Ottawa — Months of gruelling political strife have left Canadians stunned and disconcerted but with little apparent loss of faith in the national leader, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Mr. Trudeau is under attack from povincial governments across the country for his administration's handling of constitutional and energy matters. Yet he appears to have suffered not the slightest decline in public popularity in the 10 months since he was reelected prime minister last February.
By contrast, Joe Clark, Mr. Trudeau's major opponent among national political figures, has failed to capitalize on the widespread unease Canandians feel about the viability of their troubled federal system and about the economy. In fact, Mr. Clark faces a real risk of being dumped ignominiously from the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party next year.
Earlier this week, just as the nation's political pundits were pronouncing that Mr. Trudeau was in trouble with the electorate, a Gallup poll showed Mr. Trudeau's Liberal Party continues to hold a wide margin of popularity over the Conservatives.
The poll results shattered a growing consensus among political observers that Mr. Trudeau had damaged his public standing by pushing too hard and too fast to bring about reforms of Canada's Constitution and overhaul the country's energy policies.
This twofold effort has led the Trudeau government into a sometimes vicious political battle with many of Canada's 10 powerful provincial governors, Mr. Trudeau's critics claim the prime minister, nearing the end of a long political carrer, has discarded Canada's traditional consensus politics in a final attempt to reinstate the primacy of the central government over the provinces.
For Mr. Clark, the most recent poll must come as a disheartening jolt. The Conservative leader has been struggling to recover from his starting turnabout of fortunes, which saw him lose the prime minister's office to Mr. Trudeau last February after only nine months of Conservative government.
Ordinarily, Mr. Clark, who became the Conservative Party leader in 1976, would be given another chance to oppose the Liberals in the next national election. But there has been a growing movement in the party to oust Mr. Clark on the basis that his personal stature is not high enough among Canadians.
The test will come in February at the Conservative national convention. If Mr. Clark fails to do well in the required vote of confidence on the convention floor, he may be obligated to call a leadership convention later in the year.
The Conservatives will certainly want to avoid a possibly damaging internal feud in February. But there are increasing indications from within the party that even this fear may not overcome the pressure to end what many consider the ineffectual leadership of Mr. Clark.
With this in mind, Mr. Clark has made every effort to take advantage of the political storm that Trudeau has stirred up with his energy and constitutional initiatives. Mr. Clark has presented himself as the defender of the provincial governments in a desperate struggle to maintain Canada's traditional democratic processes against the alleged power- mongering of the Trudeau government.
But, despite widespread dismay over the domestic political wrangling unleashed by the Trudeau government's moves, Canadians have so far shown little evidence that they think Mr. Clark would have a better chance of keeping the country together than Mr. Trudeau.