Canadian teenagers are progressive

The Interregnum: Progressive Conservative Government, 1979-80

In the late 1970s, the glamor of the Trudeau regime waned and its policies became confused. The bilingual initiative was pushed beyond tolerance and hastily cut off in English Canada before even the federal civil service was completely reorganized. A victory of the Québécois Party in the provincial elections in Quebec in November 1976 revived the question of separatism in Quebec. Though the Parti Québécois victory was largely due to the corruption and mismanagement of the Bourassa government, it took advantage of its position by pushing for a separation, at least in the form of a limited independence known as the Union of Sovereignty - an arrangement in which Quebec retains the economic advantages of a federation with Canada (eg, a common currency, central bank, and free trade area) but also has the cultural and social advantages of political independence.

The reason for this slow but powerful reversal of much of what Trudeau had stood for was the vast expansion of capabilities and power in provincial governments. There has been a steady expansion of provincial jurisdiction (particularly in the area of ​​welfare), an expansion in income and expenditure, and a growing sense of local importance, which was in part encouraged in the constitutional instrument of the Federal Provincial Conference. In 1975 the provinces jointly spent more of their gross national product than the federal government for the first time. The federal government had now become less powerful than the jointly acting provinces, as increasingly tended to do so, and by 1979 all but one of the provinces had elected the conservative or opposition governments.

Trudeau had won a solid majority in the 1968 general election, but after that much of his power base began to disintegrate in western Canada, Ontario, and the Atlantic provinces. His popularity was undermined by his almost constant preoccupation with Quebec and Quebec-related issues, coupled with his apparent lack of sympathy for regional issues. In 1972 the Liberals were re-elected with a minority government, and Trudeau was forced to rely on the support of the Social Democratic New Democratic Party (NDP). Although he managed to reshape a majority in 1974, his victory was as much a consequence of dissatisfaction with the progressive conservative opposition as an indication of his popularity. In fact, the next five years will be a period of sharp decline in Liberal support. Trudeau's wage and price controls alienated organized labor; his advocacy of greater government intervention in the economy angered business; and his constant efforts to impose Ottawa's will on the provincial governments disrupted voters in Atlantic Canada and the West. In May 1979 Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark took power with a minority government.

Clark was under 40 when he was elected and the youngest Canadian Prime Minister of all time. His youthful inexperience was shown in foreign policy missteps, and his domestic agenda - which included budget austerity and the privatization of Petro-Canada - did not find broad support. Perhaps his most serious mistake, however, was attempting to raise federal gasoline taxes to increase Ottawa's share of oil profits that had resulted from the rise in energy prices and to help conserve gasoline. When Clark's budget with the tax was rejected in December 1979, his government was defeated.