Joe Clark, community of communities, 1979

In this 1979 speech, Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark described Canada as a community of communities

Joe Clark had been involved in Progressive Conservative politics since childhood, and he won party leadership in 1976. He proposed a federation much more decentralized than that of Pierre Trudeau. Clark defined his concept of Canada as a “community of communities” in this speech during the federal election campaign in April 1979.

“We are fundamentally a community of communities”

Let me start with a compliment to my opponent. The one important thing Mr. Trudeau has done well in his eleven years is to make the national government attractive to large numbers of able French Canadians. He did that well because he knew personally the discomfort that French Canadians have felt in not being active at the centre of their national government. That discomfort continues, of course, but Mr. Trudeau has reduced it considerably and that is one tradition of his on which I and my party intend to build. What is important is that in that case he understood the problem.

Understanding complexity

I think a central cause of the general failure of his government is that he did not understand, and sometimes did not try to understand, other aspects of Canada’s very complex reality. Too often, he and the quite similar people he drew around him tried to change the country to fit their theory about what the country should be. In economic policy, in constitutional policy, in their attitude towards the instincts of the individual Canadian citizen, they have been governing against the nature of the nation.

To govern a nation, one must first understand it.

It’s typical, I think, that our official emblem — the maple leaf — is not indigenous to two of our provinces and two of our territories. For there are thousands of happy and productive Canadian citizens who are most at ease when they speak neither of our two official languages. We are a nation that is too big for simple symbols. Our preoccupation with the symbol of a single national identity has, in my judgment, obscured the great wealth we have in several local identities which are rich in themselves and which are skilled in getting along with others.

Community of communities

A second thing that is important is my view, and that of my party, that our economy in Canada is potentially one of the strongest in the world. We have in abundance resources which are elsewhere in short supply, whether of food or energy or minerals. Capital will come to us and come to us in ways that we can control. So will as much population as we want. Our challenge in this country is not to cope with scarcity; our challenge is to build on abundance. Other nations might well be forced, legitimately, to contemplate limits on growth, but our very different challenge here in Canada is to plan and to manage growth.

Finally, our people are ambitious. Whatever cultures we come from, whatever heritage we bring to these shores, we are all of us North American in aspiration. We want to build. We want to grow. Generally, the goals of Canadians are personal goals. A few people in our history have helped build our nation by consciously pursuing national goals, but many more have built this nation by pursuing the personal goals which the nature of this nation allows.

The personal goal of most Canadians has been freedom and some security for their family. That caused the settlement of new regions, caused the immigration of new citizens, caused the transplanting of old roots to new ground. A policy designed to make the nation grow must build upon and must not frustrate the instinct of most Canadians to build a stake for themselves.

Change in direction

So what we propose in this election campaign is not just a change in government, but a fundamental change in the very direction of this country, a change that would reflect the value of that cultural and regional diversity, that would build on the natural strengths of our economy, and would recognize that the best instrument of national achievement is the individual initiative of the private citizen and the private sector in this country.

Through the last decade, government has been properly concerned with services to citizens, and we now have a good basic system of services in place. But the challenge of this next decade is to make this nation grow in wealth and to make our people grow in understanding of the great good fortune that we have here in Canada.

We can do that . . .

Raising expectations

We intend to create in Canada an atmosphere in which the innovator and the entrepreneur are encouraged to go out and to build in the world. No one who travels in this country, no one who knows it, can escape being impressed mightily by the great potential that is here, and by the knowledge on the part of the people of Canada that we are a fortunate nation, a fortunate people of unparalleled potential.

The prime minister, for reasons that I don’t understand, has been suggesting that this is a time when people will have to lower their expectations. He is dead wrong about that. He is selling Canada short when he says that. This is a time for Canadians to raise their expectations. Only if our expectations are high will we go out and go to work to build. There is a great deal in this country to be confident about. There is no question in my mind nor in the minds of my colleagues. There is a tremendous potential upon which to build here in Canada. There is no doubt that the people of this country are seized with that spirit of potential. What we need is a government in Ottawa that will encourage and recognize how essential to our future it is that the policy, the attitude, the approach of government get in line with the attitude and the hopes of the people, that we have a government in Canada that is as confident and proud and as buoyant about the future of this country as are the people themselves.


Clark won election with a minority government in May 1979, and Trudeau announced his retirement. But when Clark’s government fell a mere nine months later, Trudeau staged a comeback.


Empire Club of Canada, April 19, 1979.

More information

The Canadian Encyclopedia, Joe Clark
CBC archives [Video: 2:05]: When Joe Clark became prime minister at age 39


Jeremy Gilbert, Creative Commons

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: