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CANADIAN POLL SHOWS SHIFTING SENTIMENT AS 51% NOW FAVOR SECESSION FOR QUEBEC; RESULTS SHOW WIDER GULF BETWEEN FRENCH-, ENGLISH-SPEAKING AREAS

If Quebec wants to secede from Canada, the rest of the country should let the discontented province go, according to a majority of Canadians surveyed in a poll.

The survey, being published this week in Maclean's magazine, showed 51 percent of respondents believe English Canada should let Quebec leave, while 47 percent say it should do all it can to convince the French-speaking province to stay.

The Maclean's magazine poll shows 70 percent of Canadians feel the issue should be left to sit for a while and only 28 percent want to tackle it now.

The pollsters from the Decima agency surveyed 1,500 people across Canada in the first week of November. The poll's margin of error is 5.2 percent.

The results highlight the widening gulf between Quebec, home to most of the country's French Canadians, and the other nine English-speaking Canadian provinces.

It also reflects the country's fatigue after a year of heightened tensions between French and English Canadians and the noisy collapse of a constitutional accord designed to bring Quebec into the fold while respecting its cultural differences.

Last year, most English Canadians -- 53 percent of the respondents -- said the country should press Quebec to stay, and only 46 percent said it should be left to quit the federation.

In Quebec itself, the separatist sentiment has risen to all-time highs. Since the summer, polls show that two-thirds of Quebeckers want political independence for their province along with membership in an economic association with the rest of Canada. More than half want outright independence.

Quebec's separatist movement is founded on the view that the 124-year-old Canadian federation has yielded few benefits for the province and ignores its urgent desire to protect its distinct French-speaking culture.

The federal government tried to deal with Quebec's grievances with the Meech Lake Accord, but the constitutional amendment collapsed in June after two English Canadian provinces refused to ratify it, saying Quebec was not entitled to special treatment.

The amendment's failure prompted Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa to establish a committee to study the province's future.

The committee has been holding hearings since October and is scheduled to make a recommendation in the spring.

Until now, the province's drift toward separation has been checked by Bourassa, who is a federalist. But Bourassa was diagnosed as having skin cancer in the fall, and his illness has added to the uncertainty surrounding Quebec's future.

Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has set up a traveling commission to gauge Canadians' feelings about their country, and he plans to establish another panel to look at the constitution.

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