Joe Clark

Joe Clark

A Portrait

Book - 1978
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Publisher: [Ottawa] : Deneau & Greenberg, c1978.
ISBN: 9780888790040
Branch Call Number: 921 C5929h
Characteristics: 276 p., [8] leaves of plates : ill., ports. ; 22 cm.


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Feb 12, 2019

It says something about how Conservative politicians tend to be ignored by biographers in this country that except for another 1978 book by Michael Nolan this is the only book about Joe Clark in the OPL holdings, in sharp contrast to OPL’s vast list of books on Pierre Trudeau, the Liberal PM that Clark defeated in the 1979 federal election. So there is no book that covers the bulk of Clark’s Parliamentary career, which saw him go on to serve as PM, Minister of External Affairs, up until 2004, more than a quarter of a century after the events described in this book.
Journalist David Humphreys is a friend of Clark’s so the book gains from numerous personal recollections of Joe Clark, and quotes from letters that Humphreys received from him. The letters show that Clark has considerable skill as a writer, and can be quite witty. Since Clark is almost the archetype of the politician who has never done much but politics occupationally it is a little surprising that Clark seems to have been undecided for so long what he wanted to do with his life. Clark did dismally in law school, never getting a law degree, but in constitutional law he scored the highest mark in his year.
This is a personal as well as a political biography, and the political portions are political with a capital P, and are likely to be of more interest to poli sci majors than the general reader. Much of the book is concerned with the 1976 Progressive Conservative leadership, which was covered much more entertainingly in the 1976 book “Winners, Losers” by Robert Chodos and others. Clark’s opponents for the leadership don’t emerge as individuals as they do so memorably in the book by Chodos et al. The loss is particularly felt with Mulroney, who would make Clark his Foreign Affairs Minister. We are told that Clark outperformed Mulroney in a debate in Toronto, but are offered no details. I remember a folk group with a pretty female vocalist performing the song “Old Joe Clark” with modified lyrics at the conference venue. It was clever, and set the Clark team apart from the rest of the crowd. Chodos et al mention the group, but Humphreys doesn’t.
This is not a book for people interested in policy issues, particularly economic issues. Apparently Clark had a one-and-a-half hour briefing by Robert Wright, a University of Calgary economics professor, the same day he complained to an aide that he lacked a background. One wonders if this was really enough. Bank of Canada Governor Gerald Bouey gave his Saskatoon Manifesto speech in 1975, the year before Clark won the leadership, setting the central bank on a path of targeting the M1 monetary aggregate that would be in place while Clark was PM and persist for a while even after Trudeau had returned to office. However, the book contains not a single mention of the Bank of Canada. Similarly, while there are vague references to pipelines, the report of the Berger commission on northern pipelines, issued in 1977, is nowhere mentioned in the book.

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