MONTREAL — PRIME Minister Brian Mulroney has shuffled his Cabinet in a fresh bid to keep Quebec a part of Canada - and to bolster his own falling popularity. Mr. Mulroney's most significant change, analysts say, was to move a former rival, Canada's Minister of External Affairs Joe Clark, to a new post in charge of national unity. Mr. Clark's previous post was the Canadian equivalent of the United States secretary of state.
The changes, announced April 21, amounted to one of the biggest Cabinet shuffles since Mulroney came to power in September 1984 and follows the rise of separatist feeling in Quebec and a hardening of anti-Quebec sentiment in English Canada. The task faced by Clark is to bring English and French Canada together.
``It's Brian Mulroney's last chance,'' says William Johnson, a political analyst in Ottawa. ``If he doesn't succeed in a year at most, members of his Cabinet from Ontario and western Canada will resign and force him to call an election.''
A poll issued this week shows support for an independent Quebec at 58 percent in Quebec - if a solution cannot be found to Canada's constitutional impasse. But English and French Canadians see the problem from opposite poles.
The opinion poll shows that to stay within Canada, 72 percent of Quebeckers want larger powers for their province, while 76 percent of English-speaking Canadians said ``no'' to more powers for Quebec.
``Joe Clark is no miracle worker,'' Mr. Johnson says. ``He is mildly respected in Quebec as a Albertan who took the time to learn French, but he is not highly regarded in Alberta.''
Mulroney's new finance minister is Donald Mazankowski of Alberta. The prime minister made no secret that he is out to win back support from the Reform Party by having both two Albertans - Clark and Mr. Mazankowski - in the Cabinet.
``He [Mazankowski] is the first westerner in, I believe, over 60 years to be minister of finance,'' said Mulroney. ``Albertans will have to decide if they want this or some back benchers [such as the Reform Party's sole member of Parliament] dealing with their serious problems.''
The Reform Party was less than impressed.
``It's hard for Joe Clark to sell himself as a westerner, he's been in Ottawa so long,'' says Ken Warenko, policy coordinator of the Reform Party of Canada in Calgary, Alberta, who says he is skeptical about what a Cabinet shuffle can do.
Jean Chretien, who now leads the Liberal Party was once the understudy to Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, says he does not envy Clark his task of drawing the two sides together.
``I was once the minister responsible [for constitutional affairs],'' said Mr. Chretien. ``And in the end, the prime minister decides and the people listen to him more than you.''
Other key Cabinet changes include Barbara McDougall moving to Clark's old job at External Affairs; she is the senior woman in the 39-member Cabinet and is expected to run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party when Mulroney retires.
Former Finance Minister Michael Wilson will become minister of Industry and International Trade. One of the youngest Cabinet members is Minister of the Environment Jean Charest of Sherbrooke, Quebec. The bilingual Mr. Charest is expected to play a role in any constitutional talks.