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On the leadership campaign trail with Joe Clark

The Story

Yellow is everywhere. On jaunty scarves and daffodils on lapels, the sunny colour adorns Joe Clark's supporters as they cheer on his bid to lead the federal Progressive Conservatives. To the eastern media establishment, Clark is a little-known MP from the West. But he's got pockets of support all across the country and some bright staffers on his campaign. This CBC-TV profile pieces together how Clark and his team pulled off his leadership victory. After the midnight parties, the cowboy hoedowns, marching bands and campaign speeches comes the voting. Clark was up against some considerable opponents: Montreal lawyer Brian Mulroney, Quebec judge Claude Wagner, and eight others. But the Quebec vote was split between Mulroney and Wagner, with the rival sides unwilling to support each other. As the safe second choice of many, Clark won on the fourth ballot. 

Medium: Television
Program: The Fifth Estate
Broadcast Date: Feb. 24, 1976
Guest(s): Dave King
Host: Adrienne Clarkson, Warner Troyer
Duration: 4:19

Did You know?

• Joe Clark easily won his seat of Rocky Mountain a second time in the June 1974 general election – by a margin of almost 10,000 votes.
• In August that year, Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield announced his resignation as leader.
• A group surrounding Clark encouraged him to run for the leadership. After carefully considering the possibility, gathering more supporters and polishing up his French, Clark decided to enter the race in October 1975.

• Clark was just 36 years old, and it sometimes showed. His advisers suggested he begin wearing three-piece suits instead of the two-piece suits with flared trousers he favoured.
• Some members of Clark's team considered boosting his image by playing up his non-political side. But Clark's focus was always to win over delegates by emphasizing the issues.
• Clark kicked off his campaign with an announcement in Edmonton, followed by another in Montreal, in French, the following day.

• The Journal de Montréal headline about Clark's announcement the next day was "Mr. Clark is bilingual – mostly in English."
• Clark's wife Maureen spoke fluent French, and she often helped him – some said corrected him – when he addressed French-speaking audiences.

• "Mr. Clark finds his main problem to overcome is the assumption that he is running for next time… With an organization that may make up in enthusiasm what it lacks in polish and manpower, he is running to win. If he falls short, he would be difficult to overlook for any Tory cabinet. And he is young enough and aggressive enough to be a powerful contender the next time around." – Geoffrey Stevens, Globe and Mail, Jan. 23, 1976

• The leadership convention took place in Ottawa in February 1976. Among the candidates, Clark was fifth to address the delegates.
• "Governments don't build countries. People do. But Canadians can build only if there is confidence in the integrity of government – and only when it is clear that the rules are the same for the powerful as they are for the rest of us." – Clark's speech to the delegates, Feb. 21, 1976

• Voting began on Sunday, Feb. 22. When the results of the first ballot came in, Clark had 277 votes, putting him in third place behind Claude Wagner and Brian Mulroney. He had counted on over 300 votes but also expected to place fourth or fifth.

• On the second ballot, Clark was in second with 532 votes in a field of eight candidates. Wagner led with 667 and Mulroney was in third with 419.
• On the third ballot, Wagner had 1,003 votes to Clark's 969 and Mulroney's 369.
• Mulroney then dropped out, declining to throw his delegates to either Clark or Wagner. Later, Mulroney explained: "If I supported Clark openly it would have looked like a conspiracy against a French-Canadian."

• After the fourth ballot, Clark and Wagner received word of the results before they were publicly announced. Clark had won with 1,187 votes; Wagner had 1,122.
• See an additional clip in which delegates, Wagner and Clark react when the results are read aloud.
• In his victory speech, Clark compared himself to the chinook, a wind that blows eastwards from the Rockies. "It's a warm wind that pushes back the cold wind," he said. "I'm a chinook."

• A headline in the Toronto Star the next day summed up its attitude towards the unknown politician from out West: "Joe Who?"
• "Mr. Clark won partly because he was lucky, partly because he had no enemies – but mainly because of a superior performance here." – Globe and Mail, Feb. 23, 1976
• Clark said his first priority was to "pull together the caucus, make sure that the small problems that emerge in a leadership campaign don't grow into large problems."


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