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Canada split on cure for economy

Canada is struggling to find a way out of one of its worst economic predicaments in recent times.

But so far, traditional political rivalries have proved stronger than a shared sense of urgency.

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Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who called off a long-planned trip to Asia Aug. 29 in order to pursue economic recovery at home, has failed to win the support of the country's powerful provincial premiers for Ottawa's wage and price restraint program.

The 10 provincial leaders, many of whom have long opposed Mr. Trudeau on a wide range of fundamental political questions, declined last week to back the keystone of the Trudeau recovery package - a plan known here as the ''six and five'' program.

It places mandatory wage ceilings of 6 percent on 500,000 federal employees this year and 5 percent next year. Trudeau also wants wages and prices in the private sector to stay within those ceilings - voluntarily.

However, the premiers have withheld their crucial support for the program, demanding instead that Trudeau's Liberal Party government introduce a broader strategy for rebuilding the business climate.

As well as lower domestic interest rates and more business spending incentives, the premiers want the Trudeau government to renounce nationalistic energy and investment policies that have caused controversy both internally and with Canada's major trading partners.

The premiers, after their annual meeting last week, said Trudeau should convene an emergency economic summit meeting to discuss these strategies with them next month.

But to date the federal government has resisted this suggestion, arguing that the premiers' economic plans are too vague.

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In Canada's highly-decentralized federal system, the provincial premiers' positions carry considerable weight. And, with the country limping under the combined burden of record-high unemployment, double-digit inflation, and high interest rates, their decision not to back Trudeau's plan has drawn unexpectedly harsh comment.

The Montreal Gazette, in a lead editorial, said the premiers' message was a ''clear and cowardly abdication: Ask not what your provincial premiers can do for the country; kindly direct all complaints to Ottawa.''

Richard Gwyn, a national columnist writing in the Toronto Star, commented, ''politics, almost entirely so, dictated'' the premiers' dismissal of Trudeau's policies.

''They dislike Mr. Trudeau, they deeply distrust him. So they took collective aim against Mr. Trudeau's 'six and five' program. They hit their political target all right, except that damaged as much by the fallout will be the confidence of investors in the Canadian economy,'' Mr. Gwyn said.

The Liberal Party government has also been unable to win the support of organized labor.

The Canadian Labor Congress, the largest union body, has rejected the wage restraint plan as a one-sided attempt to blame workers for the country's economic woes.

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