OTTAWA, Oct. 25 -- Invoking a rarely used clause in Canada's national Broadcasting Act, Prime Minister Jean Chretien made a major concession to Quebec separatists Wednesday, five days away from a vote that could change the map of North America. Chretien, who delivered an address to the nation in English, allowed opposition leader Lucien Bouchard to respond -- in French. 'It is not only the future of Quebec that will be decided on Monday -- it is the future of our country,' Chretien said. 'The decision that will be made is serious and irreversible, with deep, deep consequences.' Weekend polls indicated a surge in support for the separatist, or 'Yes,' forces. As he did Tuesday night at a suburban Montreal rally, Chretien referred to his own Quebec heritage, and asked in his bilingual address, 'Are you ready to tell the world that people of different languages, different cultures and different backgrounds cannot live together in harmony?' Looking serious, sincere and at times even sad, Chretien spoke of Canada's history. 'It is true that Canada is not perfect. But I cannot think of a single place in the world that comes closer. Not a single place where people lead better lives. Where they live in greater peace and security, ' said Chretien. 'In a few days, all the shouting will be over. And at that moment, you will be alone to make your decision. At that moment I urge you, my fellow Quebecers, to listen to your heart -- and to your head,' he concluded.
Chretien invoked a rarely used part of the national Broadcasting Act to air his address, and although not required to do so by law offered equal time to the leader of the opposition, federal separatist leader Bouchard. Unlike Chretien, Bouchard delivered a completely different speech -- rather in French than in English. Speaking twice as long in French, Bouchard delivered a stinging personal attack on Chretien, laying at his feet virtually every failed constitutional change in the history of Quebec. Bouchard also said any further attempts at negotiations were a 'waste of time.' In English, Bouchard called on Canadians outside Quebec to respect Quebec's right to self-determination. 'With regards to the decision that will be taken by the majority of Quebecers next Monday, I expect this common value of democracy to prevail,' he said. The English addresses by Chretien and Bouchard were delivered by all English television networks across Canada. The French versions were carried by the French television networks, largely limited to the province of Quebec. Earlier in the day another leader, the president of the United States, waded into the debate. Responding to a question at a press conference in Washington, President Bill Clinton repeated his usual line that the Quebec referendum was an internal Canadian matter, but then proceeded to spell out what he thought about a united Canada. 'I can tell you that a strong and united Canada has been a wonderful partner for the United States and an incredibly important and constructive citizen throughout the entire world,' Clinton said. Nearly 5 million voters have registered to vote in the Oct. 30 referendum.