MONTREAL — STANDING in a bitter early winter wind outside a polling station in Montreal's St. Louis voting district - an urban mix of students, seniors, and blue-collar workers - Tania Camire pauses to consider the impact of her vote on Quebec's fate within, or without, Canada.
"I voted no because I don't want a constitution like this," says the dark-haired Francophone fashion student clad in black leather jacket and chrome buckles. She is referring to the government's "constitutional unity" plan that she helped defeat in a nationwide referendum Oct. 26.
"The government was proposing to grant us rights we [Quebeckers] already have," she complains, but then hastens to add, "Before I vote for [Quebec's] separation [from Canada] I have to see what would happen, good or bad."
A lot of Quebec nationalists like Ms. Camire stood shoulder to shoulder in the polling booths with ardent separatists to vote down the government plan but are cautious about the notion of separating from Canada.
Standing right beside Camire, however, is her friend Valerie Dumaine, also a fashion student, also wearing a leather jacket. Ms. Dumaine's sentiments are unequivocal, placing her among the 30 percent of Francophones who are hard-core separatists.
"I voted no because I don't like what they proposed," she says. "I want to separate from Canada and make Quebec like a country."
To be, or not to be, a part of Canada never seems far from the lips of anyone in Quebec.
Big votes like the Quebec referendum on sovereignty in 1980 and the just-defeated national referendum provide the rationale for residents of this province to chew over once again the reasons why Quebec should stay, or go.
"I'm very disappointed in Canada," says Andrew Nichols, a McGill University political science student who voted yes in the referendum.
"We [Canadians] pride ourselves on being tolerant of other people. But I think what the `no' supporters have shown is that their regions and group interests are far more important than unifying the country and ending this mess," he says.
And ending the mess is important, with Canadians uniformly weary of constitutional wrangling.
"There's this feeling in the rest of Canada [outside Quebec] that it will be just like after the Meech Lake accords failed," Mr. Nichols says.
"When there was no breakup of the country, no disaster, people decided not to worry. But I think they're fooling themselves. I look at it as a cumulative process. Quebec can only be knocked down so many times before wanting out of Canada," he adds.
Christopher Diomen, a 25-year-old Montreal resident and restaurant worker, says he voted no because "I'm a separatist. I don't want anything to do with the rest of Canada. I would have preferred a vote on independence."
He may get his chance. Close observers of the Quebec political situation say that an up-or-down vote on sovereignty is likely within the next two years, following provincial elections in which the separatist Parti Qucois will use this referendum victory to bolster its cause, while also pointing to the "no" in western Canada as a "rejection" of Canada.
Polls show that despite being hammered by damaging leaks that hurt his credibility and ability to sell the constitutional agreement in his province, Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa is gaining public support.
But regaining support from some former admirers may be hard when the next election rolls around in late 1994.
"I don't trust Bourassa," says Marc Boudreau, a 41-year-old head nurse. "Too many things are suspect. I voted no but not for independence, only for the question of the constitutional plan."
Across town in a largely Anglophone voting district near McGill University, John Saunders, an Anglophone McGill student of African studies, says he is voting no.
"It's hard to pin down one reason why I'm against this," he says. "I thought it was much too broad and ... the idea that if you vote no the country will cease to exist is a joke. The government's plan was just a smoke screen for the deterioration of social programs."
Gianolla, a 76-year-old artist with a black beret, gray beard, and green Army fatigue jacket, moved to Montreal from Bellinzona, Switzerland, 40 years ago. Still, he does not understand the fuss over sovereignty.
"All the time for 40 years they have talked about separation," he says. "Why separate when it's the best country in the world?"