JOE CLARK WAS OVERRATEDFebruary 26th, 1993
Given their interweaving over 35 years in the Tory party one sees why much has been made of the Joe Clark-Brian Mulroney rivalry in the commentaries on their departures.
An old acquaintance was an aide to a minister in the Diefenbaker government. In the mid-’70s he told me of hiring a student for work in his minister’s office for the summer of ’58. Many names were put forward, he checked and interviewed, bringing the choice to either Joe Clark or Brian Mulroney.
Why did he choose Mulroney? His decision swung on two hunches. Mulroney had “more charm and smarts;” or as he elaborated, more interest in people and more political craftiness.
Both personal charm and craftiness can be dangerous. When widely recognized they become suspect, seen as a glaze over deceit and insincerity. This helps explain why most comparative appraisals have favored Joe Clark.
One veteran writer, Geoffrey Stevens, went so far as to say Clark was the most invaluable minister Mulroney had.
Once cannot argue Clark served Mulroney poorly. On the other hand, what choice did he have? He needed to rescue something of his reputation after a string of disastrous misjudgments.
One might say these began when he became prime minister in 1979 and insisted he would govern as if he had a majority, and they climaxed with his decision to accept a leadership race in 1983 even though he’d carried a confidence vote in convention. The margin was smaller than he felt he needed, but this was because of obvious skullduggery in delegate-packing by the tribunes of Brian Mulroney.
If Clark needed ministerial office in 1984 and got the prime one of External Affairs from Mulroney, did the latter have to have Clark? No!
Could Mulroney have created a united caucus without Clark in the cabinet and in a top post? Yes, although having him in the tent helped.
Clark was taken in because Mulroney has boundless confidence in his own leadership. He could have done without Clark, or given him something busy but lower-profile like Transport. Remember Clark was far from a hero to most of his 210 colleagues of the 1984 caucus.
As for Clark having been the indispensable minister for Mulroney, this is foolishness. Mulroney is crafty. On taking power he knew two MPs were indispensable – Erik Nielsen and Don Mazankowski. In the short run, Nielsen was crucial, first for his image as incorruptible in loyalty to leader (any leader!) and party, second because he’d led the caucus in the bridge time to the leadership convention and handled the House in Mulroney’s brief time in opposition.
Nielsen was a tough as a parliamentarian but he had neither disciples nor pals in the caucus, Mazankowski did. For years he’d been the Dutch uncle, the favorite, first counsellor to his colleagues.
Nielsen was to endanger re-election prospects in the first mandate because he was inflexible in managing the House and without any compensating camaraderie. A string of ministerial scandals, real and imaginary, blew up. These were exacerbated by the most ineffective Speaker in modern memory, John Bosley.
In effect, Nielsen, and through him Mulroney, was buffaloed. The two fumbled away broad popularity and ambitions for for better political behavior. They mishandled both the nasty antics of the Rat Pack and the New Democrats’ desperate response to such Liberal recklessness with every possible device to slow legislation to a crawl.
It was Mazankowski, not Nielsen or Clark, who kept the caucus and the ministry together, particularly as the Western Tories writhed at House embarrassments and the evident stupidity and gross patronage of Quebec colleagues.
Mazankowski was Mulroney’s MacEachen, and even more useful than that wily one was to Trudeau. Why so? Because he’s always at hand, door open, or taking and making calls. He was and is genuinely the No. 2 in the government, not Joe Clark.
Source: BY DOUGLAS FISHER, TORONTO SUNTop
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