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The Story of Manitoba
Chapter XLIII The School Question


Manitoba's long contest with the Dominion government over the disallowance of railway charters ended in a victory for the province; but the Dominion soon made what most people regarded as another attack on the rights of the province, and the battle was renewed in another field. The position taken by the government of Manitoba in the long controversy over the "School Question'"will be understood better, if it is remembered that the "Remedial Bill," which the Dominion government introduced into the House of Commons, was regarded as an attempt to override the right of the province to make laws for the management of its public schools.

The Act to Establish a System of Education in the Province, passed in 1871, had never been satisfactory to all the people. The newspapers of the day pointed out some of its weaknesses when the bill was enacted, and its defects became more apparent as the years went by. When Mr. Davis became premier in 1874-, he promised an amendment to the act which would make it more satisfactory ; but while this removed one or two minor defects, the most serious ones remained, and dissatisfaction continued to grow. It was claimed that many of the schools were inefficient, that a large number of teachers were poorly qualified, that the machinery of administration was defective, and that the government grants were not fairly distributed. The dissatisfaction of one section of the community found an expression as early as 1876 in a resolution adopted by the Protestant section of the Board of Education on October 4th. The resolution asked that a school act be drafted which would embody the following principles:

"1. The establishment of a purely non-sectarian system of public schools.

"2. The appointment of one or more inspectors for said schools.

"3. The compulsory use of English text-books in all public schools.

"4. All public schools subject to the same rules and regulations.

"5. The establishment, as soon as practicable, of a training school for teachers.

"G. The examining, grading, and licensing of all public school teachers by one board of examiners and subject to the same rules and regulations.

"7. The abolition of the Board of Education in its present sectional character and the appointment of a new board without sections.

"8. The division of the school monies amongst public schools as follows :A percentage to be divided equally among all schools, a percentage to be divided according to the average attendance, and the remainder to be placed at the disposal of the Board of Education to he used as they see fit in the interests of education.

"9. Provisions for taking a poll whenever the same may he required."

The government of the day did not make the changes asked for, nor were many of them made during Mr. Norquay's premiership, although there is reason to believe that, his own convictions were in favor of most of them; but soon after Mr. Greenway came into power it became known 1hat the government intended to make radical changes in the school law of the province.' At a public reception tendered to Mr. D Alton McCarthy, M. P., at Portage la Prairie during the month of August, 1889, Hon. Joseph Martin intimated plainly some of the changes contemplated by the government, and a similar announcement was made by Hon. Mr. Smart at Clearwater about the same time. The changes suggested by the provincial ministers were in line with those which public opinion had demanded for several years.

In 1890 the act of 1871 was repealed and replaced by two new laws. One of these created a Department of Education and an Advisory Board. The Department of Education consisted of the members of the Executive Council, or cabinet, and one of them acted as the head of the department. It was charged with the administration of educational affairs in general. The Advisory Board consisted of seven members, four being appointed by the Department of Education, two being chosen by the public school teachers of the province, and one being appointed by the University Council. It determined courses of study for the schools, authorized text-books, fixed the requirements for teachers, and decided what religious exercises should be held in the schools. The other law, known as the Public Schools Act, practically abolished the Protestant and Roman Catholic schools, which had existed previously, and made all the public schools of the province unsectarian national schools, subject to the same regulations, using the same text-books, and conducted by teachers having the same qualifications. It provided that these schools should be free for children between the ages of six and sixteen years, fixed the government grants for their support, and determined the sums to be collected by each municipality for the maintenance of the schools within its boundaries.

The Public Schools Act caused much dissatisfaction among the Roman Catholic people of the province; and their dissatisfaction was greatest in "Winnipeg where, previous to the passing of the act, there were a number of Roman Catholic schools, supported by taxes collected by the city and by legislative grants, as were the other city schools. The Roman Catholics of the city determined to continue their schools as Catholic schools instead of transforming them into public schools; and as no government grants could be paid and no municipal taxes levied for their support, the expense of their maintenance had to be met by subscriptions. At the same time the Roman Catholics had to pay taxes for the support of the public schools as other property-holders did. They claimed that this was unjust and that the legislature had no power to pass the Public, Schools Act, inasmuch as it deprived them of certain rights and privileges guaranteed them by subsection 1 of section 22 of the Manitoba Act. The whole section is as follows:

"22. In and for the Province, the said Legislature may exclusively make laws in relation to education, subject and according to the following provisions:

"(1) Nothing in any such law shall prejudicially affect any right or privilege with respect to Denominational Schools which any class of persons have by law or practice in the Province at the Union.

"(2) An appeal shall lie to the. Governor General in Council from any act or decision of the Legislature of the Province, or any provincial authority, affecting any right or privilege of the Protestant or Roman Catholic minority of the Queen's subjects in relation to education.

