CANADA has reached a critical period in its history, with the
next eight months likely to determine whether it will remain a
united country or see Quebec split off to form a new nation.
Recommended revisions to Canada's Constitution will be delivered
today to the House of Commons by a parliamentary committee. The
revisions draw on conferences with "ordinary" citizens across
From these recommendations a constitutional amendment will be
drafted, as early as May, that redistributes many federal powers to
the provinces and recognizes Quebec as a "distinct" society. It
will also address language and native issues, Senate reform,
economic union, and a social charter.
The amendment is to be approved by Parliament, then by each of
Canada's nine English-speaking provinces. Approval by seven
provinces with at least 50 percent of the population would ratify
Then all eyes will be on Quebec.
In an Oct. 26 referendum, it will be French-speaking Quebec's
turn to look at the constitutional amendment and vote - thumbs up
or down - on Canada's future. Thumbs down could well lead to
"What we are doing right now is the basis of the Canada of the
next century," says Pierre Anctil, director general of Quebec's
ruling Liberal Party. "The next few months are crucial for the
future of Canada."
Already a battle for the hearts, minds, and votes of Quebeckers
is intensifying in Montreal, where public opinion seems as volatile
as in New Hampshire before the recent United States presidential
Forty-six percent of Quebeckers favor independence, according to
a poll last week by the Center for Public Opinion Research, an
independent Montreal polling firm. The peak in favor of
independence was 64 percent after the Meech Lake Accords failed in
Meech Lake was meant to pave the way for Quebec to finally
ratify the 1982 Constitution that was "patriated" from England by
then-Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The accords' failure
left sour feelings and fanned the pro-independence movement. Since
then, however, a poor economy and studies critical of independence
have dampened enthusiasm.
Leading the charge to keep the public's separatist feeling high
against a host of unbelievers is the Parti Qucois (PQ), whose
officials say an independent Quebec is viable despite predictions
of economic hardship and a tripling of debt to more than $140
Bernard Landry, PQ vice president, cites his own polls showing
60 percent of Quebeckers favor independence.
"We are expecting a fantastic material positive output" after
independence, Mr. Landry says, arguing that being part of a federal
system has restrained Quebec's prosperity. "We have been assessing
the situation for years. …