Meeting the last good prime minister

Michael
Michael Johansen
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"O Canada, our blue and blighted land. …" Many, many years ago - in what today seems like a fairytale country - two young men stood on the steps of one of the side entrances to the Houses of Parliament in Ottawa and just waited for a couple of hours.
"Shrewd unseemly greed, in all our wallets command. …"
Long-haired, poorly shaven and shabbily dressed (but gainfully employed in the Trudeau-era Katimavik program), we had no business being there, insofar as we had no appointment with any MP, senator or civil servant - especially not near midnight as it was.
"We will cheer for you, as long as you win gold. …"
We were up to no mischief, as much as we might have looked like we were. We were simply waiting for a friend, an ex-participant who may or may not have gotten our letter asking him to be there. Out of all the places we could arrange to meet someone in Ottawa, we chose those steps for the obvious reasons: Parliament Hill is central, easy to find, free to get in (at least, at that hour, onto the grounds) and, since it was public land, we, as citizens, had as much right to be there whenever we wanted as anybody else.
"But if you get arrested abroad you can forget it. …"
Clearly we were right. Nobody molested us, or questioned us, or even looked our way. If any police saw us, they apparently didn't consider us a threat of any sort, since we didn't see anyone in uniform - not an RCMP officer and not even a security guard. In fact, the first official person we saw was when the thick, metal-studded wooden doors opened behind us and Joe Clark stepped out into the night.
"From right to even righter. …"
At that time in his life, the Right Honourable Joseph Clark had already been the 16th prime minister of Canada, but - having lost his minority government to a Liberal who wasn't as power-shy as the current crop - he was then leader of the Opposition.
Despite being an important man at the heart of Canadian democracy, however, he was all alone when he finished his long day of work and walked into the mild spring night.
"O Canada, we stand on guard if it suits us. …"
Clark may have been surprised to see us, but he didn't appear startled or in any way nervous or afraid. Nor did he have a reason to be. Who could wish harm to Joe Who? Certainly not us; we were pleased by the brief and unexpected encounter.
"Good evening, boys!" he said with a smile as he passed us down the stairs and continued on his way.
"God keep Reform alive and free. …"
If Joe had anyone to fear in those days, it was himself. It was his own integrity - the unwavering quality that has won him the lasting admiration and goodwill of many Canadians and of many from outside the country - that was to do him in as head of the Progressive Conservatives within a very short time. He forced himself to call for a leadership convention when his approval rating was a mere two per cent below the 75 he vowed beforehand that he needed.
Even though most reasonable people declared it was good enough and urged him to give himself a break, he stepped down.
"O Canada, give us our majority. …"
Clark lost the subsequent contest, but, never a sore loser, he stayed on to support his successor to the best of his high ability, becoming one of the most respected, balanced and effective foreign ministers Canada has ever known.
"O Canada, please, please give us our majority."
There was a place for Joe Clark, even in Brian Mulroney's government, because nobody could question his commitment to Canada and to the country's good reputation abroad. Sadly, there's no place for him in today's minority Conservative rule for the very same reason - no matter that Canada needs a man like Joe more than ever to remind those in the PMO that public good is not achieved through private greed for power.

Michael Johansen has gone into travel mode. For the next few months, he'll be writing from everywhere between Labrador and Vancouver Island.

Organizations: RCMP, Progressive Conservatives

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada, Labrador Vancouver Island

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  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Thank you Michael for that honest and forthright opinion of Joe Clarke . I have a personal story about Joe that keeps him ever the consummate human being . Having followed your writings over the years , it comes as no surprise that you would see the same qualities in Joe Clarke as I did ..

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    Thank you Michael for that honest and forthright opinion of Joe Clarke . I have a personal story about Joe that keeps him ever the consummate human being . Having followed your writings over the years , it comes as no surprise that you would see the same qualities in Joe Clarke as I did ..