"(3) In case any such provincial law as from time to time seems to the Governor-General in Council requisite for the due execution of the provisions of this section is not made, or in case any decision of the Governor-General in Council or any appeal under this section is not duly executed by the proper provincial authority in that behalf, then, and in every such case, and as far only as the circumstances of each case require, the Parliament of Canada may make remedial laws for the due execution of the provisions of this section, and of any decision of the Governor-General in Council under this section.".

To test the matter two cases were taken into the courts. Of these the case of Barrett vs. the City of Winnipeg is most frequently mentioned. This case was appealed and again appealed until it came before the judicial committee of the privy council, which decided that the legislature of Manitoba had full power to pass the Public Schools Act and that the act did not prejudicially affect any right or privilege which the Roman Catholics bad at the time the country was federated with Canada,

But subsection 2 of section 22 of the Manitoba Act seems a little wider in its application than the preceding subsection, and the Roman Catholics believed that it gave them the right to appeal to the governor-general in council against the school legislation of the province. Accordingly they sent a memorial and appeal to him in November, 1892. It was arranged to refer the question of their right to make such an appeal to the supreme court of Canada, and its live judges decided by a majority of three to two that the Roman Catholics did not have the- right. An appeal from this decision was made to the privy council in 1894, and on the 29th of January, 1895, the judicial committee of that body reversed the decision of the supreme court, declared that the Roman Catholics of Manitoba had been deprived of certain rights in regard to education conferred on them after the union with Canada, and established their right to appeal to the governor-general in council for redress, although it did not assume to point out the method by which such redress could be secured.

The appeal of the Roman Catholics was brought before the governor-general in council for consideration on February 26, 1895, and was discussed for several days. The result of the deliberations was a remedial order, passed on March 19th, which required the government of Manitoba to modify the school act of 1890 so as to restore the right to maintain Roman Catholic, schools in the manner provided for in the act repealed in 1890, the right to share proportionately in any grant made out of the public funds for the purposes of education, and the right of Roman Catholics to be exempted from the payment of taxes levied for the support of other schools than their own.

In May Mr Greenwav and Mr. Sifton went to Ottawa to confer with the. Dominion authorities in regard to this peremptory order, but no agreement was reached; and in June the legislature met to hear and endorse the reply which the provincial government wished to make to the remedial order. This reply did not refuse to enact the remedial legislation demanded, but it pointed out the reasons for the changes made in 1890, showed that the -old and unsatisfactory conditions would be re-established by carrying out the remedial order, deprecated all haste in such an important matter, and urged that a thorough investigation should be made by the Dominion government. It offered all possible assistance in making an investigation into the whole matter. But the rejoinder of the Dominion government, received in July, practically refused;! an investigation and repeated in less peremptory tones the original order. It also embodied a statement, made in parliament by Hon. G. E. Foster, that if the Manitoba government failed to make an arrangement fairly satisfactory to the Catholic minority, the Dominion parliament would be summoned not later than January, 1896, to enact whatever legislation might be deemed necessary to afford that minority a measure of relief.

Late in the year the provincial government made its reply to this repeated order, urging the arguments previously made against such a reversal of its educational policy as that contemplated in the order, again inviting the federal authorities to investigate conditions in Manitoba, offering to listen to any well-founded grievance, and suggesting that any remedial legislation should originate with the provincial government and legislature. The next step of the Dominion government was to appoint Sir Donald A. Smith, Hon. Mr. Dickey, and Senator Desjardins as commissioners to arrange some compromise with the provincial government. The legislature had been dissolved in January, 1896, and Mr. Greenway's government had appealed to the people on its school policy with the result that thirty-three of the forty provincial constituencies returned members pledged to support it. . With this evidence that the people of the province were behind him and his ministers, Mr. Greenway met the commissioners sent to Winnipeg by the Ottawa government. No agreement was reached, although some of the proposals made by the Dominion commissioners, as well as some of the counter-proposals made by the provincial ministers, were incorporated in the settlement made a year later. The remedial bill, which had been introduced into the house of commons, was the great obstacle in the way of an agreement, the provincial authorities contending that it should be withdrawn as a preliminary to any settlement and the commissioners promising that it would be withdrawn after an agreement had been signed. The Manitoba government was standing by the right of the province to legislate in regard to its schools.

The attitude of the Dominion government on this question stirred Tip a political storm in parliament and throughout the country, which has hardly been equalled in the history of Canada. In Manitoba the contemplated action of the Ottawa government was regarded as another invasion of the rights of the province, and it roused indignation as strong as that caused by disallowance/ while the rest of Canada showed Manitoba far more sympathy than she had ever received in her struggle against railway monopoly. There were elements in this controversy which had no place in the earlier contest. All the influence of the Roman Catholic church was exerted in favor of remedial legislation, and the demands made by Ihe French and the Roman Catholics were regarded by people of other races and other creeds as demands for special privileges and were resented accordingly. The Orangemen and members of the Equal Rights Association took an active part ili the agitation, and party lines were often obliterated as people ranged themselves in opposing ranks over remedial legislation.

