QUEBEC'S wafer-thin rejection of independence is also a rejection of the economic chaos separation would have brought. But the closeness of the vote is a clear sign Canada must do more to meet the nationalist aspirations of the French-speaking province. Throughout the world, nations which have splintered have seen their economies collapse, from Czechoslovakia to the former Soviet Union. With the global trend now towards regional trading blocs and super-nations, as shown by the ever-closer integration of members of the European Union, for Canada to have tried to move in the opposite direction could have been disastrous, and threatened the future of the North American Free Trade Association. Certainly the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong immigrants would have been appalled at the economic consequences of a divided nation. But the violence which erupted within hours of the referendum result is an indication of the tensions which Ottawa must now urgently act to try to defuse. From a purely practical point of view, with 49.4 per cent having voted for independence (which is far more than in the last referendum in 1980) something should be done to give Quebec more of a separate identity. If not, the next such poll, which nationalists have already pledged to hold, may turn out very differently. That means changing the Canadian constitution to incorporate Quebec's long-standing insistence on a right of veto over all major changes and to officially grant 'distinct status' to North America's largest French-speaking society. They are demands which Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien has belatedly accepted. With the new-found support of other provincial leaders, these changes should now be swiftly passed into law. It is far from clear whether these will be enough to appease nationalist sentiment in Quebec. Certainly they will not stop separatist leader Lucien Bouchard from continuing his campaign. But, having come so close to disintegration, this is the least Canada can now do to try to guard against such a threat arising again.