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Uneasy alliance

"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.

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Can Canada's two right-of-centre parties ever resolve their differences? According to John Reynolds of the Canadian Alliance, there's been no merger of the two because Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark is dragging his feet. But Clark disagrees. He says he, too, wants to form a new national party that can challenge the Liberals. As he tells the CBC radio program The House, he's interested in building a broad coalition focused on democratic reform. 
• In May 1999, Reform Party Leader Preston Manning launched the first formal effort to unite his party with the Progressive Conservatives – and win seats in Ontario – by creating the United Alternative.
• Manning also began courting Joe Clark and his Progressive Conservatives in an effort to join the two parties, but Clark resisted. Instead, Clark invited former Reformers over to his party.

• "The Reform Party has made a lot of important changes in the country, but it has gone as far as it can go," said Clark in June 1999. "We would welcome working with people who want to carry on that work."
• In essence, each party was looking to win over supporters from the other rather than uniting to form an altogether new entity.

• In January 2000, Manning's United Alternative became known as the Canadian Alliance. Two months later, members of the old Reform Party voted in a referendum to become part of the Canadian Alliance.
• "There is no sign that the Reform Party can make any gains under a new name that it was unable to make under a former name," Clark remarked. "In all the months, nothing, not a single thing, has changed except the name."

• The Canadian Alliance selected a new leader, Stockwell Day, in July 2000. Clark then challenged Day to run against him in a Calgary byelection. Day upped the ante by suggesting Clark would have to roll the federal Tories into the Canadian Alliance if Day won.
• Neither man ended up running for the Calgary seat in the byelection. Day ran in B.C.'s Okanagan-Coquihalla and Clark ran in a byelection in Kings-Hants, N.S.

• In the November 2000 federal election, Clark drew admiration for his performance in the leaders debate. A focus group of 30 people, brought together by the Ipsos-Reid polling firm, voted Clark the winner in the televised English-language debate.
• "More and more I think [Day] must be running for office as some kind of game-show host, not as the prime minister of the country," Clark said in the debate.

• Clark announced his retirement as leader in August 2002. (He continued to sit as an MP.) "I'm not against unity," he said soon after, "But I have learned how difficult it is. We come from different worlds… It would take a lot of hard work to bring us together."
• In May 2003, Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay became the new leader. He won the leadership after his opponent, David Orchard, extracted a promise that the Progressive Conservatives would never merge with the Canadian Alliance.

• In October 2003, MacKay's Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance, by then headed by Stephen Harper, announced their formal merger to become the Conservative Party of Canada.
• Clark was skeptical it would work. He said the new party might make short-term gains, but that MacKay was "closing down the only national party whose base is broad enough to provide a genuine alternative to Liberal governments."

• As the new conservative party under Stephen Harper was about to enter its first election, Clark said Canadians faced an "awful choice" between Liberal leader Paul Martin and Harper. See a CBC Archives clip in which Clark says Canadians should choose Martin over Harper.
• Clark retired from Parliament just before the 2004 election. See a CBC Archives clip of Clark's response to tributes he received from his colleagues in the House.

• In February 2006, the Globe and Mail reported that Clark's company, Clark Sustainable Resources Ltd., was close to signing on for a venture that would harvest old-growth and hardwood trees from underwater forests in the African nation of Ghana. The project would use Canadian technology to recover trees submerged by a 1957 hydroelectric project.
• In October 2006, Clark took on a teaching post at the Centre for Developing-Area Studies at McGill University.
Medium: Radio
Program: The House
Broadcast Date: Nov. 3, 2001
Guest(s): Joe Clark, John Reynolds
Host: Anthony Germain
Duration: 7:41

Last updated: January 16, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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