Prime Minister Clark
"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.
• See a CBC Archives clip featuring Clark on the first day of TV broadcasts from the House.
• Listen to a clip in which analysts debate Clark's prowess as a debater before the cameras.
• A maximum of five years may pass between general elections. The Liberals waited almost until their time was up to call the 1979 election.
• When the election was called in March 1979, Clark told reporters he was "quite sure" his party would win a majority. One month earlier, a Gallup poll put the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives in a dead heat with 39 and 38 per cent support, respectively.
• Clark, who had been assured of his party's support at a leadership review in November 1977, largely focused on attacking Trudeau's Liberals' economic record. His campaign also aimed to convince Canadians of the need for change.
• Though Clark was not in favour of the death penalty, restoring it was an "unofficial" pledge of some Tory candidates. Capital punishment had been outlawed in 1976, and many Tory candidates hoped to bring it back.
• With Quebec largely Liberal territory and the West divided by the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives, vote-rich Ontario was a major battleground in the election.
• Bill Davis, the long-time Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario, was a strong supporter of Clark's. In Hamilton, Davis told 1,800 supporters: "Only Joe Clark and our party can provide for the people of our province and this country the kind of strong central government this country deserves."
• The weekend before the election, the parties were still virtually tied. The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives each had 37.5 per cent, with the NDP at 19 per cent.
• The Liberals' support was much higher in Quebec, meaning the Tories were in the lead nationally.
• The Tories succeeded in running an error-free campaign. Considering the misgivings many voters had about Clark's abilities, this was crucial if the party hoped to win the election.
• The Progressive Conservatives won 57 of Ontario's 95 seats in the election. Their nationwide total of 136 was just seven seats shy of a majority.
• At 39, Clark was the youngest prime minister in Canadian history. Former prime minister John Diefenbaker, not a fan of Clark's, remarked: "Canada celebrated the [United Nations] Year of the Child by electing Joe Clark as prime minister."
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: May 23, 1979
Guest(s): Joe Clark
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Ann Medina
Last updated: September 18, 2013
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
All Clips from this Topic
The Progressive Conservative youth member pitches his party's merits t...
Scenes from the convention floor as Joe Clark wins the 1976 leadership...
A grassroots campaign wins Clark the Progressive Conservative leadersh...
New broadcasts from Parliament display Joe Clark's fast humour as lead...
Joe Clark battles with his wooden image, his comparative obscurity, an...
Conservative Joe Clark campaigns in Toronto in the 1979 election.
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