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Last revised:
23 August 2000

Les Québécois, le clergé catholique et l'affaire des écoles du Manitoba / Quebecers, the Catholic Clergy and the Manitoba School Question, 1890-1916

By J. G. Snead Cox

[Note from the editor: This article was published in a prestigious British academic periodical, The Nineteenth Century, in 1897. It provides a history of the issue and examines carefully the judicial aspects. Perhaps, it is mistitled in that it does not particularly examine in detail the position of Laurier, over the years, on the Manitoba school question. In fact, the article is rather uncritical in this respect. Several of Snead Cox's statement would merit further discussion and, at times, nuances. Please note that archival evidence shows conclusively that Laurier was already thinking of an appeal to Rome in the spring of 1896, long before the federal elections and the condemnation of his settlement by the Catholic hierarchy.Still, this article is generally well informed and rather devoid of the prejudiced point of view so frequently held on religious matters at the time.]

The appointment by the holy See of an Apostolic Commissioner to go to Canada, with instructions, if possible, to bring about some tolerable compromise between the representatives of the Catholic minority in Manitoba and the Government of the province, is but one of the signs which show that the problem which now for seven years has troubled the peace of the Dominion is not yet laid to rest. Mr. Laurier's Government finds itself in a singular position. The whole strength of the Catholic hierarchy of Quebec, the province in which the Catholics command a majority of over a million, was thrown into the scale in favour of the educational policy with which the Conservative party was identified; and not the less the Liberals triumphed all along the line, and in Catholic Quebec carried fifty seats out of sixty-five.

Many things combined to bring about this astonishing result. The wish to see a man of their own race and faith for the first time Prime Minister of Canada led French Canadians in troops to the poll to vote for the party led by Mr. Laurier. Then, too, Quebec is ever sensitive to any threat of encroachment by the Parliament of the Dominion upon the rights of a province. It is impossible for the Catholic province to forget that in all that concerns religion and nationality it stands alone in a sisterhood of seven. So seldom had the Federal Parliament sought to coerce a provincial Government, and was it for Catholic and isolated Quebec to encourage the exercise of a power which under other circumstances might so easily be turned against herself ? Finally, and above all, Mr. Laurier, the leader they had trusted so long, had pledged himself to find a more excellent way than that of coercion by which to give back to the Catholics of Manitoba the rights of which they had been robbed. And so, in defiance of the most strenuous efforts of many of the bishops, Catholic Quebec joined hands with Protestant Ontario, and returned the Liberal party, for the first time for eighteen years, to power in Ottawa.

The first task of the new Government was to try to come to an amicable understanding with Manitoba, by which the Catholics of the province should receive back at least some of the privileges of which they had been deprived by the legislation of 1890. Unfortunately the extreme bitterness with which the late contest had been fought made it difficult all at once to secure that perfect co-operation and understanding between the Catholic authorities and the Federal Government which in the conduct of such negotiations was so eminently desirable. Mr. Laurier and Mr. Greenway, the Prime Minister of Manitoba, quickly came to terms ; but the settlement so arrived at, although at first proclaimed as final, was not of a kind which could be accepted by the Canadian bishops or ratified by Rome. Happily there is an earnest desire on all sides to lay this troublesome question to rest - a question which has already vexed the Dominion while a whole generation of children has been growing to manhood - and it is confidently anticipated that the mediation of the Apostolic Commissioner may be the means of bringing all parties together, and, while, perhaps, abating some of the extreme demands of certain well-meaning partisans, may win for the minority in Manitoba terms in which they can honourably acquiesce.

To understand the merits of a quarrel which has stirred the religious and political passions of the people of Canada as nothing else in its whole history has done, it is necessary to examine the conditions out of which the dispute first arose. When Manitoba in 1870 passed from the position of a Crown territory, managed by the Hudson's Bay Company, into that of a province of Canada, its area, which is considerably greater than that of England and Wales, was peopled by about 12,000 persons, whites and half-breeds. In religion this population was about equally divided into Catholics and Protestants. Previous to the Union there was no State system of education. A number of elementary schools existed, but they owed their foundation entirely to voluntary effort, and were supported exclusively by private contributions, either in the form of fees paid by some of the parents or of funds supplied by the Churches. In every case these schools were conducted and managed on strictly denominational lines. When the Act of Union was passed it was sought to secure the continuance of this state of things, and to safeguard the rights of whichever Church should in the hereafter be in the minority by the following sub-sections in the 22nd section, which gave to the legislature of the province the power to make laws in relation to education:

(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 of any provincial authority, affecting any right or privilege of the Protestant or Roman Catholic minority of the Queen's subjects in relation to education.

