Charles Joseph “Joe” Clark was born on June 5, 1939 to Grace and Joseph A. Clark of High River. He grew up in High River and graduated from High River High School. Mr. Clark obtained a B.A. degree in history in 1960 and a M.A. degree in political science in 1973 from the University of Alberta.
An interest in politics has always been a governing force in his life. His early work includes private secretary to then Alberta Progressive Conservative leader W. J. C. Kirby, 1959; national president of the Progressive Conservative Student Federation, 1962-64; a member of Premier Lougheed’s political organization, 1966-67; special assistant to the Honourable Davie Fulton, 1967; and executive assistant to the Honourable Robert Stanfield, 1967-70. From 1965 to 1967 he was a lecturer in political science at the University of Alberta.
Mr. Clark was first elected to the House of Commons in October 1972 representing the constituency of Rocky Mountain. From 1972 to 1974, he was the chairman of the Progressive Conservative Caucus Committee on Youth. He was re-elected to the House of Commons in 1974, and from 1974 to 1976 he was chairman of the Progressive Conservative Committee on the Environment.
In 1976, he was elected national leader of the Progressive Conservative party and served as Prime Minister of Canada from May 1979 to February 1980. At the age of 37, Mr. Clark was the youngest leader ever elected to head the national party, and at 40 he became the youngest Prime Minister of Canada in history.
The Clark administration adopted a determined stance in four areas: control of government spending and the encouragement of private sector growth; development of an energy self-sufficiency policy; the advancement of freedom of information legislation; and the strengthening of the consultative approach to federal/provincial relations.
Mr. Clark made important breakthroughs in Quebec. He learned to speak French, studied Quebec culture and went into that province often to seek support and to promote the unity of the country.
During his term as leader of the opposition from March 1980 to January 1983, some significant accomplishments were achieved. He successfully led his party in its efforts to ensure that Canada’s constitutional changes be more generally acceptable, particularly in Western Canada and in Quebec.
In the energy debate, Mr. Clark held the government to account for weakening Parliament and let the division bells ring until the government agreed to split its omnibus energy bill for more effective scrutiny by Parliament. In establishing the Via Rail Task Force, he challenged the government’s right to act without the usual form of public consultation on a matter of vital importance to large and small communities throughout Canada.
Through the task force on the budget and the economy, and by determined efforts in the House of Commons, Mr. Clark and his party forced the reversal of over fifty measures in the 1981 MacEachen budget. Mr. Clark demonstrated that on economic matters, Parliament and all Canadians must be consulted, and their economic activities understood, if the country is to have a positive economic future.
A strong believer in the populist philosophy, Mr. Clark attempted to make the House of Commons more responsible and credible by stimulating and increasing debate. He sought to forge agreement on the idea of Canada being a community of communities.
Mr. Clark was awarded an honourary doctorate of laws from the University of New Brunswick in May 1976, and has recently been named a fellow in the faculty of administrative studies at York University.
He married Maureen Anne McTeer in 1973, and they have one daughter.