Charles Joseph Clark was Canada’s youngest prime minister when he took office before his 40th birthday. His short term put a temporary end to 16 years of Liberal rule. He later gained respect as a senior minister in the Progressive Conservative government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, particularly on the global stage.
Charles Joseph Clark Early Life and Career
The son of Grace (nee Welch) and Charles Clark, a newspaper editor, Joe Clark was educated in the University of Alberta at Edmonton where he received a BA in history and an MA in political science.
Throughout his time at the university, Clark chased his two passions of journalism and politics. He was editor of the student paper, The Gateway, and has been also nationwide Progressive Conservative (PC) student president. He lectured on political science at the university, also worked as a journalist at the CBC, the Calgary Herald and The Edmonton Journal.
Clark became a manager of organization for the Alberta PC party, but was defeated as a candidate at the 1967 provincial election.
In 1973, Clark married attorney Maureen McTeer. They have one child, Catherine.
At the national PC seminar of February 1976, Clark emerged from relative obscurity as the surprise beneficiary of an advanced consensus to win the party leadership, substituting Stanfield. Clark had little profile before becoming a leader, giving rise to the nickname”Joe Who?”
In the spring election of 1979, Clark ran on a small-c conservative platform that included tax and mortgage breaks along with also a proposal to privatize Petro-Canada, the federally-owned gas and oil firm generated by the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The PCs won the May election, defeating the Trudeau Liberals, and Clark became prime minister. Clark formed a minority government with 136 House of Commons seats, against 114 for the Liberals, 26 for the New Democratic Party and six for Social Credit.
Sworn into office on 4 June, one day before his 40th birthday, Clark became the nation’s youngest-ever prime minister.
Clark thought he could build public approval by governing as if he had a majority, with no co-operation in the New Democrats. This cost him the necessary support on key issues such as energy, Québec separatism, along with his mortgage interest credit bill. Although the small Social Credit caucus often supported Clark’s government in the Commons, it abstained in the most important vote of all: The six-month-old PC government fell on 13 December 1979, in a non-confidence vote on Finance Minister John Crosbie’s austerity budget.
In the ensuing 1980 election, Clark’s platform was almost the same as that of the last spring. The PCs were also surprised by Trudeau’s choice not to proceed with his planned resignation in politics, but to fight the election as Liberal leader. On 18 February, the Liberals won a majority, sweeping the PCs from office. Clark returned to the Commons as a pioneer of the Opposition.
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In Opposition, Clark successfully postponed Trudeau’s plans for patriating the Constitution in 1981, before the brand new Constitution may be assessed judicially along with also a federal-provincial compromise may be achieved.
At two nationwide PC party encounters, Clark received powerful support for his ongoing leadership — including almost 70 per cent support in a leadership review vote in 1983. Clark said this was not enough and called a leadership contest where he had been a candidate. A substantial minority of party members considered him too progressive and unlikely to win another election. In the direction vote of June 1983, Clark lost to Brian Mulroney.
External and Constitutional Affairs
Mulroney became prime minister the following year, and the PCs were back in power with a large majority government. Over the next six-and-a-half decades Clark would sit in cabinet as secretary of state for External Affairs. In addition to Mulroney, he steered Canadian foreign policy, including its aggressive support of this anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.
In April, 1991 Mulroney named Clark minister for constitutional affairs, together with the formidable job of patching together an arrangement with the provinces for constitutional renewal, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Meech Lake Accord.
Back in July, 1992 Clark and nine premiers announced they had reached a deal that included a chosen Senate. When the deal was met with a lukewarm response from the prime minister and the PC’s Québec caucus, the premiers and Clark tried again in August. This convention delivered yet another constitutional proposal, the so-called Charlottetown Accord. However, it was later rejected in a referendum, scuttling Clark and Mulroney’s hopes for satisfying the Québec government’s constitutional demands, also for solving the national unity question.
Citing exhaustion after the long constitutional debate, Clark announced in February 1993 that he would not run in the next election.
PC Leader Again
Five years after leaving politics, Clark took advantage of PC leader Jean Charest’s conclusion in the spring of 1998 to move to the Québec provincial Liberals. On 14 November, Clark was chosen federal PC leader once more at a national convention. His return came in a low point for the party, that was saddled with a $10-million debt and fifth-party status in the House of Commons. Clark did not encourage the United Alternative movement to make a partnership among right-wing celebrations, and he didn’t attend the February 1999 UA convention. Instead, in December 1998 he staged a Canadian Alternative Task Force as a mechanism to revive the PCs.
Clark returned to the House of Commons in September 2000 after winning a by-election at the riding of Kings-Hants, Nova Scotia. He had been re-elected again two weeks later in the general election as the MP for Calgary Centre. Clark’s PCs, however, won just 12 seats and remained in fifth-place from the Commons. In recent years that followeda merger was discussed with the leaders of this Canadian Alliance — at the time that the official Opposition.
Back in 2002, Clark announced his resignation as PC leader — but claimed his Commons seat — stating he comprehended that Canadians didn’t want him to lead them in the future. He was succeeded by Peter MacKay on 31 May 2003. MacKay would later organize a merger of the PCs together with the Canadian Alliance into the new Conservative Party of Canada.
Clark retired in the House of Commons in June 2004. He left Parliament as an independent MP, having refused to join the new recruits. On his final day as an MP, talking to reporters outside Parliament, he announced:”I’m really troubled by the disappearance of my celebration.”
Since leaving politics, Clark has directed international observer teams tackling hard elections in Pakistan, Dominican Republic, Cameroon, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon and Nigeria. He’s served as vice-chairman of the non-profit Global Management Foundation, a small group of former heads-of-state and diplomats who help the governments of developing nations by providing discreet advice and mentoring on governance.
He’s active in international organization, and has sat on the boards of directors of many businesses and charitable organizations, including Save the Children Canada. He is the president of Joe Clark and Associates, an international consulting company based in Ottawa.
He is also the author of 2 novels, Canada: A Nation Too Good to Eliminate (1994), and How We Lead: Canada at a Century of Change (2013).
He’s a founder of the Order of Canada, a member of the Alberta Order of Excellence and Commandeur at l’Ordre de la Pleiades — given by the Francophonie, the Global institution of metropolitan nations. Clark is also honorary leader of the Samson Cree First Nation. And he was the first recipient of the Vimy Award, presented to Canadian citizens who have made outstanding contributions to the safety of Canada and the preservation of its own democratic values.