Those two clauses of the Manitoba Act, 1870, govern the whole situation.

The attention of the new provincial legislature was at once directed to the condition of the elementary schools. The Government decided to supersede the old voluntary system by one of State-aided schools, which, however, were still to be scrupulously denominational in character. The legislature simply took the educational system as it found it and improved it by assistance from public funds. Thus it was arranged that the annual public grant for common school education was to be appropriated equally between the Protestant and the Catholic schools. Certain districts in which the population was mainly Catholic were to be considered Catholic school districts, and certain other districts where the population was mainly Protestant were to be considered Protestant school districts. The arrangement by which Catholic parents were to be held exempt from contribution to the support of Protestant schools, and vice versa, may be conveniently described in the words of the Judicial Committee in Brophy's case:

In case the father or guardian of a school child was a Protestant in a Catholic district, or vice versa, he might send the child to the school of the nearest district of the other section; and in case he contributed to the school the child attended a sum equal to what he would have been bound to pay if he had belonged to that district, he was exempt from payment to the school district in which he lived.

The only important amendment to this Act was passed in 1875, and provided that the legislative grant, instead of being divided between the Protestant and Catholic schools as heretofore, should in future be distributed in proportion to the number of children of school age in the Catholic and Protestant districts. Already immigration had begun to upset the balance of numbers and power, and as the years went on it became evident that the Catholics were destined to be in a permanent minority in Manitoba. This trend of immigration, which in 1875 made legislation necessary, has continued ever since; and to-day the Catholics of the province number only 20,000 out of a total population of 204,000.

No further change was made in the educational system of Manitoba until the memorable year of 1890. In that year the provincial legislature boldly broke all moorings with the past, and, abolishing the separate denominational schools, introduced a system of free compulsory and unsectarian schools, for the support of which the whole community was to be taxed. Henceforward State recognition and all public assistance were to be denied to the denominational schools; it was an educational revolution. The representatives of the minority, which thus found itself suddenly robbed of the rights which it had so carefully sought to safeguard and fence around in the Act of Union, at once took action. The simplest thing would have been to call upon the Federal Government to disallow the new legislation, as it had power to do any time within a year. But the memory of a recent conflict between Manitoba and the Parliament of Canada about a new line which threatened the monopoly of the Canadian Pacific Railway, in which the Federal authorities had found it prudent to give way, induced Cardinal Taschereau and the Catholic hierarchy to petition the Governor-General in Council not to disallow the Act of 1890, but, in general terms, " to afford a remedy to the pernicious legislation above mentioned, and that in the most efficacious and just way." It would be unprofitable to discuss here whether the local conditions were such as in fact to justify the bishops in declining to ask expressly for the disallowance of the Act, and in trusting instead in a plea at large for relief. Certain it is that if the Government had taken the simple and straight course of disallowing the Act of 1890 the remedy would have been swift and effective, and Manitoba would have had no choice but to modify its legislation in a way which would have respected the privileges of the separate schools. In the event, the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John Macdonald, decided to refer the question to the courts of justice, and a test case was begun. For the Catholics the issues were very clearly defined. Before the legislation of 1890 they had enjoyed their own separate schools, appointed their own teachers, arranged their own hours for religious instruction, and received their proportionate share of the public grant for elementary education. The Act of 1890 sent the Catholic minority into the wilderness as outcasts from the public educational system of the country; they might indeed still conduct their own schools, but these could receive no sixpence from the public purse, and the Catholic population was to be taxed for the benefit of the unsectarian schools their children could never use. To test the legality of the change, what is known as Barrett's case was begun in Winnipeg. It was carried to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the Canadian judges by a unanimous decision declared that the Act of 1890 was ultra vires and void. The city of Winnipeg appealed to the Privy Council, and that tribunal in July 1892 reversed the decision of the Canadian Court and affirmed that the Act was valid and binding. The Catholics had built their hopes upon the sub-section of section 22 of the Manitoba Act, 1870, which said no law passed by the provincial legislature should "prejudicially affect any right or privilege with respect to denominational schools which any class of persons has by law or practice in the province at the Union." It was obvious that most of the privileges of which the minority were deprived by the Act of 1890 had been acquired by post-Union legislation, and therefore could not be covered by this clause. After 1890, as before the Union, the minority were perfectly free, if they liked, to keep up their own schools at their own cost. Setting aside the happy period between the Union and 1890, the only difference between the position of the minority subsequently to 1890 and that which they held before 1870 was this, that while before the Union they had to keep up their own schools at their own expense, after 1890 they were liable to be taxed for the schools of other people as well. It was strongly contended that, as Catholic parents could not conscientiously permit their children to go to the unsectarian schools established by the Act of 1890, yet were subject to a compulsory rate for their support, their power of subscribing and obtaining subscriptions in support of their own denominational schools was grievously reduced, and that therefore their rights were "prejudicially affected." That the minority were in a worse position than before the Union could not be disputed; but the question arose whether the legislation of 1890 could be held responsible for the change. The Privy Council thought not. They admitted that the lot of the minority became harder after the legislation of 1890 than it had been before the Union, but declined to say that that was a necessary consequence. After referring to the statement that the minority had now in fact to contribute to two sets of schools, the judgment goes on

