Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Mystique of the Manitoba Schools Question

The Mystique of the Manitoba Schools Question

By Natsumi Koshigaya
The Daily Magi
September 23, 2060


The Manitoba Schools Question was a political crisis in the Canadian Province of Manitoba that occurred late in the 19th century, involving publicly funded separate schools for Roman Catholics and Protestants. The crisis eventually spread to the national level, becoming one of the key issues in the federal election of 1896 and resulted in the defeat of the Conservative government, which had been in power for most of the previous thirty years. Because of the close linkage at that time between religion and language, the Schools Question raised the deeper question whether French would survive as a language or a culture in Western Canada.

The result of the crisis was that by the end of the 19th century, French was no longer supported as an official language in Manitoba or the neighbouring North-West Territories, which in turn led to a strengthening of French Canadian nationalism in Quebec.

The "Schools Question", as it was known, had divided the Conservative government since 1890, and especially after Macdonald's death in 1891 when no strong leader replaced him. However, so long as education remained an exclusively provincial jurisdiction, the federal government had limited powers to intervene. In light of the Privy Council decision in Brophy v. Manitoba, the political situation changed. The federal government now had the authority to act; the question was whether it would.

In 1896, the federal government of Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell introduced remedial legislation under s. 22(3) of the Manitoba Act, 1870 in the House of Commons. However, the draft legislation was very unpopular with some members of the Conservative caucus, and its introduction triggered a political crisis. Faced with a caucus revolt, Prime Minister Bowell was forced to call an election and to resign in April of that year. Following the election call, with the remedial bill not passed by Parliament, Charles Tupper became Prime Minister and led the Conservatives in the election.

The election of 1896 was centred on the Schools Question. It especially divided Conservatives in Quebec and Ontario; French Catholic Quebecers were offended that French was being eliminated in Manitoba as an official language, just as the French-speaking M├ętis population had been forced off their lands, while Ontario saw opposition to Catholic support by the strong Orange Order. The Liberals, under Wilfrid Laurier (a French Catholic), took advantage of the division in the Conservative party. Laurier won the election and became Prime Minister.

Laurier developed a compromise with Thomas Greenway, Premier of Manitoba. They agreed that Catholic education would be permitted in public schools, and French would be used in teaching, but only on a school-by-school basis requiring there to be a minimum of 10 French speaking pupils. They also re-established a Catholic school board, but without government funding. Many Catholics were still opposed to this compromise, and even appealed to Pope Leo XIII. The Pope sent an observer, who concluded, like Laurier, that the compromise was the fairest one possible with so few Catholics left in the province.

As French was no longer an official language, its use declined greatly. By 1916, the guarantee of French instruction was removed from the compromise, leaving English as the only official language in use in the province. The Schools Question, along with the execution of Louis Riel in 1885, was one of the incidents that led to strengthening of French Canadian nationalism in Quebec in the late 19th century.

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