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Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, seeming almost taken by surprise as the vote neared, finally made a dramatic unity speech this week. But it may be too little too late. The spectacle of the Canadian people coming from all over the continent to plead with Quebec to stay in the union can be seen as a referendum on Chretien's failed leadership on one of his most fundamental responsibilities: preserving the nation. "Quebec is tired of being treated as if it was not to be taken seriously, as if it would never leave, no matter what," says TIME International editor George Russell. "If the people of Quebec vote to seceed, a whole set of assumptions about Canada will be shattered. An assumption that it is one, unified nation, for one thing, with shared responsibilities. Who, for example, would be responsible for Quebec's share of the huge Canadian debt? How would the departure of this large province affect the GATT agreement? What would the new relationship with Canada and with other nations be?" If Quebec votes yes, Canada will be forced to explore all of the implications of this painful divorce.