TWO commissions on Canada's future - one sponsored by Quebec, the other by Ottawa - take to the road in coming months to test public opinion on national unity. Both inquiries follow last June's failure of the 1987 Meech Lake Accord, which would have guaranteed the French-speaking province of Quebec special status within Canada.
The 36-member Commission on the Political and Constitutional Future of Quebec will crisscross Quebec for six weeks, gathering depositions. It will be the biggest story in the province for the rest of the year as it travels with its entourage of reporters and television crews. The commission is jointly headed by Michel Belanger, a former bank president and senior civil servant, and Jean Campeau, the former head of the Caisse de Depot, Quebec's giant pension fund. Mr. Belanger favors federalism, Mr. Campeau leans toward a sovereign Quebec. Their job is to produce a report saying what Quebec should do.
``Consensus means one report, but agreement on all points by 36 members isn't necessary. Seventy-five percent is very acceptable consensus,'' says Campeau.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announced a commission of his own last week. ``Canada is running the risk of fracturing along the linguistic and regional fault lines,'' he told the House of Commons, as members of the Bloc Qu'eb'ecois shouted ``too late'' across the floor of the legislature.
A 12-member committee will look into the unsolved problems of Canada's Constitution. Keith Spicer, the former commissioner of official languages, will head the panel. One of the criticisms of Meech Lake was that it was hammered out behind closed doors by the prime minister and the premiers of the 10 provinces - no women, no native people. The new panel will include both.
The committee will travel across Canada to hear from what the chairman called ``ordinary Canadians.'' Provincial premiers and other politicians have been excluded. But politicians from Quebec and other provinces say that, as elected leaders, they don't have to listen to an appointed panel.
``The future [of Quebec] will be determined by a decision made here in Quebec,'' says Guy Remillard, Quebec's minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. ``Quebec feels these matters now on should be settled among Quebeckers,'' says Jacques Parizeau, leader of the separatist Parti Qu'eb'ecois.
Politicians in Quebec are calling for the province to declare its independence. Gerald Godin, a Parti Qu'eb'ecois member of the provincial legislature, says that if his separatist party wins the next election, it should declare Quebec independent and not go through a referendum. (The party lost one in 1980).
Mr. Mulroney says, ``I believe the interests of Quebeckers and their economic security are better served in a united Canada and deeply renewed federalism.'' The two commissions will discover whether Canadians agree.