Trudeau fights against calls to quit
Ottawa — Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, though still fresh from the historic achievement of installing a new Canadian Constitution, is now beset with a rising chorus of demands that he throw in the towel and resign part way through his four-year term of office.
Behind this mounting opposition is a widespread conviction that the Liberal Party government has failed dismally in its task of managing Canada's economy.
It seems a surprisingly unpleasant turn of events for Mr. Trudeau, who seemed assured of a proud role in the history books only two short months ago when the long-disputed new Constitution was installed.
Now he runs the risk of being remembered less for nation- building than presiding over the collapse of the Canadian economy.
While there is always considerable criticism of the prime minister, the depth and bitterness of the resentment mounting against this administration seems unprecedented in recent years. And Mr. Trudeau is feeling the full force of the reaction to an economic recession that suddenly seems to many Canadians to be bottomless.
An increasing number of publications and commentators are taking the unusual step of urging the government to step down.
Said the Windsor (Ontario) Star: ''Clearly it is time for Pierre Trudeau to leave before any more damage is done to the economy.''
Carl Beisie, president of the C. D. Howe Institute, a prestigious, Montreal-based economic study group, said: ''This government should resign. The Canadian people have every right to be alarmed not only for what the government has done but for what we've allowed them to do.''
Mr. Trudeau's popularity among voters, as measured by opinion polls, has dropped rapidly in recent months as the country has been stunned with a torrent of grim economic news.
Despite years of supposed belt-tightening measures, consumer price inflation remains above 10 percent, interest rates are pushing 20 percent and the Canadian dollar has plunged to the US 78-cent range on foreign exchange markets.
With more and more factories closing down, unemployment has hit 10.9 percent, a level unknown here since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The economy, excluding inflation, is expected to perform at the gloomy rate of minus 2 percent this year.
And the Trudeau government, which will have an annual deficit of about $20 billion - almost double that forecast - is in no position to stimulate business growth.
Mr. Trudeau himself gave voice recently to the apprehension sweeping the country, telling reporters that any ''reasonable Canadian'' should be ''frightened'' about the economic situation.
He said that after the economic summit in Versailles, France, last month, he used the word ''crisis'' to describe the state of the economy. ''I think it's gotten worse since then.''
Complaints about the Liberal government's policies are even surfacing within the party's own ranks.
John Evans, a Liberal member of Parliament, said, ''the situation has deteriorated much faster than I ever imagined, and it's much worse than I hoped we would ever have to endure.''
Although Mr. Trudeau's party enjoys a wide majority in the House of Commons and will not have to face the electorate for two years or so, some Liberals have been quietly advocating Mr. Trudeau's resignation. Not to do so could lead to a crushing defeat for the Liberals in the next election, they argue.
If the Liberals could be forced into an election, many observers believe a national contest now would be won by the Progressive Conservative Party, which forms the Parliamentary opposition. In contrast to Mr. Trudeau, the Conservatives, led by former Prime Minister Joe Clark, promise a policy regime that would de-emphasize government intervention in the economy while taking steps to enhance the business and investment climate. A major aim of the Conservatives would be to limit current barriers to foreign investment in Canada such as the Foreign Investment Review Agency.
But Mr. Trudeau has been fighting back. In late June, he introduced a package of crisis budgetary measures intended to stave off further economic deterioration. And since then he has been busy holding extensive private talks with labor, business, and provincial government leaders to win support for his policies - particularly the wage restraints Mr. Trudeau sees as crucial to his antiinflation push.
''It is not a time for fractious dispute,'' he declared recently. ''It is a time for Canadians to pull together to beat the problems and come to grips with them.''
This approach has so far been a moderate success. But a major confrontation with organized labor, which accuses Mr. Trudeau of using workers as scapegoats in his new economic strategy, could be in the offing.