PIERRE TRUDEAU, prime minister of Canada almost continuously since 1968, has made the Canadian sense of nationality his central work. Especially over the past two years, he has bent all the country's economic and oil policies to that purpose. Unhappily, it's working out badly. He took large risks, and has been betrayed by events. His plans never foresaw the scale to the current inflation, or the decline in oil prices. He attempted to hold down oil prices for consumers while using oil revenues to finance a stronger central government. He was determined to reduce the proportion of Canadian industry, particularly the oil industry, that is controlled by foreign companies. The whole concept required an international boom that never happened.

Currently, as Merrill Brown has reported in this newspaper, the atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety over the economy is even more oppressive in Canada than here. Both unemployment and inflation are now higher there. Discrimination against foreign investment has created a capital shortage, resulting in a falling Canadian dollar. Some of the Canadian companies, struggling to expand in the Trudeau spirit, have run up debts on a scale threatening not only themselves but their lenders in the banking system. Wages continue to rise rapidly, despite the numbers of people out of work. The Canadian labor movement, strongly influenced by its British counterpart, regards wage settlements not as economics but as political issues to be fought out with the government.

Under leadership less able than Mr. Trudeau's, Canada might easily have broken into several separate countries in the 1970s. Americans, with their own strongly defined nationalism--which, of course, they never consider natonalism--are the last people to complain about the Canadian variant. Probably Canada will shortly be under new leadership, but still distracted by domestic quarrels and abrasive in its dealings with its large neighbor. Americans may not like that much, but the state of their own economy gives them good reason to understand why it is happening.