That may be so. But what right or privilege is violated or prejudicially affected by the law ? It is not the law that is in fault. It is owing to religious convictions, which everybody must respect, and to the teaching of their Church that Roman Catholics and members of the Church of England find themselves unable to partake of advantages which the law offers to all alike.

The reasoning is not very conclusive. The position of the minority had admittedly been made more difficult in 1890 than it was in 1870. In other words, it had been "prejudicially affected;" the conscientious convictions of the minority had certainly undergone no change, and the only new factor in the situation was the legislation of 1890. Is it possible to resist the conclusion that it was the Act of 1890 by which the position of the minority was affected? It is remarkable also that the judgment goes out of its way to refute the contention that the new unsectarian schools were "in reality Protestant schools." But, accepting the principles upon which the judgment is based, what could it possibly have mattered if the new schools had been avowedly Protestant ? Surely in that case the Privy Council would merely have had to repeat the words they had just used, and say, "It is not the law that is in fault. It is owing to religious convictions, which everybody must respect, and to the teaching of their Church that Roman Catholics find themselves unable to partake of advantages which the law offers to all alike." However, it is unsatisfactory work criticising the equator ; the decision of the Privy Council is final ; the highest tribunal in the empire has spoken - and the rest is silence.

The news that the Manitoba legislation of 1890 had been thus irrevocably declared intra vires, and therefore entitled to the obedience of all concerned, was received with something like consternation by the Catholics of Canada. It was a rude reversal at once of their own hopes and of the unanimous decision of the judges of the Supreme Court of the Dominion. Nevertheless in a little while they took heart again, and resolved that, although the protecting clause in the Act of Union on which they had built all their trust had so failed them, they would see if they could get help from the other clause, which in certain contingencies gave them a right of appeal to the Governor-General in Council. The second sub-section of the 22nd section of the Manitoba Act already quoted says : "An appeal shall lie to the Governor-General in Council from any Act or decision of the legislature of the province, or of any provincial authority, affecting any right or privilege of the Protestant or Roman Catholic minority of the Queen's subjects in relation to education.' But if the legislation of 1890 was intra vires, and expressly declared to be so on the ground that it had not prejudicially affected the position which the minority held at the time of the Union, how could there be an appeal from it ? It is interesting, in view of the curious distinction which the Privy Council subsequently drew in Brophy's case, to note that in the petition which the Archbishop of St. Boniface and others presented to the Governor-General, praying him to listen to an appeal, they never dreamed of asking him to do so because the legislation of 1890 had deprived the minority of the rights they had enjoyed after 1870, and which they owed to the provincial Parliament. They still persisted in contending that the Act of 1890 had put them in a worse position than they held at the date of the Union. In their heart of hearts they must have felt that that issue was decided already, and that they were courting defeat. The Governor-General, however, consented to refer the question as to his jurisdiction to the courts of justice. What is known as Brophy's case was begun, and in due course was carried to the Supreme Court of Canada. The decision of that tribunal, though not unanimous, was in accord with public expectation. The majority of the judges felt that the previous judgment of the Privy Council had settled the matter beforehand. The Act of 1890 had been declared intra vires on the ground that it had not interfered with the rights which the minority possessed before the Union, and therefore there could be no appeal from it. Mr. Justice Taschereau put this aspect of the case very clearly when he said:

The Manitoba legislation (of 1890) is constitutional; therefore it has not affected any of the rights and privileges of the minority; therefore the minority has no appeal to the Federal authority. The Manitoba legislature had the right and power to pass that legislation; therefore any interference with that legislation by the Federal authority would be ultra vires and unconstitutional.


