There is also a legal fly in the ointment. Early this month, a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled it would be unconstitutional for Quebec to declare independence even if the referendum won.
The judge didn't block the referendum, though, and Mr. Chretien said this was for the best. One gets the feeling he expects the "no" vote to win and the separation urge to be buried, or at least put back into the box for a while.
Two polls taken after the referendum wording was announced brought conflicting results. One had the Yeses winning with 50.1 percent. The second had the Noes triumphant, 54 to 46.
If Quebecers don't really want separation, why did they vote for Mr. Parizeau in the first place? For one thing, what they wanted was to get rid of the Liberal provincial government then in its second term, and the PQ was the alternative, prominent warts and all.
For another, the vote for the PQ wasn't as overwhelming as its 77 seats in the 125-seat legislature would indicate. The lopsidedness was a result of the district-by-district breakdown; overall, the PQ won only 45 percent of the votes and the Liberals 44.
Jean-Marc Leger, of the Leger polling firm, which also conducts polls for the Quebec government, said, "Quebecers will be the most surprised people in the world if the vote is 'yes'."
Myron Beckenstein works on the foreign desk of The Baltimore Sun.