Ottawa — Canada is watching intently as Quebec Premier Rene Levesque - whose career fluctuates between tremendous highs and lows - weathers another period of uncertainty as the leader of the French-Canadian nationalist movement.
Mr. Levesque's current troubles are underlined by the resignation of Claude Morin, a minister in the provincial Parti Quebecois government and an architect of the party's rise to power five years ago.
The Levesque government, which is commited to the principle that Quebec be separate from Canada, has been in a state of disarray since November when it refused to sign a new constitutional accord with the federal government.
Mr. Morin, the minister in charge of intergovernmental affairs, was widely blamed for the outcome of the talks, which left French-speaking Canadians feeling betrayed and more uncertain than ever about their place in the federation. Quebec was the only province that refused to sign the accord.
Mr. Morin said he was resigning because he could no longer fulfill the intergovernmental affairs job. In November a coalition of Quebec and seven of the nine English-speaking provinces dissolved when the English-speakers compromised with Prime Minister Trudeau on his drive to write a new constitution.
The coalition had formed to oppose the Trudeau plan and Morin recently called his former English-speaking allies ''a bunch of double-crossers.'' He says they acted in ''collusion'' with Mr. Trudeau to reach a constitutional agreement that Quebec could not support.
Morin's decision to quit also reflects deepening divisions within his party in the wake of that constitutional compromise. The militant wing of the Parti Quebecois - which argues that the province's isolation demonstrates the futility of Levesque's cautious - go-slow approach toward independence, was emboldened after the constitutional compromise.
Mr. Morin is the architect of the go-slow approach. In 1976 he convinced Levesque the party should tone down its nationalist rhetoric in that year's provincial election campaign, opting for a pledge that, if elected, the party would hold a provincial referendum on the issue.
That shift of emphasis helped Levesque's election fortunes, but Quebeckers voted to remain a part of Canada when the referendum was held in 1981. The referendum, coupled with failure on the constitutional issue, sent shocks waves through the party rank and file.
With even the popular Levesque now in trouble with the party, it was no surprise that Morin bowed out.
It appears his departure will boost the efforts of party members trying to force Levesque into quick action on independence.
To beat back the militant faction's efforts, Levesque ordered an internal party referendum to give the its 300,000 members a chance to say what should be done. He threatens to resign unless this vote gives him a mandate to block the radicals. The crunch comes next month, when a party convention will discuss the result.
Those who back Levesque argue that voters are in no mood to make another agonizing political choice. They say a big push for independence could wipe out the party's re-election chances for years.
For Mr. Levesque, the future is not rosy, but he knows he has another three years or so before he must call an election. And he has always proved resilient.