It is conclusively determined by the judgment of the Privy Council that the Manitoba legislation does not prejudicially affect any right or privilege that the Catholics had by law or practice at the Union, and if their rights and privileges are not affected there is no appeal.

Still the undaunted Archbishop of St. Boniface went on, and for a last time appealed to that Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which two years and a half before had so spoiled and disappointed the Catholic hopes. In January 1894 the final decision in Brophy's case was read by the Lord Chancellor. For a second time the Lords of the Council upset the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada, and treated their reasoning as irrelevant. It will be remembered that both the appellant prelates and the Canadian judges had assumed that the clause in the Manitoba Act, which conferred the right of appeal to the Governor-General, was limited to one contingency, and could be invoked only if the minority were robbed at any time of the poor and elementary rights which they had enjoyed before the Act of Union. But was the clause necessarily so limited? Could it not be used to justify an appeal from legislation which affected rights acquired after the Union ? In other words, was the second sub-section of section 22 of the Manitoba Act a substantial enactment, or designed merely as a means of enforcing the provisions which preceded it ? In the words of the judgment

The question arose: Did the sub-section extend to the rights and privileges acquired by legislation subsequent to the Union? It extended in terms to "any" right or privilege of the minority affected by any Act passed by the legislature, and would therefore seem to embrace all the rights and privileges existing at the time when such Act was passed. Their lordships saw no justification for putting a limitation on language thus unlimited. There was nothing in the surrounding circumstances or in the apparent intention of the legislature to warrant any such limitation.


Bearing in mind the circumstances which existed in 1870, it did not appear to their lordships an extravagant notion that in creating a legislature for the province with limited powers, it should have been thought expedient, in case either Catholics or Protestants became preponderant, and rights which had come into existence under different circumstances were interfered with, to give the Dominion Parliament power to legislate upon matters of education so far as to protect a Protestant or Catholic minority, as the case might be.

Adopting this view, the court proceeded to inquire whether educational rights acquired by the minority by post-Union legislation had been in fact interfered with, and then, of course, it was all plain sailing. Before the Act of 1890 the Catholics had had their own separate schools, supported at the public cost; and after it they had to pay taxes for schools they could not conscientiously use, and at the same time had to keep up their own denominational schools out of their own pockets. Clearly a case for appeal to the Governor-General in Council was amply made out. At the same time the Lords of the Judicial Committee explained that it was not for them to intimate the precise steps to be taken:

It was certainly not essential that the statutes repealed by the Act of 1890 should be re-enacted. All legitimate ground of complaint would be removed if that system were supplemented by provisions which would remove the grievance on which the appeal was founded, and were modified so far as might be necessary to give effect to these provisions.

So we must now take it that while no right enjoyed by the minority before the Union has been affected, and while by consequence the Act of 1890 was intra vires, the Catholics were entitled to lay their case before the Governor-General and ask for relief because rights acquired after the Union had been infringed.

Unfortunately the real significance of the second judgment has been much obscured by the utterances of certain ardent partisans of the minority, who have written with more zeal than discretion, both here and in Canada, and so with the best of intentions have injured the cause they sought to serve. By many of these it has been hotly contended that the decision in Brophy's case was equivalent to a declaration that the Catholics of Manitoba are entitled to an immediate restoration of their old privileges. Thus La Semaine Religieuse has repeatedly urged that the minority are entitled to State-supported Catholic schools by the terms of the constitution, and that that right is now guaranteed to them by the judgment of the Privy Council. The same language has been echoed on our side of the Atlantic, and we have recently been told that violence has been done to "a fundamental law," and that "a formal treaty (the Manitoba Act), involving the honour of the Federal Government and the word of the Queen, has been torn to shreds." The absurdity of such language is apparent, when we remember that it has been decided that the legislation of 1890 interfered with no right secured by the Act of Union. That fact by itself suffices to dispose of all talk about violations of fundamental laws, or of rights which formed part of the constitution. In fact the judgment in Brophy's case had a very limited application. It established that the Governor-General in Council had jurisdiction to listen to an appeal. Because privileges conferred by the provincial legislature had been afterwards interfered with, the minority were entitled to ask the Governor-General, if he thought well, to secure them redress. If, after hearing the appeal, the Governor-General thought a case for remedial action had been made out, he was empowered to give such directions as he thought well to the provincial Government. But the Government of the province would be within its rights in declining to comply. In that case a power would be created in the Federal Parliament to make a remedial law for the execution of the Governor-General's decree. Here, again, however, in theory the Parliament of Canada would be entitled to exercise its discretion and to refuse to take action. As a matter of practice, as the Governor-General would act only upon the advice of his responsible advisers, the Ministers of the Crown, he could rely upon a majority in favour of enforcing the course he recommended.

