Vive le Canada! That was the resounding response the majority of Quebec voters had for those of their brethren who see separation of their province from the rest of the country as their only hope for the future. In a large turnout, the voters solidly defeated a proposal by their separationist government to set Quebec on a path toward sovereignty and possible independence. Prime Minister Trudeau, who had made impassioned pleas for his fellow French Canadians not to desert the federation, was justifiably heartened by the outcome. More than half of the French voters opposed giving the Quebec government a mandate to negotiate sovereignty with economic ties to the rest of Canada. The referendum, the Prime Minister said, made him proud to be a Quebecer and a Canadian.
The rejection of Rene Levesque and his separationist Parti Quebecois dispels any immediate threat of a move toward break-off by Quebec and the possible splintering of other provinces that could result from such action. But this week's vote offers no permanent solution to the disenchantment that has swept Quebec and the nine other provinces in Canada's loose federation. The size of the "yes" vote -- 40 percent, as against 60 percent who voted against the sovereignty initiative -- leaves little question of the depth of the dissatisfaction with the present system felt by many Quebecers.
It is incumbent upon Prime Minister Trudeau and the government in Ottawa to follow through on pledges to work diligently for reforms in the federation, Mr. Trudeau promised a "solid commitment" to initiating institutional changes immediately.And he pledged that he and the 74 Liberal Party members from Quebec in the House of Commons would resign if they were unsuccessful in getting a new constitution for Canada. Mere words will not dampen Quebec's longing for greater voice in shaping its future. Moreover, dismay with the current system is not limited to Quebec. The oil-rich Western provinces complain of Ottawa's insensivity to their demands for higher prices for the oil they sell. Western farmers, too, are unhappy with railroad policies which they feel hamper their shipments of grain.
The emotional debate leading up to the referendum divided families and friends and has left many Quebecers bitter. A time of healing is called for now. And the best way this can be accomplished is for the grievances aired over recent months to be seriously addressed.
As Claude Ryan, Quebec's Liberal Party leader, aptly put it, "Our future will not be easy to build. But the action of today calls for changes. . . in the federal system so that it becomes more solidly rooted in the hearts and minds of Quebecers and all Canadians." Or, in Mr. Trudeau's words, "We must build a renewed Canadian federation which will give the people of Quebec and the whole country more reasons to proclaim proudly that we are Canadians."