News of the death of the Meech Lake constitutional accord was received here Friday night with resignation and a concern for the economic impact that failure would bring, but with expressions of hope that time would heal the wounds and enable the country to come back together.
Marie-Claude Ortie, a journalist with the Montreal newspaper La Presse, said that as a French Canadian she didn't feel rejected by English Canada.
"It's just that the country isn't work ing. That's what this shows," she said.
It's "like a house that's badly built. You fix the door, and the window falls out; you put in a new window, and the chimney falls down. There's misunderstanding and communication problems between French and English Canada, the Indians, the whole thing isn't working. I'm discouraged, not angry. I'm disillusioned. It's pathetic," she added.
Alex Harper, executive vice president of the 7,000-member Montreal Board of Trade, said he will urge political leaders to get back together. "Perhaps after a cooling-off period, they will realize they have much to gain by sitting and talking than if they don't."
Harper said he doesn't agree with the "doom and gloom" scenarios of Quebec's separatism without approval of the accord. "We still have Canada and a high degree of will by the political leaders" to keep the country together.
But, he admitted, failure would carry a high economic price.
"Any time you have uncertainty, people gulp and think twice about investing, or they demand a higher rate of return. That's one reason why our interest rates are so high. Interest rates are based on risk," he said.
The Canadian dollar, which has ridden the roller coaster of optimism and pessimism about the accord, fell 0.21 cents U.S. against the American dollar Friday, closing at 84.81 cents.
"Twenty foreign investment projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars" have been stalled because of uncertainty over the accord, said Louis Arsenault, president of the Quebec Chamber of Commerce.
"Investor skittishness about Canada could last a couple of months or a couple of years, no one can tell," said Andre Downs, an economist with the Royal Bank of Canada-Montreal.
Although eight provinces and the federal government have approved the Meech Lake accord, anti-French demonstrations in English Canada during the debate have "scared" Quebeckers, said Pierre Bibeau, president of Montreal's Olympic Stadium. He mentioned the dozens of Ontario towns that declared themselves English-only and anti-Quebec groups that wiped their feet on Quebec's flag.
"Everybody accepted Meech Lake because they were afraid of something happening. They did not accept what it meant to Quebec. They accepted it for the wrong reasons," he said. "The Canada we have known since 1867 is dead. But, there will be some new accord, some new association or procedure. It may be the end of the Canada we have known, but not the end of Canada as a country."
Alain Leduc, a Montreal taxi driver, blamed politicians for getting Canada into this mess. "Canada must remain united," he said.
Sunday, Montreal will celebrate St. Jean-Baptiste Day, a Quebec holiday, with a parade, the first time since the march was canceled 1969 after violent separatist demonstrations.
No violence is expected this time, but "I could see jubilation in the streets, the first blush of a perverse jubilation that precedes radical change," said Allan Gregg, president of Decima Research, the Toronto-based polling firm.