAYE FULTON March 1 1993

WHODUNIT? CLARK DID IT

CANADA

JOE CLARK SAYS GOODBYE TO POLITICS—AT LEAST FOR NOWAFTER 21 YEARS IN PARLIAMENT

He faced a formidable array of opponents—most of them more experienced than he was, some more glamorous, several more eloquent. But he ran up the middle of the pack and beat them all. Moments afterward, a daffodil pinned to the lapel of his blue pinstriped suit, Joe Clark alternately grinned and fidgeted in the television lights, visibly excited by the fact that he had just beaten 10 other Tories to become, at 36, the nation’s youngest-ever Conservative party leader. That was the last day of the 1976 Tory leadership convention and, for a man little known to the wider public—and promptly dubbed Joe Who?—the first day of a 17-year roller-coaster ride through Canadian politics, from winning to losing, from applause to ridicule, from exile to rehabilitation. He was prime minister for nine months—and he lost his leadership in 1983. Yet in the years that followed, he somehow found new dignity and confidence. And when he finally announced on Feb. 20 in Calgary that he intended to step down after 21 years in the House of Commons, he had become respected, even admired, by those Canadians who had once mocked him.

The departure of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s constitutional affairs minister, one of the few Tories who remains popular across the country, leaves an enormous gap in the party. For one thing, his career has never been tarnished by even a hint of political scandal. For another, politicians have seldom accused him of working primarily to further his own political agenda. “He put the country ahead of himself,” said Alberta MP James Hawkes, one of his

closest friends in Ottawa. During last year’s constitutional talks, Clark was one of the few ministers accepted as a worthy negotiator both by the premiers and by aboriginal groups. Although voters rejected the proposed Charlottetown accord on Oct. 26, Clark emerged almost unscathed from the failure.

When the 53-year-old minister announced—following a pre-election “campaign college” for Alberta federal Tories—that he himself would not seek re-election, he gave little indication of what he intends to do next. Although he has hinted for months that he would not run again in his rural Yellowhead riding, his closest friends had anxiously urged him to reconsider. Many argued that if Mulroney retired, Clark was the only Tory who could win the next election. Even his wife, Maureen McTeer, 40, and his 16-year-old daughter, Catherine, pressed him to stay. Clark considered their entreaties, but when interesting job possibilities began to arrive, the temptation was too much. Clark indicated that he may write, teach or engage in international work. Friends say that he may head a new social-policy think-tank. He said at his Calgary press conference that he does not plan to return to politics—unless, he added with a grin, he decides to run for mayor in his native High River, Alta. “Politics is an all-consuming career,” he said. “I have other things to do; it is time to do them.”

Clark appeared comfortable contemplating his new destiny. As the minister told his Calgary news conference: “Not running again reduces my influence in public life, but it doesn’t take me entirely out of it. I’m worried about the state of our national institutions, including the national media. I want to enlarge the debate.”

Those tributes were bittersweet for a politician who spent much of his early political life taking the measure of his enemies. Bom in the small farming community of High River, the son of the publisher of the local newspaper, Clark’s own career was set in 1956, when he won the local Rotary Club public speaking contest. The prize was a trip to Ottawa, where a furious partisan debate over the building of a transCanada natural gas pipeline was raging in Parliament. Clark was captivated. And after earning a master’s degree in political science from the University of Alberta—earlier, he dropped out of law school—he joined the Conservatives in Ottawa as an aide to then-leader Robert Stanfield. In 1967, he ran for the provincial Tories in Calgary South and lost. Finally, in 1972, when he was 33 but already a veteran backroom politician, he won a seat in the Commons.

When Clark won the leadership four years later, he was an ambitious, relatively untested MP. Many older caucus members could scarcely conceal their skepticism about his leadership mettle. His hero, former prime minister John Diefenbaker, was almost contemptuous. But Clark went on to defeat Pierre Trudeau and form a minority government in 1979, declaring that he would govern as if he had a majority. Nine months later, his government fell on a budget that would have imposed an 18-cent-agallon tax increase on gasoline—and a Liberal landslide followed. For the next three years, Clark and Mulroney, his former leadership rival, waged a bitter struggle for control of the party machinery, which culminated in the 1983 leadership contest. When Clark lost, many MPs expected that he would retire. Instead, he stayed, pledging his loyalty to his former foe. Said Thomas d’Aquino, president of the Business Council on National Issues and Clark’s roommate when they were University of British Columbia law students: “It is almost as though Joe has a wire inside of him that bends and turns but never breaks.”

That inner strength saved Clark’s reputation—and his career. For more than six years after Mulroney’s 1984 landslide victory, Clark served as minister of external affairs, a portfolio that he demanded from the Prime Minister in return for unflagging support. His performance on the international scene was nearflawless: the naive prime minister who faced derision in 1979 for his proposal to move the Canadian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was, by 1990, a seasoned diplomat.

But Clark’s greatest challenge was his attempt to bridge the constitutional gulf that separated Quebec and the rest of the country. With persistent private brokering and public eloquence, he forged a fragile alliance to build what he initially called “a historic agreement”—a phrase that he later admitted was perhaps an exaggeration. Clearly worried about the potential reaction to the Clark agreement in Quebec, Mulroney subsequently described it as simply a “meeting of minds.” After the collapse of the Charlottetown deal, a close Clark friend told Maclean s: “After all the trials of his political career, the failure of the constitutional accord took the spark out of his eyes.” That spark may have dimmed but it has not been extinguished: Clark will travel to China this month to make a speech and then go to India to make another. Those could be the actions of a politician in a reflective mood—or one honing his talents for yet another fight.

E. KAYE FULTON in Ottawa with

JOHN HOWSE