Childhood & Early Life
Charles Joseph 'Joe' Clark was born on June 5, 1939, in High River, Alberta, to local newspaper publisher, Charles A. Clark, and his wife Grace Roselyn, a school teacher. His parents first met while studying at the University of Alberta, and subsequently married in 1937.
After completing school, he attended the University of Alberta, from where he completed his bachelor's degree in history in 1960 and his master's degree in political science in 1963. From 1965 to 1967, he served as a political science teacher at the university.
During his school years, he became interested in journalism while working for the local newspapers 'High River Times' and the 'Calgary Albertan'. After entering university, he worked for the student newspaper, 'The Gateway', and later became its editor-in-chief. He also worked at the 'Edmonton Journal' and 'The Canadian Press' for one summer each and even considered a career in journalism.
He sought to earn a law degree at the Dalhousie Law School and at University of British Columbia Faculty of Law in Vancouver, but both times his active participation in politics hampered his studies. He served as the president of the Progressive Conservative Youth wing for two terms and then became a fulltime party worker.
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An admirer of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, Joe Clark was interested in politics from an early age and actively participated in political debates during his time as the national president for the Young PCs (Progressive Conservatives) group. However, his attempt at running as a candidate for the Progressive Conservatives in the 1967 provincial election resulted in a failure.
He was elected to Parliament as the MP for Rocky Mountain in the Canadian federal election of 1972 and won the party leadership in 1976 following the resignation of the then party leader Robert Stanfield. Clark, who was only 36 at the time, became the youngest-ever leader of a major federal party in the history of Canadian politics, an achievement he still holds.
Initially mocked by the media for his frail figure and clumsiness, he reshaped his party by enlisting the help of experienced staffer members and went on to earn the respect of the common people. During the 1979 elections, when the Liberal government was unpopular after failing to rein in budget deficit, high inflation, and unemployment, he snatched the opportunity and managed to win 136 seats to topple his opponent.
Ending the 16-year-long Liberal rule in Canada, he formed a minority government, becoming Canada's youngest prime minister on June 4, 1979, one day before his 40th birthday. However, his own government fell on a motion of non-confidence vote following a new proposed budget that was rejected by the House of Commons.
His party was confident of winning the 1980 reelections after the opposition leader, Pierre Trudeau, expressed his wish to step down. However, Trudeau cancelled his resignation eventually and once again assumed leadership of his party, which swayed voters to his side due to their disappointment with the PC government that failed to keep election promises.
Following the loss in the 1980 election, he started to lose ground in the party and his position as the leader was challenged as 33.5% of the delegates supported a leadership review at the party's 1981 convention. Witnessing a similar trend in the 1983 party convention, he declared that two-thirds majority was not enough and called for a leadership convention in which challenger Brian Mulroney won the leadership of the party.
In the 1984 election, Mulroney won by a huge margin, following which Clark served in his cabinet as the Secretary of State for External Affairs. He served as the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada for two years from April 1991 and around the same time became the Minister responsible for Constitutional Affairs, drafting the attempted Charlottetown Accord.
The failure of the Charlottetown Accord nearly annihilated the party in 1993, following which he retired from politics and established his own consulting firm, Joe Clark and Associates, Ltd. He subsequently became a Regents' Lecturer in the Canadian Studies Program at the University of California, Berkeley, and published the book 'A Nation Too Good to Lose: Renewing the Purpose of Canada' in 1994.
He eventually came back from retirement in 1998 to retake the party leadership following a teleconference vote by PC members. He used his past experience to rebuild the party, which became the fourth-largest party in the House of Commons in May 2003.
Following the Progressive Conservative-Canadian Alliance merger in December 2003, he did not join the new Conservative Party of Canada, and remained a PC MP for the rest of the session. He has since then endorsed individual Liberal and Conservative candidates, and continues to exercise his experience in foreign affairs.