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Cruise missiles over Canada put Liberals and protesters to test

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This week's test of the United States' cruise missile in Canada was also a test for the nation's antinuclear movement and for Pierre Trudeau's Liberal Party.

By failing to stop the test, antinuclear protesters are now posing the same question protests had when they failed to stop the deployment of cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe last fall: ''Is this a mortal blow?''

''Round One to them,'' answers Jim Stark, leader of the nationwide coalition opposing the test.

The Liberal government, meanwhile, faces a federal election this year, and the cruise test casts a shadow over its prospects.

Significantly, Mr. Trudeau was careful to assure Parliament that Tuesday's test would be the last and only one this year.

Trudeau, who recently wound down his international peace initiative and announced his intention to resign, defended the test.

''Testing the cruise doesn't make Canada a nuclear power,'' he said, ''and we earned credibility as a reliable NATO partner.''

Trudeau's initiative, which earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize , has widespread support from Canadians. His Liberal Party's popularity increased a few points in the polls from recent record lows; party insiders quietly credit the gains to his peace initiative.

The issue of the cruise test galvanized the country last year. Normally reticent, Canadians took to the streets in unprecedented numbers. But the decision to proceed with the tests was made at Cabinet level. It never reached Parliament for a vote.

The testing agreement with Washington was widely believed to have been part of a tacit deal on assorted bilateral issues and would have been discomfiting to rescind. No one, it seems, was surprised that the test finally took place, but it was announced only 48 hours in advance.

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