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Progressive Conservative leadership convention, 1983
The 1983 Progressive Conservative leadership convention was held on June 11, 1983 in Ottawa, Ontario to elect a leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The convention became necessary when Joe Clark, who had been leader of the party since the party's 1976 leadership convention, resigned in the face of widespread opposition within the party to his continued leadership.
At a national convention of the party in Winnipeg in January 1983, 66.9% of the delegates voted against a review of his leadership. Clark stated that the fact that 33.1% supported a review indicated that he did not have sufficient support within the party, and would seek a renewed mandate from the membership through a leadership convention. Many delegates believed that Clark, who had been prime minister of a minority government from June 1979 to February 1980, but who had lost the 1980 election, would be unable to lead the party to victory again.
At the party's 1981 convention, 33.5% of delegated supported a leadership review. The fact that Clark had been able to increase his support among party members by only 0.5% was likely a contirbuting factor to his decision to resign as leader.
- For detailed results, see Progressive Conservative leadership conventions
Brian Mulroney, who had lost to Clark at the 1976 leadership convention, was the early front-runner to replace Clark. As a businessperson, Mulroney attracted much of the party's right wing who were opposed to the continued leadership of Clark They considered Clark to be too much of a Red Tory (i.e., a progressive). Mulroney also attracted party members who believed that the fluently bilingual Quebecer would enable the party to break the Liberal Party's stranglehold on Quebec seats in the House of Commons. Mulroney won the leadership, and the 1984 election, sweeping all provinces including Quebec. He later alienated the party's right wing by leading a relatively moderate government, and alienated the Quebec nationalists he had brought into the party by failing to amend the Canadian constitution to address Quebec's concerns.
John Crosbie, who had been Clark's Minister of Finance in 1979, was also an attractive candidate for the party's right wing, and attempted to distinguish himself by adopting what he called a continentalist platform, i.e., free trade with the United States of America. Crosbie, an accomplished debater, and known for his sense of humour, ran a strong campaign, but was hobbled by his inability to speak French, and by his small political base in Newfoundland and Labrador. Crosbie would later be Minister of Trade in Mulroney's government, and play an important role in the signing of a free trade agreement with the US.
Michael Wilson, who was a well-respected Bay Street banker and had been Minister of State for International Trade in Clark's government, attacted modest support within his home province of Ontario, and a smattering of support from other provinces. While Tories respected his financial acumen, he was an uninspiring speaker who struggled in French. He later became Mulroney's Minister of Finance.
David Crombie, the former mayor of Toronto, and another minister in Clark's cabinet, attracted Red Tories who opposed Clark's leadership, but was unable to build significantly on his Toronto base of support.
Mercurial and controversial Alberta businessperson Peter Pocklington ran a campaign based on strict adherence to the principles of free enterprise, and attracted party members with a more libertarian bent.
John Gamble, the Member of Parliament for York North, a riding north of Toronto managed to attract a small band of supporters with a hard-line right-wing platform. Gamble had been an out-spoken critic of Clark, and had hoped to parlay his role in Clark's downfall into a strong showing at the convention and a role in a future Conservative cabinet. Gamble's poor showing, and his later controverisal comments, led Tories in his riding to join forces with Liberals to support popular municipal councillor Tony Roman as an independent 'Coalition candidate'. Gamble received little support from the PC Party in the 1984 election, and lost to Roman. Gamble was later affiliated with groups suspected of having white supremacist tendancies.
Neil Fraser managed to get himself and four supporters delegateships to the convention to continue his campaign against the implementation of the metric system in Canada. Fraser's anti-metric campaign was based on the slogan, 'Your freedom to measure is a measure of your freedom'. Conservative Party members did not buy this nonsense any more than other Canadians, and Fraser had little impact on the party or the convention.
Montreal lawyer and former party president Peter Blaikie had also announced his intention to seek the leadership, but withdrew before the race got underway. Some of his Quebec supporters declared their support for Michael Wilson. Blaikie had also launched a campaign for the leadership in 1976 convention and withdrawn.
Toronto party member Jim Wilson placed full page colour advertisements in the Globe and Mail newspaper announcing his candidacy, but failed to secure enough signatures of party members on his reguistration papers to be a candidate at the convention.
The convention and aftermath
Delegates selected for the convention were generally believed to be either supporters of Joe Clark, or 'ABCs', i.e., they would support 'Anybody But Clark'. For this reason, it was believed that Clark would have to score very close to 50% on the first ballot in order to regain the leadership. His first ballot vote fell considerably short of that mark, and most believed that the writing was on the wall for Clark at that point.
As more and more candidates withdrew and declared their support for Mulroney, a Mulroney victory appeared to be inevitable. Some Clark supporters considered moving to Crosbie in order to prevent a Mulroney victory, but in the end, most appeared to remain loyal to Clark. Crosbie was not an appealing candidate for most Clark supporters because of his right-wing policy positions and his lack of ability in French.
The two party conventions in 1983 were very divisive for the PC Party as they set those loyal to the party's leader against those who believed that change was necessary for the party to win. While these divisions were pushed aside by the euphoria over Mulroney's massive victory in the 1984 election, the divisions lingered for many years.
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