Five days before next Tuesday's referendum, with many voters still believed undecided, Quebec's sovereignty campign is becoming increasingly strident.
Provincial Premier Rene Levesque, the leader of the separatist forces, is accusing business interests and the English-speaking minority here of scheming to prevent this predominantly French-speaking province from getting a "new deal" from Canada based on "equality."
Liberal Party leader Claude Ryan, the nominal head of forces opposing separation, has accused Levesque of "fascist" tactics and warned that an endorsement of his plan would mean an irrevocable move toward political separation from Canada.
Apart from occasional angry exchanges of blows, the campaign -- on the question of whether to give Levesque the mandate to negotiate sovereignty for Quebec but maintaining economic ties with the rest of Canada -- has produced a passionate debate, ruptured friendships and split families.
The federal government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has entered the debate and is spending about $2 million on a last-minute advertising campaign that includes hundreds of billboards reading "No thanks -- it's easily said."
The message clearly urges voters not to give Levesque the mandate although small print says that the posters are issued by the federal Ministry of Health in its campaign against alcoholism.
Opponents of the separation are warning Quebec's 6.3 million people that their endorsement would inflict heavy economic costs on the province and would deny them economic benefits from Canada, especially cheap oil and natural gas from the western provinces. They say that a sovereign Quebec would cost each family about $1,200 per year in higher energy bills.
As if to underscore this message, the federal government today announced that it would build a gas pipeline from Montreal or Quebec City, a move that would make natural gas from Alberta available to large parts of Quebec.
The largest French-language newspaper, La Presse, urged its readers in an editorial today to vote "no" on Tuesday, pointing out that Quebec inside the confederation benefits "from the wealth of other Canadian provinces" and from federal subsidies such as family and equalization payments.
The latest poll conducted for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp-indicates that the forces opposing sovereignty have the support of 45 percent of the electorate compared to 39 percent for those in favor. The remaining 16 percent was undecided.
This is a turnaround from a similar poll conducted in late April that showed the separatist forces two points ahead.
With both sides trying to win over the undecided, the people are bombared day after day with somewhat confusing messages on television and radio, at street corners and in offices, factories and meeting halls.
Last night Turdeau, himself a Quebec native, passionately urged his compatriots to reject separatism. "Don't let them take your country away from your children," he said whipping more than 10,000 supporters into a frenzy of flag-waving enthusiasm. "It takes more courage to stay in Canada and fight it out than to quit." Trudeau vowed he would "immediately" move toward consitutional talks to accomodate Quebec's aspirations.
In the same forum the previous night Levesque told an equality large and enthusiastic crowd of supporters that the "yes" vote was the only way for French Canadians to gain "equality" with the rest of the country.