Joe Clark still a class act
|Former Prime Minister Joe Clark stands next to his official portrait following an unveiling ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 27.|
Former prime minister Joe Clark always gave beautiful speeches, especially in his time as Canada's constitutional affairs minister. I followed Clark in those years, across the country through 1991-92, and wrote a book on the whole adventure of the Charlottetown Accord. I never got tired of listening to Clark's speeches. And that's saying something. Most political speeches – then and now – are horribly dull.
Today, at his official portrait unveiling, Clark didn't disappoint. He spoke of the importance of respect in politics and I'm sure there were many in the room, like me, who got choked up at the end – when Clark also seemed to overcome with the emotion of it all. It was made all the more poignant by the presence of his wife, Maureen McTeer, his daughter, Catherine, son-in-law Chad Schella and – the scene-stealer, two-year-old granddaughter Alexandra.
Clark's portrait, by the way, is quite lovely – a simple, elegant depiction of a younger Clark in the House of Commons, making a familiar gesture of emphasis with his outstretched hand.
There have already been media stories about Prime Minister Stephen Harper's absence from this event (he's in Europe).
But important members of his cabinet were there – notably Senate leader Marjory LeBreton, who delivered official, and warm remarks, and Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
Justin Trudeau, son of the late prime minister, was in the crowd – no doubt in part to represent Clark's old adversary of the 1970s and early 1980s. LeBreton took friendly note of his presence, apologizing to him for having to note that Joe Clark is the only Conservative politician who ever delivered a defeat to Trudeau.
The crowd was a who's who of Ottawa, past and present, all evoking a more civil time in the nation's politics, befitting Clark's legacy. People from different parties sat shoulder to shoulder; old friends from across party lines warmly hugged one another as they crowded into the seats.
Former prime minister Paul Martin was in the front row, along with Liberal leader Stéphane Dion. Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and Green Party leader Elizabeth May also showed up. Throughout the room were former Conservative cabinet ministers, a healthy dose of Liberals, and of course those who've been in both camps – MPs Scott Brison and Garth Turner, for instance.
It's too bad there aren't more events like this in Ottawa. Everyone walked away from that event feeling very good.