Premier begs Quebec not to destroy union

The Canadian government has finally intervened directly in the Quebec referendum battle with an 11th-hour appeal for unity. It reflects an air almost of desperation in Ottawa as the leaders of the Liberal government realise separatists may win Monday's vote.

Invoking a rarely-used section of the Broadcasting Act relating to national crises, Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, commandeered national air time for an emotional plea to fellow Quebeckers not to turn their backs on the country they helped to build.

Federalists also have organised a rally in Montreal today, at which thousands of Canadians will join federalists within the province to strengthen the message that they want Quebec to remain in Canada.

Looking haggard and older than his 61 years, Mr Chretien warned Quebeckers not to be fooled by the separatist promise of a trouble-free divorce after which they can have independence and keep the benefits of economic union with Canada.

He repeated that he would support changes in the constitution to include recognition of Quebec as a distinct society and to restore Quebec's veto over changes that might affect its language, culture and power within the confederation.

His promise was attacked by Lucien Bouchard, leader of the Bloc Quebecois party in the federal parliament and de facto leader of the separatist campaign in Quebec. He said the Prime Minister's about-turn on constitutional reform was phoney. "There is no wind of change blowing through Ottawa, just a wind of panic," he said.

Until this week, Mr Chretien had remained aloof from the campaign, making only a fewspeeches in Quebec restating his belief that most Quebeckers would not vote to break up Canada.

He has also opposed new constitutional discussions after the failure of previous attempts in 1990 and 1992.

Speaking in both English and French, Mr Chretien admitted for the first time that Canada faced a crisis: "What is at stake is our country. What is at stake is our heritage."

He challenged separatists to provide one good reason to destroy Canada and bring about "the end of a country that has made us the envy of the world." He also asked whether the French language and culture would be better protected by a small state of 7 million people up against 250 million English-speakers in North America.

The English-Canadian pilgrimage to Montreal today was sparked off by the Fisheries Minister, Brian Tobin, the silver-tongued Newfoundlander who became a national hero when he led the fight against Spanish fisherman in the so-called turbot war. Within hours, the two national airlines had announced a "unity fare", allowing anyone to fly to Montreal for as little as 10 per cent of the regular price, sparking a clamour for tickets.

News Analysis, page 21

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living