Trudeau leaves Clark in dust, even in low gear

Perhaps because the polls, both public and private, indicated he was virtually assured of victory, Canada's opposition Liberal Party leader Pierre Trudeau has waged a distinctly low-profile campaign this year.

To Hubert Bauch, writing in Montreal's Gazette, it has seemed "like a football team killing the clock late in the fourth quarter."

Last month the Liberal leader rejected a proposed television debate with Prime Minister Joe Clark and New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent (whose support he would need in a minority government), because it would be in the form of a press conference and involve journalists.

"Utter contempt for democracy," snapped Mr. Clark who, under pressure from the Liberals, took part in a televised debate before the last election. Political analysts here point out that Mr. Trudeau uses television when it suits his purpose. Though scorning it now, he embraced it eagerly for his 1968 campaign, they say.

Throughout this campaign Pierre Trudeau has all but shunned the press. When a reporter asked him recently why he refused to talk to the media, he retorted irritably: "I'll talk to the press when I want to, not when you want [me] to." Concluded Mr. Bauch in his Gazette article: "During this campaign the press is strictly excess baggage as far as Liberal fortunes are concerned."

In Peterborough to support a Liberal candidate for a parliamentary seat, Mr. Trudeau was introduced as "one of the most brilliant prime ministers Canada has ever had." He seemed something less that morning.

Looking pale and drawn, he delivered a lackluster speech from a prepared text in a bored monotone. He mechanically attacked Joe Clark's "ill-conceived and inequitable budget" and warned of the "disastrous effect it would have had on Canada if we had alowed it to be put into effect."

Observing that the budget proposal to add 20 cents per gallon to the cost of gasoline would have sent inflation "through the roof," he pledged not to reintroduce it if he won the election. "The Clark government had a chance and they blew it," he declared with a little more fire.

It was a speech Mr. Trudeau has made many times before, apparently with no greater zest. The "Trudeau-mania" of 1968 -- when the Liberal leader first came to power -- has been nowhere evident in this campaign. But Mr. Trudeau can crackle with the old ebullient brilliance on occasions and retains a matinee idol allure for many.

"It is as though Trudeau has taken that vital part of himself that first captivated the country and stuck it away in a closet, leaving a sleep-walking shell of Pierre Trudeau to stalk the hustings," Mr. Bauch observed.

Mr. Trudeau's decision to run again was, by all accounts, an agonizing decision. "It was not my desire to lead again, but my colleagues and myself saw it as my duty," he admitted.

But Trudeau's record in power is by no means unassailable. He proved unequal to the task of curbing inflation and unemployment, and during his premiership Canada went from being a net exporter of oil to being a net importer.

Many observers feel that Joe Clark gained power last May because Canadians were thoroughly disillusioned with Pierre Trudeau. Now they feel that Mr. Trudeau may regain power only because the electorate is thoroughly disillusioned with Joe Clark.

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