Though the voters of Quebec have a long history of electing separatists but rejecting separation from the rest of Canada, the latest polls show the outcome of next Monday's election on this historic issue is too close to call.

But from this distance it seems clear that a move to disunity on the part of French-speaking and culturally unique Quebec would at best be a leap into uncertainty that could easily hurt everyone, including Canada's American neighbors.That's because a breakup of English-speaking Canada into two geographically isolated pieces would make Canada a weaker ally and a less attractive place to do business.

There would have to be a whole new set of trade, defense, banking, communication and immigration treaties. Canada's maritime provinces would be left isolated and perhaps more impoverished. The western provinces could be expected to grow farther from Quebec and perhaps closer to the United States. Any instability on the world's longest undefended border would raise troubling national security considerations for the United States.

As for Quebec, separation could further impair its already unemployment-ridden economy and isolate the province just as technology and trade are erasing some national borders elsewhere in the world. Quebec's 6.5 million inhabitants constitute a quarter of Canada's population, the province is the country's largest and Montreal is the second largest city. Even so, the economy of Quebec is such an integral part of the Canadian economy that separation would be costly and painful for both parties.

Canada has been a remarkably good neighbor. It's friends and admirers in America have ample reason to hope Canada remains a unified neighbor.