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APRIL 30, 1983 – Progressive Conservative Party Leadership Campaign Debate, Massey Hall, Toronto

Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark pass silently in the back corridors of Massey Hall, in the nervous minutes prior to start of the P.C. Party Leadership Debate in Toronto.

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Photograph of Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney crossing paths at leadership debate / Copyright (c) 1983 by William C. Stratas. All Rights Reserved.

Following its defeat in the February 1980 election, the Progressive Conservative Party under its leader, Joe Clark, suffered several years of vicious internal strife over leadership. Formidable forces in the party were stalking Clark, ready to defeat him for having mishandled his nine-month term of government, from June 1979 to early March 1980.

Those forces had their opportunity at the national P.C. Party meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba in late January 1983, where Clark resigned following a 66 percent vote of confidence from party delegates, and called for a leadership convention. With substantial support and resources marshalled on his side, Clark simultaneously declared that he would be a candidate at that convention, set for June 1983, in Ottawa.

Regional debates were organized by the party in several cities, bringing the seven leadership candidates face-to-face with delegates and members across Canada. The televised debate in Toronto held greatest anticipation, since supporters of leadership candidate Brian Mulroney, a notable Montreal business executive, were well-funded, confident, growing in numbers, and itching to flex new-found political muscle.

In the backstage corridors of Massey Hall, the venerable Toronto concert hall that served as the location for this televised confrontation, handlers and advance people nervously stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their competing colleagues. Each of seven leadership candidates was assigned a small room for final preparations and briefings, but in the cramped backstage surroundings it was impossible to segregate them at all times.

In one supremely awkward encounter, minutes before start of the debate as candidates were moving about, Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark passed each other with deliberate avoidance in the east stage corridor — silently, swiftly, tensely. Unknown at the time, the 'EXIT DOOR' sign on the back wall foreshadowed exactly where Clark was heading six weeks later with his courageous attempt to regain his party's confidence and leadership at the national convention in June: Brian Mulroney, in; Joe Clark, exit, stage right.

AUDIO COMMENTARY: The photographer, William Stratas, recounts his luck at grabbing this extraordinary photograph (2:10)

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