Much stress has been laid upon the passage in the judgment quoted above, in which the court seems to intimate an opinion as to what should be done. On this point Mr. Blake, Q.C., M.P., who acted as counsel for the Catholics in Brophy's case before the Privy Council, in a written "opinion" says

But this intimation is not a declaration or decision of what the authorities were to do, a matter which was confessedly beyond the province of the Judicial Committee, and which depended on numerous considerations not before the committee, some of them non-existent at the time, and all of them involving the elements of expediency, discretion, practicability, and constitutional power never argued before the committee, and upon which they would clearly have refused to hear argument or give a decision.

Mr. Joseph Walton, Q.C., in a letter to the Tablet, takes exactly the same view:

The judgment in Brophy's case does not indicate, except very vaguely, what is the nature or what are the limits of the jurisdiction which the Dominion Parliament can exercise upon such an appeal. It was stated in the argument in that case that the Privy Council was not asked, and it could not properly have been asked, to make any declaration as to the extent of the relief to be granted, but only to rule that there was jurisdiction to grant "appropriate" relief.

On this point the statement of Mr. Ewart, Q.C., in the course of his argument before the Privy Council, was perfectly explicit:

We are not asking for any declaration as to the extent of the relief to be given by the Governor-General. We merely ask that it shall be held that he has jurisdiction to hear our prayer and to grant us some relief, if he thinks proper to do so.

It may be taken, therefore, that the second judgment of the Privy Council established the right of the Governor-General to hear the appeal of the minority.

The next step in this long struggle was one of the utmost importance to the Catholic party, and gave them a moral and equitable claim upon the good offices of the Parliament of Canada of which nothing can rob them. What they had so confidently regarded as their legal and constitutional rights had been whittled down and almost interpreted away by the Lords of the Privy Council ; but at least they were allowed to unfold their griefs before the Governor-General, and he had jurisdiction to hear their appeal. In other words, the dispute was referred to a new tribunal, and one which was free to consider and give effect to the true equities of the case. The Governor-General and his responsible advisers, after considering all the facts, found in favour of the Catholic minority, and at once issued a remedial Order to the Government of Manitoba, which went far beyond anything suggested in the judgment in Brophy's case. The province was called upon to repeal the legislation of 1890, so far as, it interfered with the right of the Catholic minority to build and maintain their own schools, to share proportionately in any public grant for the purposes of education, and with the right of such Catholics as contributed to Catholic schools to be held exempt from all payments towards the support of any other schools. In a word, the Governor-General and Sir Mackenzie Bowell's Administration, exercising, as it were, appellate jurisdiction, decided that the minority were entitled to all they claimed.

The Government of Manitoba, however, had hardened their hearts against the minority in the province, and refused to obey the remedial Order. Among other reasons, they alleged that the establishment of a set of Roman Catholic schools, followed by a set of Anglican schools and, possibly, Mennonite and Icelandic and other schools, would seriously impair the general efficiency, and lower the standard of education.

