The Canadian government is considering a massive share giveaway as a means of "privatizing" the national oil corporation -- Petro-Canada.

A task force appointed by the Progressive Conservative government suggests that the income-producing assets of Petro-Canada be put into a new company and its shares distributed to "eligible" Canadians.

Under the plan, the riskier undertakings -- frontier exploration, heavy oil and tar sands -- would retained by the government.

Ottawa also would take on the existing book debts of Petro-Canada, amounting to more than $2 billion, if the government accepts the plan.

The report was presented to parliament by the government as a nonconfidence motion brought by the opposition Liberals on the Petro-Canada question was narrowly defeated.

If the government had not defeated the motion, it would have been forced to resign. But it was able to win, thanks to support from the Social Credit Party's five members and a few Liberals strategically absent when the vote was taken.

The task force report has attracted widespread criticism, and one commentator has denounced it as the work of "bubbleheads."

Returning the assets of the state oil company to the private sector was a strong plank in the Progessive Conservative platform during the spring election campaign and helped it roll up victories in Western Canada in the voting in June.

Under the task force plan, Ottawa would retain the oil agency to deal on a government-to-government basis with other national oil corporations in, for example, Venezuela and Mexico.

Critics call it a "phony giveaway," noting that, while the government would give each Canadian about $100 in shares of Petro-Canada, all Canadians will be left with responsibility for debts of $2 billion and the cost of future funds the agency may need.