Joe Clark may have handed over the keys to 24 Sussex Drive more than 33 years ago, but he hasn’t stopped caring about Canada.
In fact, he’s worried about the current state of the union. The man who became Canada’s youngest-ever prime minister at age 39 in 1979 believes our international position and reputation as an agent of change and advocate for diplomacy and peace around the world has fallen off significantly, particularly under the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"I think that Canada has a quite distinct and proud international tradition, which relied on being strong on military and economic matters but also strong on diplomacy and development," he said.
"In the last five, six years, we have emphasized the military and economic, as we have to, but we have let the role we could play in diplomacy and development decline. And that’s been happening at a time when the importance of those qualities is larger in the world that is taking shape than it was before."
Clark came to town as part of his cross-Canada tour in support of his new book, How We Lead: Canada In A Century Of Change. He kicked things off Wednesday afternoon with a 40-minute-long question-and-answer session at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café and followed that up with an event at McNally Robinson Booksellers at Grant Park Shopping Centre.
Clark lead the Progressive Conservatives to a minority government in 1979, defeating the Pierre Trudeau-led Liberals.
Nine months later, however, his government fell on a non-confidence motion and Trudeau swept back to power with a majority in the subsequent election in 1980.
Clark, 74, is also worried about the state of his profession and what implications that will have for Canada if politics isn’t able to attract intelligent, driven and charismatic talent.
"I think the behaviour of politicians has to change. I think there needs to be more openness. I think there’s far too much partisanship," he said.
While the expenses-related scandal in the Senate continues to be a hot topic in Ottawa, he believes politicians need to look at other parliamentary systems to see if greater latitude can be built in so MPs can act beyond party lines.
"(The Senate scandal) is a serious issue. It has opened questions about this being a well-managed government. It has challenged their reputation for being able to manage problems," he said.
"(Prime Minister Harper) has more power and exercises more power than any prime minister I’ve known in Canada."
Clark also weighed in on the ever-growing scandal revolving around Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
"It’s a personal tragedy. It indicates there is a failure in our systems to be able to deal with this. What is most alarming to people in the long term isn’t the outrageous behaviour of an individual but more that there doesn’t seem to be any way to deal with that. There should be ways to deal with these issues in society," he said.