Montreal — Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has a penchant for confounding his critics. With his ruling Liberal Party slipping steadily in the opinion polls and unlikely to win a general election next year, Mr. Trudeau is currently taking the spotlight away from the rejuvenating Progressive Conservatives as he talks up his two-month-old peace initiative.
He is enthusiastic about the support the concept is receiving from a variety of world capitals. The latest example: President Ronald Reagan, with whom he met last week in Washington.
Although Mr. Reagan did not endorse the idea unreservedly, he did encourage the Canadian leader to travel to Moscow "to continue to seek ways of seeking progress in arms control.
"We fully share the concerns for peace which the prime minister has expressed."
Then, turning to Trudeau, Reagan said: "We wish you Godspeed in your efforts to help build a durable peace."
Trudeau's meeting with Reagan was the latest in a series of visits with world leaders to boost the peace proposals, including a call for a summit session of the five major nuclear powers -- and an offer to serve as a mediator at such a session and on other East-West issues.
Some Canadians see the peace proposals as little more than an effort by Trudeau to reverse his flagging political fortunes.These critics see the project more as a cynical political maneuver than as a disinterested quest for peace. Instead of announcing his retirement plans as expected before the end of this year, they say, the long-time Canadian leader (prime minister since 1968, except for a nine-month period of Conservative rule) has put off such plans and is using the peace initiative for an attempted political revival.
But few Canadian observers expect the proposals to save Trudeau and his Liberals from a humiliating defeat at the polls next year. Political pundits say the Liberals are simply too far behind the Progressive Conserva-tives and their new leader, Brian Mulroney, to catch up by election time next year. Currently, Trudeau's Liberal Party has 27 percent in the opinion polls compared with more than 50 percent for the Conservatives.
The Tories have been much less enthusiastic about the peace initiative than Trudeau supporters. But to many Canadians, Trudeau has always seemed a bit mercurial, a bit erratic. They wonder if he will stay with the peace initiative , particularly if he loses the general election.
On the other hand, some observers say the peace initiative provides Trudeau with a graceful way of bowing out of domestic politics. That is a step many Liberals, including some who are very close to him, say Trudeau has long been considering.
Whatever his future plans, however, the peace initiative has given him a great deal more favorable press attention than he had enjoyed in recent months.
Many Canadians still recall with pride the prominent world role played by former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson -- a role he developed while leading Canada and continued after leaving office. Trudeau's initiative might lead to something similar.