CANADIANS have lost their will to live together as one people. The old Canada - a federal state with a deserved reputation for stability, moderation, tolerance, and dullness - is dying. Unable to reconcile the divergent dreams of French-speaking Quebeckers and the English-speaking majority, the Canadian political system has lost the confidence of its citizens.
It may be that a new Canada will emerge, united in a different fashion. But today that hope seems remote. In the past, English- and French-speaking Canadians argued about how to live together. Now the debate is how best to live apart.
Language differences and regional rivalries have triumphed over Canada's sense of national purpose. Perhaps because we live such a comfortable, coddled life at the edge of the American economic and military empire, we have come to the bizarre conclusion that our acts of political self-mutilation have no consequences.
The inability to bridge the divide between language groups and regions has bedeviled Canada for decades. And the frequency and severity of our political crises have been increasing since the 1960s. What distinguishes today's troubles from times past is that most Canadians have lost patience and look forward to divorce.
At the least, Canada seems destined to become one-and-a-half countries. The challenge for Canadians - failing a reconciliation - is to reach an arrangement that is politically stable, economically viable, and satisfying enough to prevent bitter negotiations. It won't be easy.
Beneath the placid surface of wordy constitutional proposals and counter offers lurks a profound sense of hurt, even betrayal. French-speaking Quebeckers feel that English Canadians haven't given them the political tools they need to keep their language and culture alive. They say they are being driven out of Canada by mean-spirited English Canadians.