1979 Canadian federal election

Last updated
1979 Canadian federal election
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg
  1974 May 22, 1979 1980  

282 seats in the House of Commons
142 seats needed for a majority
Turnout75.7% [1] (Increase2.svg4.7pp)
 First partySecond party
  JoeClark.jpg Pierre Trudeau (1975) cropped.jpg
Leader Joe Clark Pierre Trudeau
Party Progressive Conservative Liberal
Leader since February 22, 1976 April 6, 1968
Leader's seat Yellowhead Mount Royal
Last election95 seats, 35.46%141 seats, 43.15%
Seats before98133
Seats won136114
Seat changeIncrease2.svg38Decrease2.svg19
Popular vote4,111,6064,595,319
SwingIncrease2.svg0.43pp Decrease2.svg3.04pp

 Third partyFourth party
  Smiling ed (cropped).jpg
Leader Ed Broadbent Fabien Roy
Party New Democratic Social Credit
Leader since July 7, 1975 March 30, 1979
Leader's seat Oshawa Beauce
Last election16 seats, 15.44%11 seats, 5.06%
Seats before179
Seats won266
Seat changeIncrease2.svg9Decrease2.svg3
Popular vote2,048,988527,604
SwingIncrease2.svg2.45pp Decrease2.svg0.46pp

Canada 1979 Federal Election.svg
Popular vote by province, with graphs indicating the number of seats won. As this is an FPTP election, seat totals are not determined by popular vote by province but instead via results by each riding.

Chambre des Communes 1979.png
The Canadian parliament after the 1979 election

Prime Minister before election

Pierre Trudeau

Prime Minister after election

Joe Clark
Progressive Conservative

The 1979 Canadian federal election was held on May 22, 1979, to elect members of the House of Commons of Canada of the 31st Parliament of Canada. It resulted in the defeat of the Liberal Party of Canada after 11 years in power under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Joe Clark led the Progressive Conservative Party to power but with only a minority of seats in the House of Commons. The Liberals, however, beat the Progressive Conservatives in the overall popular vote by more than 400,000 votes (40.11% to 35.89%). Taking office on the eve of his 40th birthday, Clark became the youngest prime minister in Canadian history.



The PC Party campaigned on the slogans, "Let's get Canada working again", and "It's time for a change – give the future a chance!" Canadians were not, however, sufficiently confident in the young Joe Clark to give him a majority in the House of Commons. Quebec, in particular, was unwilling to support Clark and elected only two PC Members of Parliament (MPs) in the province's 75 ridings. Clark, relatively unknown when elected as PC leader at the 1976 PC Party convention, was seen as being bumbling and unsure. Clark had had problems with certain right-wing members of his caucus. In particular, when Clark's riding was merged into the riding of another PC MP during a redistribution of ridings, the other MP refused to step aside, and Clark ended up running in another riding. Also, when Clark undertook a tour of the Middle East to show his ability to handle foreign affairs issues, his luggage was lost, and Clark appeared to be uncomfortable with the issues being discussed.

The Liberals tried to make leadership and Clark's inexperience the issue by arguing in their advertising, "This is no time for on-the-job training" and "We need tough leadership to keep Canada growing. A leader must be a leader."

The Social Credit Party of Canada, which had lost its mercurial leader, Réal Caouette, who died in 1976, struggled to remain relevant. After a series of interim leaders, including Caouette's son, the party turned to Fabien Roy, a popular member of the National Assembly of Quebec, who took the reins of the party just before the beginning of the campaign. The party won the tacit support of the separatist Parti Québécois , which formed the government of Quebec. Social Credit attempted to rally the separatist and nationalist vote: Canadian flags were absent at its campaign kick-off rally, and the party's slogan was C'est à notre tour ("It's our turn"), which was reminiscent of the popular separatist anthem Gens du pays , which includes the chorus, "C'est votre tour, de vous laisser parler d'amour". The party focused its platform on constitutional change, which promised to fight to abolish the federal government's constitutional power to disallow any provincial legislation and stated that each province has a "right to choose its own destiny within Canada."

