Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau last night downplayed the likelihood that Quebec would elect to separate from the rest of Canada.

At the same time Trudeau, in a speech to the Economic Club of New York, said Canada's economy was now recovering from several years of slow growth and high inflation. And he said relations between Canada and the U.S. "have never been better" in his experience.

The speech, billed as a major address, contained little hat was new. And it seemed aimed at much to the viewing audience in Canada - where it was broadcast live on radio and all three national television networks - as it was to the assembled audience of New York business and financial leaders.

"There can be no question that our economic prospects are clouded by the current uncertainty over the future unity of our country," Trudeau noted.

But he went on to say that both within Quebec and in the rest of Canada, the prospect of secession for the largely French-speaking province was being released.

"There is a growing realization surely be a foolishly self-destructive society if we allowed our country to be fractured because of our inability to imagine with generosity a solution to the problem of a federal state composed of different regions and founded on the recognition of two languages," Trudeau said.

"I am confident that the people of Quebec, when the choice is fairly put, will reject an ethno-centric nationalism in favor of a renewed and more productive relationship with their fellow Canadians," he continued, in prepared remarks.

Quebec Premier Rene Levesque, the main proponent of secession, appeared before the Economic Club more than a year ago and said Quebec's independence was a matter of "natural evolution."

Trudeau referred to the Levesque speech, but added that "if the history of Canada had been one of natural evolution I would probably be here tonight, if at all, as a governor of one of your states," alluding to past attempts to incorporate Canada into the U.S.

On economic issues, the prime minister, who is expected to call national elections for 1978, tried to strike an upbeat note even though Canada's inflation rate has been running at nearly 9 percent and more than 8 percent of the work force is unemployed.

Trudeau told the audience that Canada's "rate of wage and cost increases have subsided to reasonable and competitive levels" and that "the rate of inflation, food excluded, is continuing to come down, slowly but steadily."

Canada's unemployment rate, he said, "remains unacceptably high." But he emphasized his country's ability to create 280,000 new jobs in the last 12 months, above Canada's historical average.

On U.S. relations, Trudeau referred to cooperation between Canada and this country on a massive pipeline project to bring natural gas from Alaska.

"Surely two nations that can reach agreement on the most massive private-sector investment project ever undertaken - the Northern Pipeline - are setting the world on example is cooperation," he said.