Last of a line
The play, 1979, by Michael Healey, is regularly described as a satire, but it is more than that. It is also a paean to Joe Clark who forty years ago lost a confidence vote and his job as prime minister. At the time, Clark was seen as a bumpkin and a fool. He was neither, as the play that recently finished a Toronto run, reminds us.
The play is also a comedy filled with great lines. “I’ve got Peter Lougheed riding me like a pony and it’s the last day at the Ex,” says Philip Riccio who stars as Clark and is on stage for the full ninety minutes. The other two actors cover off with elan the remaining characters that include Clark cabinet ministers Allan Lawrence, John Crosbie, and Flora MacDonald as well as Brian Mulroney, Stephen Harper, and Pierre Trudeau. At one point, Clark complains to Trudeau, “You don’t even know who I am.” Snaps Trudeau, “Whose fault is that?”
To be sure, if Clark had not been defeated, maybe Trudeau would not have made a comeback and brought home the constitution or Mulroney might not have achieved free trade. Who knows how history would have turned out? But aside from the history and the humour, there is something poignant – even a little depressing – about the play in which Clark is portrayed as a principled politician in a conniving world.
All I know is this: despite his brief nine-month term in office, Clark stands as tall as any of his successors. He was the last prime minister who acted, as Healey’s script has Clark say, “in the interests of the whole country whether they voted for me or not.” Which political leader does that today? None that come to mind.