“Joe Who?”

The headline of the Toronto Star on February 22, 1976, following the come-from-behind victory of the relatively unknown Joe Clark on the fourth ballot (having finished third on the first ballot) at the Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention in Ottawa. Though Clark won the subsequent election and became Canada’s 16th Prime Minister, the Joe Who? moniker dogged him throughout his career as leader of the PCs. Rival Pierre Trudeau took it one step further, branding Clark “Head Waiter to the Provinces” over his supposed vision of Canada as a “Community of Communities.”

From Clark’s ill-fated, luggage-losing world tour as Opposition Leader to the premature defeat of his minority government after only six months in office in December 1979, the Joe Who? label was a recurring symbol of his hapless leadership.

Since then the “Joe Who?” question is asked when an unknown is promoted suddenly to political prominence.

The epithet came back into use as Erin O’Toole unexpectedly became Leader of the Conservative Party and the Official Opposition in August 2020.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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