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Joe Clark
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Joe Clark

The Rt. Hon. Joe Clark
Rank:16th
Term:June 4, 1979 - March 3 1980
Predecessor:Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Successor:Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Date of Birth:June 5, 1939
Place of Birth:High River, Alberta
Spouse:Maureen McTeer
Profession:politician
Political Party:Progressive Conservative

Charles Joseph Clark (born June 5, 1939) was the sixteenth prime minister of Canada from June 4, 1979, to March 2, 1980, and a prominent Canadian politician until his retirement in 2004. He was born in High River, Alberta.

Joe Clark was the son of the publisher of the local newspaper and attended local schools and the University of Alberta, where he earned a bachelor's and a master's degree in political science. He went on to study law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was active in student politics and eventually left law school to work full time for the Progressive Conservative Party.

Joe Clark is married to Maureen McTeer, a well-known author and lawyer. Their daughter, Catherine, is an Art History graduate from the University of Toronto.

Table of contents
1 Political career

Political career

Politically active at the Progressive Conservative Party convention in 1976 Clark was a compromise English-speaking candidate. He won as most of the delegates from English Canada moved to him when their favourites were defeated.

Joe Clark's rapid rise from a relatively unknown Alberta MP to the Leader of the Opposition took much of Canada by surprise. The Toronto Star announced Clark's victory with a headline that read "Joe Who?" giving Clark a nickname that stuck for years. Much joking was made of Clark's clumsiness and awkward mannerisms. Skinny and tall, editorial cartoonists portrayed him as a sort of walking candy apple, with an enormous head and floppy dog-like ears. Initially, it seemed unlikely that a man that was the source of so much mockery could ever hope to compete against the confident and intellectual Pierre Trudeau.

However, Clark remained belligerent in his attacks on the Trudeau government, angrily clashing with the prime minister in Parliament. Trudeau's attempts to brush off Clark were seen by many Canadians as examples of the pompous attitude of a prime minister who had taken his position for granted.

Prime Minister

Clark's efforts would prove successful and on June 4, 1979, at age 39, he became Canada's youngest prime minister, after defeating Trudeau's Liberal government in the general election of May 1979. Clark was the first Conservative to head Canada's federal government since the defeat of John Diefenbaker in 1963.

With his party winning only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, Clark had to rely on the support of the Social Credit Party with its 6 seats or the New Democratic Party with its 26 seats. Without this support, he was subject to defeat by the Liberals at any time.

Social Credit was below the 12 seats needed for official party status in the Canadian House of Commons. However, the six seats would have been just enough to give Clark's government a majority had the Progressive Conservatives formed a coalition government with Social Credit or had the two parties otherwise agreed to work together.

Clark's government refused to even grant the small Social Credit caucus official party status, however, let alone form a coalition or co-operate with the party in any way leading to the government's fall in December 1979. The Liberals voted with the NDP on the motion, moved by NDP MP Bob Rae while the Social Credit caucus abstained, thus ensuring the vote's passage. Though Clark was criticized for his "inability to do math" in failing to predict the vote, at the same time the collapse was at least partially welcomed by his party. When a new election was called, the PC Party expected to receive a large majority.

During the 1979 election campaign. Clark had promised to cut taxes to stimulate the economy. However, once in office he adopted a budget designed to curb inflation by slowing economic activity, and he also proposed additional taxes to help conserve energy. Though Clark had hoped this change in policy would work to his advantage, it actually earned him widespread animosity as a politician who could not keep his promises, even in such a short period. The February 1980 election swept Trudeau and the Liberal party back into power with 146 seats, against 103 for Clark and the Progressive Conservatives.


Joe Clark during his second term as Tory leader in 2001

Mulroney Years

In 1983, after declaring that an endorsement by 66 per cent of delegates at the party's biennial convention was "not enough," Clark called a Progressive Conservative leadership convention to decide the issue. After a heated campaign, he led on the first three ballots before losing on the final ballot to arch-rival Brian Mulroney who would go on to be elected Prime Minister in 1984.

Despite their personal differences, Clark served in Mulroney's cabinet, first as Secretary of State for External Affairs, then as President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister responsible for Constitutional Affairs. The latter position saw him play a leading role in the drafting of the failed Charlottetown Accord. He retired from politics in 1993, sidestepping the PC meltdown that occurred in the elections of that year.

Second PC Leadership

In 1998, Clark returned as leader of the Progressive Conservatives after the previous leader, Jean Charest, left federal politics to become leader of the Quebec Liberal Party (unaffiliated with the federal Liberals). Clark was elected as Member of Parliament for Kings—Hants, Nova Scotia, in a by-election on September 11, 2000, and in the general election two months later for Calgary Centre, Alberta.

Clark announced his intention to step down as PC leader on August 6, 2002, and was replaced by Peter MacKay on May 31, 2003. Although Clark and Mulroney had long been perceived as bitter opponents, Mulroney's speech at the 2003 convention praised Clark as an honest and admirable leader who had the distinction of being the only Prime Minister in recent memory who, even when he failed, was always respected, and never hated, by the Canadian public.

On December 8, 2003, the day that the Progressive Conservatives merged with the Canadian Alliance to incorporate the new Conservative Party of Canada, Clark was one of three MPs -- the other two were André Bachand and John Herron -- to announce that they would not join the new caucus. Clark announced that he would sit for the remainder of the session as a Progressive Conservative MP after which he will retire from Parliament. Later, Clark openly critcized the new Conservative party in the runnup to the 2004 election. He backed Liberal leader, Paul Martin, saying that Canadians should trust "the devil they know" over Stephen Harper. Clark also spoke against the new Conservative party as an Alliance takeover, and that Eastern Canada would not accept the new party or its more socially conservative policies against gay marriage and abortion. Although the Conservatives gained some seats in Eastern Canada, most of them remained in Liberal hands, with most in Quebec going to the Bloc Quebecois.


Preceded by:
Pierre Trudeau
1968-1979
Prime Minister of Canada
1979-1980
Followed by:
Pierre Trudeau
1980-1984

Progressive Conservative leaders
Preceded by:
Robert Stanfield
First leadership (1976-1983) Followed by:
Erik Nielsen
Preceded by:
Elsie Wayne
Second leadership (1998-2003) Followed by:
Peter MacKay

Preceded by:
Eric Lowther, Reform
Member of Parliament for Calgary Centre
(2000-2004)
Succeeded by:
federal riding abolished in 2003
Preceded by:
Scott Brison, PC
Member of Parliament for Kings—Hants
(2000)
Succeeded by:
Scott Brison, PC
Preceded by:
federal riding created in 1976
Member of Parliament for Yellowhead
(1979-1993)
Succeeded by:
Cliff Breitkreuz, Reform
Preceded by:
Allen B. Sulatycky, Liberal
Member of Parliament for Rocky Mountain
(1972-1979)
Succeeded by:
federal riding abolished in 1976