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Canada's constitutional battle: a small victory for the provinces

Bowing to pressure from Canada's angry provinces, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has agreed to readjust his timetable for constitutional change for a last-ditch negotiating session with provincial governments.

Mr. Trudeau, intent on pushing ahead with his plan to rewrite Canada's charter as soon as possible, nonetheless announced Oct. 14 that he was would hold for a possible constitutional conference later this month.

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Mr. Trudeau's decision is a victory for the eight Canadian provinces that have been struggling to block his plan to install a new constitution without their approval. Only two provincial governments -- Ontario and New Brunswick -- support Ottawa on the issue.

The latest round of jockeying emerged after the Supreme Court ruled last month that Ottawa's constitutional moves, while legal, were a dangerous violation of the nation's longstanding federal traditions. Both sides took the ambiguous decision as a victory.

In the resulting confusion, Trudeau, hoping to avert a crisis in federal-provincial relations, said he was agreeable to a final attempt to reach a compromise with the provinces.

But the two sides have had trouble agreeing on a date for a meeting.The provincial premiers have sought more time to consult among themselves before meeting Trudeau. An early meeting "would be neither prudent, nor practicable nor conducive to agreement," said British Columbia Premier Bill Bennett.

On another front Reuters reports that Mr. Trudeau, his Liberal Party's popularity falling, parried demands to cut interest rates (currently above 20 percent) and tackle other economic problems when the Canadian Parliament started a new session Oct. 14.

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