The Manitoba School

’s Act Essay, Research Paper

The British North America act was suppose to properly divide powers between the federal government and the provincial governments. Although in order to protect minority groups from complete domination or assimilation by majority groups, the BAA act did give some powers to Ottawa over provinces, such as the powers of disallowance or their ability under section 93 to enact “remedial legislation” to protect the educational rights of existing denominational schools. These powers given to Ottawa would inevitability cause some conflict between the provinces and the federal government. The Manitoba Schools crisis of the 1890s is only one(though the best known) example. In 1890, under section 93 of the BAA act, The Manitoba government passed a Schools Act. A provincial department of education was formed and gave non-sectarian schools the provincial grant for education. Other schools could still exist, but would not receive any help from the provincial government. Those who insisted on helping the catholic schooling would also have to pay their public-school taxes. The reason for the change in Manitoba was because of the decreasing M tis population. The English-speaking population had grown steadily while the M tis were heading in separate directions. Many M tis left the province. French- speaking Canadians from Quebec did not join their English-speaking compatriots to the same extent in moving West in the late nineteenth century. The Roman Catholic minority would now have to fight for their right to have their catholic school funded for them. The questions arise is whether or not the federal government should have disallowed the Manitoba Schools Act of 1890?

After the privy council reversed the Supreme Courts decision which was in favour of the Roman Catholics, it was time for the federal government to intervene. After the Catholics pleaded with the federal government based on section 93 of the BNA act, and after all the legal procedures took place, the final verdict was that it was perfectly legal for Ottawa to change Manitoba’s decision based on the remedial legislation as set out in section 93. With the election nearby, it was important for the conservatives to take the right stand on such an important issues. They agreed that if elected they would inflict the remedial legislation on behalf of the Manitoba Roman Catholics. The question is, was it in their best interest? With the diminishing french population of Manitoba and the growing English, should they even have bothered giving catholic an equal amount of money? This would have an important impact on other province’s views on the education system. Essentially any major decision would set a precedent for our country.

The french language issue was also of great concern to the french. They certainly did not want to lose their french as an official language in the province. They did not want to lose the french schools, even though they had become a rather large minority. Ottawa was to decide on whether or not to continue recognizing french as an official language in Manitoba. This problem was not new to the federal government, they had always had language problems with Quebec and now found themselves with an all familiar problem, except things were a little different. This time, they were dealing with a huge minority public. Should they have continued to recognize french as a language and in schools?

The federal government had no reason to interfere with Manitoba’s decision to pass the School Act. If Manitoba felt that there were no need to continue supporting catholic schools, then the federal government should have respected their decision. Although the British North America act did allow the federal government to interfere with provincial decisions, it should not have been in their own interest to act out the remedial legislation. It has never been proven what kind of government Macdonald wanted to establish.

The constitution also contained provisions reflecting the views of such influential founders as John A. Macdonald saw the new constitution as an instrument for building a great new nation on the northern half of the continent, extending from coast to coast and expressing itself primarily through its national government. The provinces were a necessary concession to existing local sentiment, but their powers were relatively unimportant in the larger scheme of things.

It would appear that he preferred a centralized government, and the conservatives were ready to prove that they were by stating that they would indeed use the remedial legislation. It was wrong of them to feel that they had should have that much power over the provinces. Manitoba had made a decision which benefited the much larger majority group of that province and felt they politically and constitutionally correct in acting upon their right as provincial government. The division of powers would be useless unless they were seriously exercised. Canada was formed on economic grounds and not mere patriotic grounds. A country as culturally divided as they were back then could not expect to be govern by one central government. Although it was wise of the federal government to imply some power to them in case of some very unusual circumstances, but it was also important that they realized the authority given to the provincial government. The country could not properly function if Ottawa kept using the constitution to their own benefit.

Another reason why the federal government should not have interfered with Manitoba’s decision was because of the fact that the french population had decreased significantly and essentially it was useless go keep giving money to them. The french population of Manitoba had simply not grown to expectation. The M tis had scattered around everywhere and few Quebeckers had moved to Manitoba. The government was looking out for the interest of the majority of the public. It was not like the situation in Quebec were the majority was french populated. This was an English dominated population. The Ottawa government had to see this as an expanding, primarily British community that had little to do with the french. They should not have bothered with Manitoba.

In the end, Wilfred Laurier did what he thought was best which was to meet their demands somewhere down the middle, attempting to make everybody happy. He would not give state-supported denominational schools, yet there would be some religious ceremonies after regular school hours. French teaching could be applied, but only when there were a certain number of french catholic students in the class. Essentially, french became a language just like any other language other than English, not officially recognized. Many Roman Catholics were very upset with Laurier, accusing him of fallen to the English majority. I feel that he made the right decision, when he chose not to grant them government money. He did the only logical procedure given the fact that they were quite a minority group. Even Monsignor Merry del Val, on behalf of the pope agreed that these were the best possible terms that could be given to them under the circumstances. It would not have been fair to give special privileges to the minority catholic using section 93’s remedial clause. It was important for the federal government to establish some sort of authority over provincial policies, yet their approach was the most important aspect and they achieved this goal quite well, by negotiating but not giving in into all their demands.


Francis R. Douglas, Richard Jones and Donald B.D. Smith, Destinies, Canadian History to Confederation, Montreal, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1996

Keith Archer, Rainer Knopff, Roger Gibbins and Leslie A. Pal,Parameters of Power, Canada’s Political Institutions,Toronto, Nelson Canada, 1995

Lovell Clarks, ed.,The Manitoba School Question: Majority Rule or Minority Rights? Toronto: Copp Clark,1968


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