It is enough to point out that the remedial Order concerned the Catholic schools only. The Anglican body had indeed been represented by counsel before the Privy Council in Barrett's case, but they had no share in the appeal to the Governor-General, and he had merely ignored them when he came to make the remedial Order. If the grievances of the Anglican body were considered too unsubstantial to deserve redress, the probability that coercive measures would be taken to secure separate schools for Russian Anabaptists was sufficiently remote. The refusal of the provincial Government "to accept the responsibility of carrying into effect the terms of the remedial Order" for the first time brought the Parliament of Canada into the field, and empowered them to pass coercive legislation. A remedial Bill was accordingly, after an inexplicable delay, brought into the Federal Parliament to enforce the remedial Order. But there was a vast and a fatal difference between the Order and the Bill which purported to force it into effect. The Order was for the complete restitution of the former rights of the minority, and foremost among those rights was the right to share proportionately in the legislative grant for education. But the Bill in this essential point was helpless. The Cabinet recognised that the Federal Parliament had no power to spend the money of the province, and so all they could do was to exempt the minority from the obligation to contribute to the support of schools other than their own. This relief, from a constitutional point of view, was of doubtful legality, and in any case would have been a sorry substitute for the rights taken away in 1890. This is apparent when we remember that the Catholics of Manitoba, who are about a tenth of the whole population, are comparatively poor, and in the cities are drawn mainly from the working classes; so that even if relieved from the general school tax they would find it very difficult to keep their schools up to the level of efficiency required of the public schools - schools which would have the legislative grant at their backs. And, of course, any failure to keep abreast with the public schools would be immediately reported and punished by hostile officials in sympathy with the Government of the province. Whether Sir Charles Tupper ever intended really to prepare this unequal conflict for the Catholics of Manitoba - in other words, whether he ever seriously expected to carry the remedial Bill - it is difficult to say. The Bill bristled with legal and constitutional difficulties; it concerned the coercion of a province; it contained no less than 116 clauses; it was introduced on the 2nd of March 1896, when all Canada knew that the life of the Federal Parliament must necessarily expire on the 24th of April. Some fifteen clauses had been considered when the Government admitted, what all men saw, the impossibility of the task, and abandoned the Bill. The remedial Bill, although it practically gave them so little, was warmly supported by the Catholic leaders on the ground that it recognised and enforced the principle of the separate schools.

Whatever may be thought of the dilatoriness of the Conservative Government in bringing in this remedial legislation - the reply of Manitoba was received in June 1895, it was known that Parliament must be dissolved on the 24th of April 1896, and the Bill was brought in on the 2nd of March - it is only fair to point out that they made one most loyal effort to induce the provincial Government to grant at least a substantial measure of justice to the minority. While the fate of the remedial Bill was still undecided, Sir Donald Smith and two others were commissioned by the Federal Government to go to Winnipeg and see if by direct negotiations some sort of tolerable terms could be arranged. The fact that coercion was in the air made the task of the Commissioners more difficult than it would have been, and one or two untoward incidents, which at the time seemed to lend colour to the suspicion entertained by the province as to the good faith of the Government at Ottawa, but which now seem too trivial to record, helped to bring to nothing this really well-meant attempt to secure a mutual understanding. The terms of settlement suggested by Sir Donald Smith are worthy of notice, because they were shaped upon the lines which must characterise whatever arrangement is ultimately to give satisfaction to the claims of both parties in the province. The essence of what the minority are striving for is the separate Catholic school, as opposed to the non-sectarian or mixed school. Sir Donald Smith proposed that the principle of the separate school should be admitted wherever there were a reasonable number of Catholic children - thus, wherever in towns and villages there are twenty-five Catholic children of school age, and in cities where there are fifty such children, they should have " a school-house or school-room for their own use," with a Catholic teacher. It is unnecessary to go into the other terms of the proposed compromise, for if that provision for separate Catholic schools wherever the number of Catholic children warranted it had been accepted, all the rest would have followed.

In the event the negotiations failed; the baffled Commissioners returned to Ottawa, and on the 24th of April 1896 Parliament was dissolved. The Government went to the country upon the policy of the abandoned Bill. On the other hand, many of the followers of Mr. Laurier in the province of Quebec pledged themselves to see justice done to the Catholics of Manitoba, and let it be understood that they objected to the remedial Bill only because it was not likely to prove effective in the face of the combined hostility of the legislature and the municipalities of the province.

The twelve bishops of the province of Quebec issued a common pastoral letter, to the terms of which no exception could be taken, though in many quarters it was wrested into meaning a positive command to vote for the Conservatives. The bishops declared it was the conscientious duty of every Catholic elector to vote only for candidates pledged to secure for the minority in Manitoba a restitution of their rights, but entered into no details as to the precise manner in which this result should be secured, whether by arrangement with Mr. Greenway or direct legislation from Ottawa.