If Sir John Thompson, broad-minded and judicious, had been premier of Canada, the storm in parliament might have been averted; but lie had passed away on December 12, 1894, and his successor. Sir Mackenzie Bowell, did not have the complete confidence of his colleagues in the cabinet and his followers in the houses of parliament. As the agitation increased, one by-election after another resulted in the return of a member opposed to the premier's policy of remedial legislation. Then some of his ministers refused to follow his lead and resigned. Sir Charles Tapper, Canadian High Commissioner in London, came into the cabinet to help the premier pilot the party through the storm; but it was too late. Just before parliament met, seven of the ministers resigned their portfolios and were able to prevent Sir Mackenzie Bowell from forming a new cabinet. A kind of truce was finally arranged by which he was to retain the premiership until the end of the session and then surrender it to Sir Charles Tupper.

The remedial bill was introduced into the house of commons on February 11 and came up for a second reading on March 3. Its opponents led by Hon. Joseph Martin, who had become a member of the Dominion house, Hon. N. Clarke Wallace, and others, kept up an unceasing tight against it for six weeks; and in spite of the best efforts of Sir Charles Tupper, who had assumed the leadership of the commons, the bill could not be passed. April 16 had come, parliament had only another week to live, and it was absolutely necessary to vote appropriations for the public service; so the government was forced to abandon the bill. Parliament was prorogued on April 23, and having reorganized his cabinet, Sir Charles Tupper appealed to the country. The general elections, resulted in such an overwhelming defeat that no Dominion government would dare attempt remedial legislation against Manitoba.

Soon after the Laurier government came into office, negotiations with the Manitoba authorities were renewed and an agreement was reached. It was embodied in an amendment to the Public Schools Act, which was adopted by the provincial legislature in March, 1897, and came into force on August 1st. The amendment aimed to maintain the national and non-sectarian character of the schools until half-past three o'clock in the afternoon and to permit religious exercises and sectarian teaching after that hour, if parents desired it. This teaching was to be given only when authorized by a resolution of a majority of the school trustees of the district acting on a petition signed by at least ten parents or guardians in rural districts and by at least twenty-five parents or guardians in villages, towns, or cities. It might be given by a clergyman whose field included the school district, by some one approved by him, or by the teacher of the school. If the pupils of the school represented more than one religious denomination and the school building had but one room, the children of each sect we aid have the room in turn for religious teaching during the last half hour of the day, but if there were more than one room, the children might be divided according to religious denominations and each denomination sent to a room as far as possible. No pupil was to be required to remain after half past three o'clock for religious instruction or religious exercises, if his parent did not wish it; and pupils were not to be segregated according to the sectarian difference of their parent* for any of the secular studies pursued before half past three o'clock In any town where the average attendance of Roman Catholic children in the school was forty or over, or in villages and rural districts where it-was twenty-five or over, the trustees were required, on a petition from parents or guardians, to appoint a Roman Catholic teacher. In districts where Roman Catholics were in a majority, non-Catholic parents might secure the appointment of a non-Catholic teacher under similar conditions. If ten pupils in any school spoke French, or any language other than English, as their native tongue, the teaching of such pupils was to be conducted in French, or such other language, and English upon the bilingual system.

Such, in brief, "was the amendment to the Public Schools Act, passed as a settlement of the question which had stirred the whole Dominion so deeply. It did not give the Roman Catholics of Manitoba all that they had asked, but it allowed them to bring their schools under the law as public schools, while, retaining the privilege of giving a certain amount of religious instruction. It allowed a certain amount of teaching in languages other than English in districts where other languages were spoken, and it permitted the appointment of a number of Roman Catholic teachers in districts where any considerable number of Roman Catholic families resided. Some changes have been made since the amendment was passed, but it still determines the general lines on which the schools of Manitoba are conducted at present.

In nearly all parts of the province, except Winnipeg, the Roman Catholics took advantage of the amended act, and their schools became public schools. As public schools they are supported by government grants and taxes collected by the municipalities in which the school districts are situated. In Winnipeg, however, the Roman Catholic schools have not been brought under the school law and made public schools. The Roman Catholic citizens have sought again and again to have their schools taken over by the public school board, on condition that Roman Catholic children be segregated and taught by Roman Catholic teachers. As the law distinctly prohibits such segregation, the school board could not make the desired arrangement, and so the Roman Catholic people have continued their schools, supporting them by subscriptions.

The clause of the amendment, which permits bilingual teaching, has had results, which may not have been foreseen when the amendment was adopted. Full advantage of it was taken in districts where the majority of people speak French; districts in which German is the prevailing language soon followed the lead of the French communities; and the Polish and Ruthenian settlers were not slow in demanding bilingual teaching in many of the schools which their children attend. The total number of districts having public schools in operation during the year ending June 30, 1912, was 1,436, and they employed 2,36!) teachers. Of the schools 125 were French-English, 43 were German-English, and 65 Ruthenian-English or Polish-English.


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