Introduction to the Right Honourable Joe Clark


22 October 2009

Good evening. It is an honour and pleasure to introduce this year's MacEachen lecturer, the Right Honourable Joe Clark. Mr. Clark has had a distinguished career as a journalist, politician, businessman, university professor and statesman. Born in High River, Alberta and earning a BA and MA in Political Science at the University of Alberta, Mr. Clark got the political bug early and hard. He was head of the young PC's at the U of A, later president of the youth wing of the national Progressive Conservative Party and worked for several years as an assistant to the Honourable Robert Stanfield, of course, a favourite son here. He was elected to Parliament for the first time at the age of 32 in 1972 and as Steve just mentioned, he got re-elected no less than seven times. Imagine that! Except for a brief stint as Member of Parliament for Kings-Hants here in Nova Scotia a few years ago, he represented the Alberta foothills ridings of Rocky Mountain and Yellowhead continuously from 1972 until 1993 and later as MP for Calgary Centre, from 2000-2004 (if I have these dates correct). In 1979, of course, he entered the history books by being sworn in as the 16th Prime Minister of Canada, the youngest person every to hold that post. And what is particularly rare in Canadian politics, after being Prime Minister he went on to serve with distinction in the cabinet of another Prime Minister, of course Brian Mulroney, where he was the minister of what we now call Foreign Affairs (then Secretary of State for External Affairs) for six and a half years, from 1984 to 1991. Now Steve and I are putting our heads together and we think that second only to Lester Pearson he has the record as the longest serving Minister of Foreign Affairs in Canadian history. Not bad - good company. And then he was Minister of Constitutional Affairs in 1991-1992 in that same Brian Mulroney cabinet. He served twice as leader of her majesty's loyal opposition, from 1976-1979, and from 1980-1983. And twice as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, from 1976 to 1983, and from 1998 to 2003. So our guest tonight is obviously a man of many political seasons. And as befits a retired politician and statesman, he must be a forgiving man. Otherwise, why would he come here to Antigonish to give the Allan J. MacEachen Lecture in honour of a political opponent who helped engineer the defeat of his government over the budget on that fateful night in December 1979?

However, I would not have this opportunity go by without drawing attention briefly to three signature characteristics of Joe Clark's political career. First, his politics fit that distinctly Canadian label, if you forgive me for saying it, as a ‘Red Tory’. One may call it a progressive or moderate conservatism. It can be defined as a respect for tradition and order, tempered strongly with a belief in the role of the state in national development, support for the welfare state as a necessary correction to market failures and an openness to new forms of rights and equality especially where it enables an individual enterprise and initiative to be rewarded. It is an ideology that is inclusive, rather than exclusive, moderate rather than extreme and leads to governing for all Canadians rather than just for your own camp.

Secondly, Mr. Clark brought into political life a finely honed sense of constitutional morality and principle. Based on that same red toryism, he has been respectful of our past as a country yet accommodating to its future. As Leader of the Opposition in 1980-81, I'll remind you that he opposed Pierre Trudeau's unilaterial plan to revise the constitution, as damaging to the federal principle and to the rights of the provinces. And his actions in delaying parliamentary passage of the proposals so the Supreme Court could render its judgement, forced the government of the day back to the bargaining table with the provinces. This resulted, in the view of many, in a much more balanced constitutional package. Later on, when on the governing side in 1991, after the collapse of the Meech Lake Accord, Mr. Clark heroically achieved that extremely difficult compromise of the Charlottetown Accord, balancing as it did Quebec's distinct society, an elected senate and aboriginal self government, among many other issues. Now that agreement ultimately failed to get the support of the majority of Canadians in the referendum in 1992, but Joe Clark's efforts played a huge role in getting Canada through the shoals of a major national unity crisis. Now I know that many feel, and no doubt Mr. Clark feels, that in some respects that's water under the bridge. But as Winston Churchill might have said, “some water, some bridge”.

So Joe Clark has stood for a strong Canada built through strong provinces and strong regions. Let us not forget that it was he who first took the political gamble to propose a just settlement of the offshore resources dispute with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, leading ultimately to the Atlantic Accord signed in 1985. His vision of Canada is one with a famous quote "community of communities" on which one Prime Minister who shall be nameless, heaped scorn. But in my view, that phrase, 'community of communities' still has considerable staying power as an accurate description of Canada as it was, as it is and as it will be.

Finally, we have Joe Clark as falling in the best tradition of Canadian diplomacy and internationalism. In his long term as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he both protected Canada's real interests with our most important partners such as the United States, but also reflected Canadian values in the leadership he showed on issues such as apartheid South Africa and promoting political pluralism in places such as Nicaragua. The government which he represented strongly believed in the multilaterial exercise of Canada's soft power, of making the most of our fortunate position as simutaniously a member of the G7, the Commonwealth, the Franophonie, NATO, the Organizaton of the American States, among many others. He showed us how to use foreign policy as an asset, a theme which he will speak on tonight, so I need not say anything more on that.

Currently, Mr. Clark is president of Joe Clark and Associates, an international consulting firm based in Canada. He is the executive chairman of Clark Sustainable Resources Development Limited, a Canadian company harvesting the forests beneath Lake Volta in Ghana which is a fascinating topic which he told our students about this afternoon and perhaps you'll have another opportunity to do so. He is a professor of practice for private-public sector partnerships at the Centre for Developing Areas Studies at McGill University. He has served most recently as co-chair of an initiative to involve the private sector in education in Haiti. He has been the co-leader of a number of election observation visits and missions to places like Lebanon (in May), and led the NDI election observation team in the 2007 presidental election in Nigeria. From his biographical notes, there is a long list of other foundations, advsiory boards and councils, where Mr. Clark gives so generously of his time and his experience. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada, a member of the Alberta Order of Excellance, Commandeau de l'ordre de la Pléiade awarded by Francophone countries, and he has been awarded several honorary degrees.

Ladies and gentlemen, students and members of the St. F. X. community, I present tonight's Allan J. MacEachen lecturer, the Right Honourable Joe Clark.


Political Science Department

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