1979 Canadian federal election
The 1979 Canadian federal election was held on May 22, 1979, to elect members of the House of Commons of Canada of the 31st Parliament of Canada. It resulted in the defeat of the Liberal Party of Canada after 11 years in power under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Joe Clark led the Progressive Conservative Party to power but with only a minority of seats in the House of Commons. The Liberals, however, beat the Progressive Conservatives in the overall popular vote by more than 400,000 votes (40.11% to 35.89%). At 39, Clark became the youngest Prime Minister in Canadian history.
The PC Party campaigned on the slogans, "Let's get Canada working again", and "It's time for a change – give the future a chance!" Canadians were not, however, sufficiently confident in the young Joe Clark to give him a majority in the House of Commons. Quebec, in particular, was unwilling to support Clark and elected only two PC Members of Parliament (MPs) in the province's 75 ridings. Clark, relatively unknown when elected as PC leader at the 1976 PC Party convention, was seen as being bumbling and unsure. Clark had had problems with certain right-wing members of his caucus. In particular, when Clark's riding was merged into the riding of another PC MP during a redistribution of ridings, the other MP refused to step aside, and Clark ended up running in another riding. Also, when Clark undertook a tour of the Middle East to show his ability to handle foreign affairs issues, his luggage was lost, and Clark appeared to be uncomfortable with the issues being discussed.
The Liberals tried to make leadership and Clark's inexperience the issue by arguing in their advertising, "This is no time for on-the-job training" and "We need tough leadership to keep Canada growing. A leader must be a leader."
The Social Credit Party of Canada, which had lost its mercurial leader, Réal Caouette, who died in 1976, struggled to remain relevant. After a series of interim leaders, including Caouette's son, the party turned to Fabien Roy, a popular member of the National Assembly of Quebec, who took the reins of the party just before the beginning of the campaign. The party won the tacit support of the separatist Parti Québécois, which formed the government of Quebec. Social Credit attempted to rally the separatist and nationalist vote: Canadian flags were absent at its campaign kick-off rally, and the party's slogan was C'est à notre tour ("It's our turn"), which was reminiscent of the popular separatist anthem Gens du pays, which includes the chorus, "C'est votre tour, de vous laisser parler d'amour". The party focused its platform on constitutional change, which promised to fight to abolish the federal government's constitutional power to disallow any provincial legislation and stated that each province has a "right to choose its own destiny within Canada."
The Socreds' support from the Parti Québécois was not welcome by everyone; for instance, Gilles Caouette publicly denounced what he called péquistes déguisés en créditistes ("péquistes disguised as Socreds"). While the party managed some increase of votes in péquiste areas, it also lost many votes in areas of traditional Socred strength, with the end result being a drop from eleven to six seats and a slightly reduced share of the popular vote compared to the 1974 election. (See also: .)
Clark's minority government lasted less than nine months. Clark required support from the Socreds to pass the 1979 budget but refused to work with them on ideological grounds, opting instead to "govern as though he had a majority." None of their demands being met, the Socreds refused to prop up the government. That resulted in the 1980 election in which the PCs were defeated by the resurgent Trudeau Liberals.
Clark won the popular vote in seven provinces, while losing the popular vote nationwide, and because his party won only two seats in Quebec, he won only a minority government. The Liberals won only one seat west of Manitoba. The election was the last in which the Social Credit Party of Canada won seats. An unusual event occurred in the Northwest Territories: the Liberals won the popular vote in the territory but won neither seat.