Community of Communities was a term used by former Prime Minister Joe Clark (1979-80) to describe his vision of Canada. In practice, Clark’s idea of a “community of communities” was shorthand for the provinces playing a larger role in the federation, with Ottawa sharing some of its powers. This proposed regionalism was in stark contrast to Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals, who advocated a strong federal government as the best guarantor of both individual rights and national unity. Clark began using the phrase shortly after winning the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1976.
Against the backdrop of the era’s constitutional and unity debates, Clark’s vision of a “Community of Communities” was both welcomed and shunned. Some embraced his ideas of shared federal-provincial authority – particularly Westerners – seeing it as both reflecting Canada’s realities and preserving national unity. Others rejected it; with Trudeau mocking it as a “Confederation of Shopping Centres” that reduced the role of the Prime Minister to “Head Waiter to the Provinces.” These debates dominated several election campaigns, most notably in 1979 (which saw Clark defeat Trudeau) and 1980 (which saw Trudeau topple Clark’s minority government and return to power.) While Trudeau’s “One Canada” was more successful – both at the polls and in Parliament – Clark’s “Community of Communities” continued to inform conservative orthodoxy and was reflected in the approach of his successor, Brian Mulroney.
Image credit: Northumberland News