The Socreds' support from the Parti Québécois was not welcome by everyone; for instance, Gilles Caouette publicly denounced what he called péquistes déguisés en créditistes ("péquistes disguised as Socreds"). What remained of its support outside Quebec virtually disappeared, and while the party only suffered a marginal loss in its overall Quebec vote share, its support was much less efficiently distributed than before. The party managed some increase of votes in péquiste areas, but also lost many votes in areas of traditional Socred strength while much of the reduced PC vote share went to the Liberals. The end result was a drop from eleven to six seats. (See also: Social Credit Party candidates, 1979 Canadian federal election.)

Clark's minority government lasted less than nine months. Clark required support from the Socreds to pass the 1979 budget but refused to work with them on ideological grounds, opting instead to "govern as though he had a majority." [2] None of their demands being met, the Socreds refused to prop up the government. That resulted in the 1980 election in which the PCs were defeated by the resurgent Trudeau Liberals.

National results

Clark won the popular vote in seven provinces, while losing the popular vote nationwide, and because his party won only two seats in Quebec, he won only a minority government. The Liberals won only one seat west of Manitoba. The election was the last in which the Social Credit Party of Canada won seats. An unusual event occurred in the Northwest Territories: the Liberals won the popular vote in the territory but won neither seat.

1979 Canadian parliament.svg
Progressive ConservativeLiberalNDPSC
PartyParty leader# of
SeatsPopular vote
1974 Dissolution Elected% Change#%Change
  Progressive Conservative Joe Clark 2829598136+43.2%4,111,60635.89%+0.43pp
  Liberal Pierre Trudeau 282141133114−19.1%4,595,31940.11%−3.04pp
  New Democratic Party Ed Broadbent 282161726+62.5%2,048,98817.88%+2.45pp
Social Credit Fabien Roy 1031196−45.5%527,6044.61%−0.46pp
Rhinoceros Cornelius I 63  - 62,6010.55% 
  Union Populaire 69  - 19,5140.17% 
Libertarian Alex Eaglesham 60  - 16,0420.14% 
Marxist–Leninist Hardial Bains 144----14,2310.12%−0.05pp
Communist William Kashtan 71----9,1410.08%−0.05pp
 No affiliation1----176xx
Total 1,424 265265 282+6.8% 11,457,008 100.00% 
Sources: http://www.elections.ca History of Federal Ridings since 1867


"% change" refers to change from previous election.

x − less than 0.005% of the popular vote.

Vote and seat summaries

Popular vote
Social Credit
Seat totals
Social Credit

Results by province

Party name BC AB SK MB ON QC NB NS PE NL NT YK Total
  Progressive Conservative Seats:1921107572484211136
 Popular Vote:44.365.641.243.441.813.540.045.452.827.732.340.635.9
  Liberal Seats:1--2326762-4--114
  New Democratic Party Seats:8-456--1-11-26
  Social Credit Seats:-----6      6
 Vote:      4.6
Total seats:28211414957510114721282
Parties that won no seats
Rhinoceros Vote:xx   xx1.9      0.5
 IndependentVote:  1.6 0.3
 UnknownVote:0.10.2xxxxxx0.5 xx    0.2
  Union Populaire Vote:     0.6      0.2
Libertarian Vote:xxxx  0.30.1  xx   0.1
Marxist–Leninist Vote: xx    0.1
Communist Vote:0.20.1xx0.10.10.1 xx    0.1
 No affiliationVote:xxxxxxxxxx       xx

xx – less than 0.05% of the popular vote.


See also

Articles on parties' candidates in this election:

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  1. Pomfret, R. "Voter Turnout at Federal Elections and Referendums". Elections Canada. Elections Canada. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  2. 1979 Canadian Federal Election Debate, archived from the original on 2021-12-21, retrieved 2020-06-20

Further reading