1976 Progressive Conservative Leadership

1976 Progressive Conservative Leadership

February 22, 1976

Ottawa Civic Centre

Robert Stanfield’s retirement after three election defeats led to another multi-ballot convention.


The Conservatives had not had a leader from Quebec since Sir John Abbott in 1891-92. This time the province produced two major hopefuls.

Claude Wagner was the perceived frontrunner and represented the party’s right wing as a former provincial cabinet minister. Montreal lawyer Brian Mulroney hoped to overcome his lack of electoral experience with a strong campaign team and the support of leading party figures such as hockey powerbroker Alan Eagleson.

Elsewhere, Alberta MP Joe Clark had initial support from within his home province, with smaller blocs from Ontario and Quebec. Organizers hoped for 300 first-ballot votes and support from Red Tories on later ballots.

Ontario MP Flora MacDonald, the first woman to make a major run for the party leadership, also hoped to represent moderates after being elected to Parliament in 1972.

Former Liberal minister Paul Hellyer, who joined the Conservatives in 1972, sought to exploit his experience in government.


Tory delegates returned to Ottawa's Lansdowne Park, site of the 1938, 1948 and 1956 leadership conventions.

Clark gained momentum during a 30-minute policy session two days prior to the vote.

Speeches began at 2:30p.m. Saturday. Each candidate had 20 minutes for a presentation.

Said Clark: “Canadians don’t want to know what we are against, they want to know what we are for.”


Voting began Sunday at 12:04p.m. at 20 polling stations inside the Civic Centre. Ninety minutes was scheduled for each ballot.

Clark became the preferred alternative to Wagner. Sinclair Stevens supported Clark. Mulroney did not pledge support to either Clark or Wagner.

Mulroney refused to support his fellow Quebec candidate after a bitter competition for delegates.

Clark bested Wagner by 65 votes on the final ballot. His first reaction was to be “delighted” at the outcome and congratulate Wagner for a hard-fought campaign.


  • The candidates were asked to keep their hospitality suites closed during the tributes to Diefenbaker and Stanfield.
  • Stanfield urged the party to reject “ideological confrontation and polarization.” Diefenbaker called for a leader with experience in Parliament.
  • Clark’s campaign budget was $168,353, compared to $266,000 for Wagner and at least $343,000 for Mulroney. Horner, Hellyer, Stevens, and Gillies also spent more than Clark, according to political scientist John C. Courtney (Do Conventions Matter? Choosing Party Leaders in Canada).
  • Nearly four million Canadians watched part of the vote on Feb. 22, according to Courtney, representing 25.3% of Canada's adult population.
  • Of the 2,581 delegates, 28.7% were from the West, 30.8% from Ontario, 24.7% from Quebec, and 15.6% from Atlantic Canada.