Lincoln was the son of Francis Lincoln and Régina De Baize, a British colonial civil servant and his francophone wife, on the Indian Ocean colony of Mauritius. After studying insurance on the island and in Cape Town, South Africa, he immigrated to Canada in 1958 settling in Vancouver and then Montreal where he eventually became an insurance company executive.
He entered politics and was elected to the Quebec National Assembly in 1981 as a member of the Quebec Liberal Party. The Liberals took power as a result of the 1985 election and Lincoln was appointed to Robert Bourassa's cabinet as Minister of the Environment.
Lincoln resigned from cabinet in 1989, along with two other anglophone ministers, to protest the Bourassa government's language policy and its adoption of Bill 178 which invoked the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution in order to require French to be the dominant language on commercial signs.
He entered federal politics as a candidate in the 1990 Liberal leadership election but withdrew from the race when he was soundly defeated by a 3 to 1 margin in the February 12, 1990 Chambly federal by-election by Phil Edmonston of the New Democratic Party.
He won a seat in parliament in the 1993 federal election for Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis and was re-elected as the MP for Lac-Saint-Louis in 1997 and 2000 but was not appointed to Jean Chrétien's federal Cabinet despite initial expectations that he would become environment minister. He served as parliamentary secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of the Environment from 1993 until 1996. and as Chairman of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage from 1997 until 2004. In the latter role he authored a report on Canadian broadcasting, Our Cultural Sovereignty: The Second Century of Canadian Broadcasting but its recommendations were largely ignored by the government.
In December 2012, Lincoln released his memoir, Toward New Horizons, which chronicles his life in politics.
- Canada Gazette Part II, Vol. 138, No. 17
- "Biography". Dictionnaire des parlementaires du Québec de 1792 à nos jours (in French). National Assembly of Quebec.
- Clifford Lincoln – Parliament of Canada biography
- Documents on the Controversy Surrounding the Language of Commercial Signs in Quebec (Bill 178) December 1988 Clifford Lincoln's resignation speech, accessed December 26, 2005.
- Text of Bill 178, accessed December 26, 2005.
- Remember the Lincoln Report accessed December 26, 2005.