Trudeau globe-trots, Canada fumes
While many Canadians are wondering how to make ends meet in the wake of the worst annual economic performance in 25 years, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is traveling the globe with a very different concern foremost in mind -- the relations between the world's rich and poor nations.
His current five-nation tour, the second of its kind in two months, has dismayed some Canadians who think Mr. Trudeau should be devoting his efforts to rescuing Canada's hard-hit economy or ending his own country's conflict between rich and poor -- the split between the newly wealthy western energy- producing region and the oil-poor Canadian east.
In Canadian eyes, these problems are far more urgent at the moment than the state of the North-South dialogue.
With no letup in sight for Canada's acute economic troubles, the House of Commons in Ottawa is likely to be rocked by renewed outcries against the Trudeau government's policies when Parliament resumes Jan. 12 from its Christmas break. Mr. Trudeau's globe-trotting on behalf of better international relations is certain to be singled out by critics as proof of alleged indifference by the Liberal Party toward the plight of average Canadian citizens.
This accusation was a constant theme of opposition politician's 23-hour emergency debate over the economy in Parliament last month. The fiery discussion -- the longest continuous debate in the House of Commons in 67 years -- dampened Canada's holiday spirit and underscored the state of the economy.
Before the debate was through, the opposition Progressive Conservative and New Democratic parties had demanded that the Trudeau government declare an economic emergency and bring in a new federal economic program to replace the one introduced in the Oct. 28 budget message.
The country is in "the worst economic crisis since the 1930s," said Joe Clark , former prime minister and Conservative leader.
Beneath the opposition parties' anger was the revelation that inflation had hit a five-year peak of 11.2 percent and that the interest rate bank charge their best customers had jumped to 18.25 percent -- the highest level ever in Canada.
This bad news came only a few days after the Canadian dollar, which had stabilized following sharp drops in the late 1970s, suddenly plunged to the lowest level in almost five decades.
Though the Canadian currency has since rebounded on international money markets to the 84-cent US range, Canadians can expect little surcease from the economic vise of slow growths and rampant price increases.
Liberal Finance Minister Allan MacEachen, in fact, has been forced to concede that economic conditions have worsened even in the short time since his October economic message.
"The prospects for inflation have deepened and darkened since the Budget," Mr. MacEachen acknowleged during the emergency debate. He warned Canadians that rising food and energy prices and high interest rates would cause inflation to soar above the 10 percent level he had previously predicted for 1981. some economists now say prices will increase this year by as much as 11.7 percent, which would be the highest annual rate in Canada since World War II.
The stalled economy will make it harder to find jobs. About 787,000 are out of work -- 7.3 percent of the work force.
Much critism has also been aimed at the Liberal Government's nationalistic energy policy announced Oct. 28. The new program, which includes measures intended to reduce the oil and gas assets held by foreign-controlled firms, has led to consternation in the energy industry, followed by a notable shift of drilling legs and funds into the United States. Mr. Trudeau's opponents claim his energy strategy, by discouraging Canadian oil and gas investment, has eroded the strongest potential source of economic growth.
Besides its economic woes, Canada is beset by a deep division over constitutional matters. This has caused a widening of the gap between the energy-rich provinces of the west, particularly Alberta, and the eastern, oil-consuming provinces, which look to the Trudeau government to protect their interests in the national power struggle. This dissension took on rapid momentum after Mr. Trudeau's decision to write a new constitution without the approval of the 10 provincial governments last fall.
Yet all these troubles leave Mr. Trudeau unruffled. He has embarked on a five-nation tour in Africa and Latin America to further his latest interest, reviving talks between the rich and poor nations.