As a gentle spring finally comes to this picturesque and outwardly sedate capital after the long, severe winter, the political atmosphere has, in contrast, turned foul.

The political combat has become more snarly and personal as the 20-month-old Progressive Conservative government appears to be stumbling and opposition parties scent blood amid Cabinet resignations and allegations of wrong-doing.

External Affairs Minister Joe Clark reacted angrily last week as questions about Canada's $105,000 lobbying contract with former White House aide Michael K. Deaver were raised for the first time in the House of Commons here.

Clark suggested that the conflict-of-interest probes in Washington over the past five months that have focused on Deaver's actions in behalf of Canada, during and after his service as White House deputy chief of staff, were matters between Deaver and his government and did not affect Canada.

Liberal Party critic Lloyd Axworthy, who raised the subject, might be "far happier," Clark said, if he were to move south and get a seat in the U.S. Congress "so that he could pursue the issues that really interest him."

"Some of us from time to time think that this country would be better off under that circumstance as well," he added.

Axworthy said the basic issue was whether the Canadian Embassy in Washington and Fred Doucet, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, had knowingly violated U.S. law in their dealings with Deaver.

Axworthy urged Clark to avoid trying to be narrow and legalistic as the matter is probed here. Reflecting the bitter, personal edge that politics here has taken on, Axworthy reminded Clark that all here still remembered how Clark had flunked out of law school years ago.

The intensifying investigations of the Deaver contract in Washington and the pressure here for disclosures about it have come as only one more piece of bad news for Mulroney and one more weapon in the opposition parties' arsenal. Mulroney was away on tour of the Far East for most of last week as his troubles at home mounted.

On Monday, as the prime minister left China for South Korea, his senior industry minister, Sinclair Stevens, was resigning here after accusations in the press and Parliament that his family firm had received favors from companies receiving subsidies from his ministry. He became the fourth minister to leave Mulroney's Cabinet after allegations of improprieties.

On Wednesday, as Mulroney stepped two feet inside the North Korean border to the truce village of Panmunjom, a Tory legislator stepped across the aisle of the House of Commons here, throwing off his Progressive Conservative Party ties because of "irreconcilable differences," and became an independent. Observers spoke of a restlessness among Conservatives and predicted a few others would soon follow as the first fissures in Mulroney's unprecedentedly large parliamentary majority began to open.

On Thursday, as Mulroney's plane neared home, prosecutors here were charging another Conservative legislator with 50 counts of bribery, fraud and abuse of public trust. Royal Canadian Mounted Police had confirmed previously to the Ottawa Citizen newspaper that part of their year-long investigation had involved charges of kickbacks on contracts to build Canada's National Museum of Man.

On Friday, Mulroney was back in Commons for the first of what appeared likely to be some punishing days of battle. The old lust for verbal combat with opposition party critics appeared to have left him, according to some experienced observers here. He seemed strained as he responded softly to the first jabs of his opposition party critics.

"Brian Mulroney is near his Bridge of No Return," a veteran columnist of the Southam newspaper chain, Don McGillivray, wrote last week as Mulroney was returning from South Korea. "Can a government that lives for appearances learn to live for realities? Perhaps, but time is running out."

As Ottawa shut down on Friday for the three-day holiday weekend to commemorate Queen Victoria's birthday, no hint of any strategy for recouping had emerged

To the extent that officials had time to consider the investigations in Washington of the contract with Deaver, there was increasing concern that the affair could harm relations with the United States just as Canada begins difficult trade negotiations with it.

Canadian journalists, preoccupied with the episodes here, have been slow to pay attention to the controversy in Washington. Like Canadian officials, they have indicated confusion about the intricacies of U.S. conflict-of-interest laws, which are much more stringent than Canada's codes of public ethics. The emphasis of their coverage has been on the way the inquiries are being reported on U.S. network television and in pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times.

"PR Nightmare -- Canada's Image: Whiner to the North," blared the headline on a story in the weekend edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper.

Axworthy is demanding that Mulroney also allow a wide-ranging investigation of Canada's role in the Deaver affair. In Mulroney's absence early last week, Clark agreed to call Allan E. Gotlieb, the Canadian ambassador to the United States, here for testimony.

Clark did not respond to Axworthy's request for testimony also by Doucet. Both Deaver and Gotlieb have said that while Deaver was still in the White House, Doucet mentioned in a "lighthearted" manner that Canada could use his talents when he left to set up his lobbying firm. Deaver said he quickly terminated the conversation and informed Doucet it was improper.

A senior Canadian official said it was unlikely the Mulroney government would agree to submit to as intensive a probe in Parliament as the one in Congress.

Gotlieb, invoking diplomatic immunity, has refused to submit to questions from U.S. congressional investigators but Axworthy's office has been in contact with them and is primed to seek answers here to the questions that have gone unanswered in Washington.