TORONTO, NOV. 1 -- Prime Minister Brian Mulroney today launched a "citizens' forum on Canada's future," in which Canadians across the country will be asked to debate whether they want to keep the 123-year-old confederation.

Mulroney appointed an independent, 10-member commission which, he said, will conduct televised, town hall-type meetings through the winter to elicit a grass-roots dialogue aimed at "reaching a new consensus on Canada's future.

"It's time we did some real soul-searching. . . . Do we want to live together? What kind of country do we want? Can Quebec find cultural security and identity within our system?" the prime minister asked in a nationally televised speech to Parliament.

The commission, Mulroney said, will examine such divisive issues as the distribution of powers between Canada's 10 provinces and the federal government, the constitutional right of provincial legislatures to override the federal bill of rights, the status of indigenous peoples, and revision of governmental institutions.

"Canada is running the risk of fracturing along cultural and linguistic fault lines that have run through our history," Mulroney said, stressing the need to begin talking to one another about the future of their country in public debates that are "informal and accessible to Canadians of all walks of life."

Mulroney said the commission would travel to every province and "bring people together," rather than relying on testimony from "high-powered consultants and special interest groups."

The grass-roots nature of Mulroney's proposal appeared intended to respond to widespread public criticism that Canadians were not involved in the process that produced the package of constitutional amendments, collectively known as the Meech Lake accord, which collapsed in June after the provinces of Manitoba and Newfoundland failed to ratify them.

The amendments, drafted by Mulroney and the provincial premiers, were intended to bring Quebec into the 1982 Canadian constitution by granting the predominantly French-speaking province special status as a "distinct society" and granting it some powers not held by the other provinces.

"We failed with the Meech Lake accord, but that does not mean we've failed with the future of this country," Mulroney said, as opposition members of Parliament shouted, "It's too late!"

Mulroney named as chairman of the commission Keith Spicer, who is chairman of the Canadian Radio-Telecommunications Commission and former official languages commissioner.