Alternate Canadian History
Election 2004 - Joe Clark's Triumphant Return

This is a start of a short series. I am a writer and I love science fiction. I am also a political junkie. From that, it’s no stretch to look back on major events in Canadian political history and wonder, ‘what if’. In the lead-up to the May 2nd election, I’m going to post a few what ifs here on this blog. You’re welcome to comment or critique, or add in your own what-ifs in the comment section.

Be warned, though, that I am a writer. I love science fiction. And I have my own biases. You’ll probably find some of the scenarios I post here to be so highly unrealistic as to be laughable. If so, I hope it’s a good laugh, or that you appreciate at least the value of the post as fiction.

Joe Clark Victorious

Let’s start with 2004…

In the lead-up to the 2004 election, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party Joe Clark was receiving a lot of heat. All indications were that the newly minted Liberal leader, Paul Martin, was on his way to a Mulroney-level majority — a situation exacerbated by vote splitting on Martin’s right between Clark’s Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance Party, led by Stephen Harper.

But Clark stuck to his guns. To him, the Tories had no home in Harper’s hard right Canadian Alliance. He also felt that he had strengths to offer his own party. His own personal popularity with voters was higher than any other party leader. By staying as the leader of the Progressive Conservatives, he felt that he could place the party well to make significant gains in the 2008 election, once Paul Martin proved himself to be mortal.

To everyone’s surprise, the proof of Martin’s mortality came early, as the low level scandals occurring in Quebec coalesced around the Auditor General’s report and tarnished the Liberals’ image as a clean party. When Paul Martin went to the polls, the Progressive Conservatives discovered, to their surprise and delight, that they were fighting an election about integrity, and Joe Clark was seen by most Canadians of having more integrity than all the other party leaders combined.

The Liberals started with a strong lead, and focused their attacks on Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper, calling him out about his infamous “Alberta Firewall” comment and suggesting connections between the party and the Republicans. Clark took the high road, and voters gradually turned away from both the Liberals and the Canadian Alliance as Clark solidified his reputation as the adult in the room. Particularly surprising was support for the Progressive Conservatives that suddenly materialized in Quebec. By the time the Liberals and the Canadian Alliance turned their attention to Clark, he was already ahead, and their attacks sloughed off his mantle of honour and integrity.

Though it wasn’t a complete reversal of Kim Campbell’s Conservative loss of 1993, the numbers on election day were as big of a surprise as Bob Rae’s provincial victory back in 1990. The Liberal vote swung hard to the Progressive Conservatives, especially in Ontario, where the Tories got 70 seats. Even a handful Canadian Alliance strongholds fell, especially in Edmonton. In addition to support in Quebec, Atlantic Canada, British Columbia, and Clark’s own seat in Alberta, when the some cleared, Clark’s Tories were ahead with 115 seats, compared to the Canadian Alliance’s 69, the Liberals’ 65, the Bloc Quebecois’ 47 and the New Democrats’ 12.

Although Clark was the head of yet another minority parliament, it was a far less finely balanced one than the one he’d governed in 1979, and he learned enough from that experience to not govern as if he had a majority. On an issue-by-issue basis, all he had to win was support from either the Canadian Alliance, Liberals or the Bloc Quebecois to get his agenda passed. The Liberals were busy cannibalizing Paul Martin after his promised landslide had transformed to third-party status, and they weren’t in the mood to fight yet another election. Opposition leader Harper proved amenable to some of the Tory policies — especially with regard to improving transparency in government — so a stable minority ensued for the next two years, setting the stage for Joe Clark’s first majority government in 2007.

To come: 2008 and 2000.

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