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An honourable member

"Joe Who?" read a newspaper headline when Alberta's Joe Clark claimed the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives in 1976. Three years later, Clark became Canada's youngest prime minister, at age 39, but his minority government lasted just nine months. Forced out as leader in 1983, Clark took on high-profile cabinet posts in foreign affairs and constitutional change. In 1998, he returned to lead the decimated Tories and fight off efforts to unite the right. CBC Archives looks at Joe Clark's life in politics.

"What can you do with a guy who throws away some of your best lines?" Joe Clark, speechwriter, once asked in reference to his boss, Progressive Conservative Leader Robert Stanfield. In 1972, after a failed run for provincial office and a gig in the federal Tory backrooms, Clark is finally writing his "best lines" for himself as an MP. This CBC documentary segment looks back on the early days in Ottawa for the new member for Rocky Mountain.

One of Clark's first acts was to hire a bright young assistant named Maureen McTeer. She came into the job with plenty of experience in the party and on political campaigns. In less than a year, they were married. At the same time, Clark was shaping his political persona. In this clip, Clark's family, his biographer, his staff and the man himself describe the political philosophy of Joe Clark.
• Joe Clark first ran as a candidate for the Alberta Conservatives in the 1967 provincial election. He and his campaign team actively sought out potential supporters by knocking on doors – a novel method pioneered by the provincial NDP. In the staunchly Social Credit province, candidates were accustomed to getting elected by attending a few meetings and tea receptions.
• Clark lost the Calgary South riding by 462 votes – a remarkable result for a virtual unknown.

• After working on the unsuccessful federal Progressive Conservative leadership campaign of Davie Fulton in 1967, Clark was offered a job by the man who won – Robert Stanfield.
• Clark became a speechwriter for Stanfield and helped shape his strategy as leader. The two got to know each other quite well. "I considered [Clark] too highly strung and nervous to be a practising politician," Stanfield told Clark's biographer in 1978.
See a CBC Archives profile of Stanfield featuring scenes with Clark.

• In May 1970, Clark left his job with Stanfield and departed for a break in London. There he worked on his master's thesis – on the subject of innovation in political conventions – and followed British politics.
• Clark also went to France to continue working on his French (he had already taken an immersion course in Ottawa). To a friend he wrote: "I have a limited competence, and can generally make myself understood – I even bought a coat-hanger."

• In 1971, Clark returned to Alberta and set his sights once again on becoming an elected politician – this time in the federal riding of Rocky Mountain. The riding did not include his hometown of High River but was close to it. High River was already held by a Tory, and Clark wanted a riding he could wrest from the Liberals.

• During a harsh winter, Clark visited the many small towns in the riding to drum up support. Nomination meetings were held in a succession of 10 towns, and many of the meetings turned combative. The other two candidates were mortal enemies, and when both attacked Clark, he joked that anyone who could get them to agree "must have something going for him."
• Clark won on the second ballot, aided by a system that favoured voters' second choices.

• In the election that followed, in October 1972, Clark's main opponent was Liberal Allen Sulatycky. He was parliamentary secretary to Jean Chrétien, minister of Indian Affairs.
• Clark's highly organized campaign team divided Rocky Mountain into 12 zones, each with its own campaign manager and poll captains.

• Clark worked 17-hour days, knocking on doors to drum up the vote. Polling showed that Sulatycky had more name recognition at 21 per cent, but Clark was not far behind with 15 per cent.
• When the results came in, Clark won by a margin of just over 5,000 votes.

• In late 1972, Clark hired 20-year-old Maureen McTeer as his research assistant. The daughter of John McTeer, an eastern Ontario politician, she had been involved in politics since age 12.
• The pair soon embarked on a romance, and in June 1973 they were married.
• McTeer opted to keep her surname after marriage, a decision that later would earn them both criticism from conservative elements in the party and the public.

• Soon after marrying, McTeer went to law school at the University of Ottawa and became an outspoken advocate for women's and children's rights.
• In the 1988 federal election, McTeer ran for office as the Progressive Conservative candidate in the Ottawa riding of Carleton-Gloucester. She lost to Liberal Eugène Bellemare.
Watch a 1983 CBC Archives profile of McTeer and her life in the spotlight as Clark's wife.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television Special
Broadcast Date: May 24, 1979
Guest(s): Peter Clark, Marcia Clark, Grace Clark, Joe Clark, David Humphreys, Maureen McTeer, Hazel Strouts
Host: James Gray
Duration: 8:00
Film credit: Carlton University

Last updated: January 16, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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