QUEBEC CITY, Quebec -- The stage was set yesterday for a showdown between Canada and its French-speaking province when leaders of Quebec said they would hold a referendum on independence by October 1992.
If the vote succeeds, Quebec would declare itself an independent nation a year after the referendum.
The Quebec leaders held out some hope for the future of a united Canada by saying that they would also be willing to study offers from the rest of the country to change the Canadian Constitution to give Quebec additional powers.
They reserved the right to put such a proposal to voters before the
referendum on independence.
"I am confident that offers for a significant and deep change will be made," said Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa, a member of a commission on the province's future and a Liberal Party member who advocates Quebec's continued presence in Canada.
Polls show that more than 60 percent of Quebecers favor some form of independence, and Mr. Bourassa warned that "Quebec is very serious about considering the option of withdrawing from the federation."
The referendum deadline was recommended by a 36-member, bipartisan commission on Quebec's future that toured the province for three months taking testimony.
Though the commission's report was advisory, Mr. Bourassa said he would introduce a bill in the coming weeks calling for a referendum. Passage seems certain because Mr. Bourassa's party controls the legislature.
Even the most conservative members of the commission said that Ottawa must agree to shift a number of powers to Quebec, including total control of cultural matters, language rights, immigration policy and communications.
Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney dismissed the talk of a referendum, saying, "Threats won't work."
In 1980, Quebecers voted down a proposal on sovereignty by a 3-2 margin. Negotiations on a new constitution fell apart last summer.