Canada picks Trudeau -- and new priorities

Two national elections within 12 months have shed surprisingly little light on the direction that Canada, with its deep cultural and regional divisions, will take in the 1980s.

Shortly after the May 1979 vote, the newly elected Progressive Conservatives announced they would not be bound by their campaign promises. In the campaign leading up to his overwhelming Liberal Party victory Feb. 18, Prime Minister-elect Trudeau went his Conservative rivals one better: He refused to reveal most of the details of the Liberal election platform.

Despite this silent treatment of the electorate by the Liberals, it is clear that Mr. Trudeau -- who returns to office with one of the strongest hands of any prime minister in recent decades -- plans significant domestic and foreign policy changes for Canada's future.

For one thing, as Mr. Trudeau served notice in his acceptance speech, the tone -- at least -- of Canada's relations with the United States will be sharply altered.

In keeping with a practice that angered some Canadians during his previous 11 years as prime minister, Mr. Trudeau sought to place Canada's special ties with the United States in the wider context of his country's role on the world stage.

"We're glad that our greatest friend of all is our closest neighbor," he stated. But he added pointedly that Canada's geographic location between the Soviet Union and the US means "the preservation of peace between these two powers" is a high priority for Canadians.

In doing so, Mr. Trudeau struck a contrast with his defeated opponent Joe Clark, who had throughout the campaign taken a strong stance alongside President Carter against Moscow's actions in Afghanistan, including a pledge to boycott the Olympic Games.

In contrast, Mr. Trudeau has said Canada should participate in a boycott only if there was widespread international support for such a move.

Also, the Liberals have in recent years talked much more about Canadian nationalism -- meaning placing limits on US ownership and economic influence in Canada -- than have the Conservatives under Mr. Clark.This campaign has been no exception. One of Mr. Trudeau's few detailed pledges was to beef up the existing government agency designed to limit foreign takeovers of Canadian companies.

With a clear majority in the House of Commons, the Liberals will be in a strong position to bring in pro-Canadian economic measures.

(The Liberals won 147 seats, the Conservatives 102, and the New Democrats 32. The Social Credit Party of Quebec, which won six seats in the last election, was shut out.)

Though the election was fought largely over Mr. Clark's planned steep rises in energy prices, it seems clear that Canadians, facing uncertainty on the world stage and deep conflict at home, have opted for a leader who, though not always liked, is respected and considered tough enough to cope with today's problems.

Mr. Trudeau promised to provide a fiscal framework that would reduce foreign ownership of the country's oil and gas industry to 50 percent by 1990 from the current 70 percent. Liberal policymakers also expect the new government to slap an export levy on recently expanded sales of natural gas to the US in order to hold down the federal budgetary deficit.

Not long ago, Mr. Trudeau was considered a political has-been. He was widely blamed for his party's loss to the Conservatives last May and put off his planned resignation as Liberal leader only because of the snap winter election.

His return to power, one of the most astounding political comebacks in Canadian history, was fashioned from the Liberals' traditional voter strength in Quebec Province, plus massive gains in Ontario and modest increases in seats in the Atlantic provinces.

Having lately been on the way out and now pledged to resign sometime before his five-year term as prime minister is up, Mr. Trudeau owes few political favors and can deal from strength as a national leader.

In effect, Canadians have set the stage for a titanic struggle between the central government and Canada's 10 provinces over the energy, economic, and cultural issues that threaten to split the country apart.

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