Individuals among the bishops, however - notably Monseigneur Lafleche and Monseigneur Labrocque [sic] - went further, and, putting the dots on the I's in their own fashion, declared that it was absolutely unlawful for Catholic electors to give a vote in favour of the Liberal party.

Such directions, of course, presuppose a conviction that the Liberals could not be trusted to act fairly towards the Catholics of Manitoba. Events proved that the Catholics of Quebec, while no doubt sympathising entirely with the object put before them by the united hierarchy of the province, declined to accept the advice of individual prelates as to the means by which it might best be attained. Catholic Quebec gave Mr. Laurier his majority at Ottawa. The Catholic province took him at his word when he boasted that he would settle in six months a question which his rivals had left as an open wound after six years.

It may be asked why the bishops of Quebec, rather than the whole hierarchy of the Dominion, took public action in this matter. Quebec is 1,550 miles from Winnipeg, and the railway which unites them passes through the dioceses of several bishops who stood silent through the election, and this though the voice of Ontario was just as potent as that of Quebec for the ultimate solution of the difficulty. The more active attitude of the bishops of Quebec may be attributed partly to the fact that politically they are far more powerful than their colleagues in the Protestant provinces, and still more to the circumstance that Quebec is allied not only in faith but in race to the Catholic minority in Manitoba.

When the Liberal party for the first time for eighteen years found itself in power at Ottawa, Mr. Laurier at once opened negotiations with Manitoba. The result was a settlement which, although it might work well in particular districts, could not be accepted as satisfactory by the Catholic authorities. It arranged that where in towns and cities the average attendance of Catholic children was forty or upwards, and in villages and rural districts the average attendance of such children was twenty-five or upwards, one Catholic teacher should be employed. There were various other provisions, but that was the central concession. In two respects this plan differs for the worse from the compromise suggested by Sir Donald Smith. "Children in average attendance" is substituted for "children resident in the district;" and, what is of more importance, "a Catholic teacher" is substituted for that far more comprehensive thing, "a school-house or school-room of their own." It has been maintained in perfect good faith by some supporters of Mr. Laurier's Government that, owing to the way in which the Catholics in Manitoba are collected in particular districts, a Catholic teacher is really the only thing required to secure a genuine Catholic school. It is urged that a school attended almost exclusively by Catholic children, controlled by Catholic trustees and taught by a Catholic teacher, is practically a Catholic school. But though such a system might work well locally, accidentally, and temporarily, it is open to the fatal objection that it accepts the principle of "the mixed school" which has so often been condemned by the Holy See. Besides, in a large school the presence of one Catholic teacher among several certainly would not constitute what is meant by a Catholic school. It must then be taken that the bishops are right in refusing to sanction the arrangement Mr. Laurier has made. Happily that is not the final word. Leo the Thirteenth, recognising the difficulties which beset Mr. Laurier's path, mindful, perhaps, also that it is not always easy immediately to resume friendly conference with those who have just done their best to defeat you, has sent to Canada an Apostolic Commissioner who may at once unite all the Catholics of the Dominion in the common cause, and then formulate their demands in the way most likely to win acceptance both at Ottawa and Winnipeg. Nor is the moment ill chosen. Indeed, everything seems to promise success to Mgr. Merry del Val in his blessed work as the peace-maker. In regard to the contumacious province, Mr. Laurier, as a Liberal who has strenuously opposed coercion, is necessarily a persona grata. Mr. Greenway and his friends will not be anxious to imperil in his place at the head of the Federal government the man who keeps out the party identified in the past with the policy of the remedial Bill. On his side Mr. Laurier must be, and is, most anxious to fulfil the hopes he willingly excited, and to help his followers to redeem the pledges they solemnly gave. It is no secret that the Prime Minister of Canada will be the first to welcome the coming of the Apostolic Commissioner and the intervention of the reconciling hand of Rome. Even if that were otherwise, the governing factor of the situation is the knowledge of all men that the fate of the Federal Administration is absolutely in the hands of the Catholic electors of Quebec. Apart from the Catholic province, the electors of the Dominion at the recent election were almost equally divided, and Quebec, with its fifty Liberals and fifteen Conservatives, gives Mr. Laurier his majority at Ottawa. And let it be remembered that Quebec is asking for the Catholic minority in Manitoba only what she already gives to the Protestant minority within her own borders - a proportionate share in the public moneys devoted to education.

Mgr. Merry del Val, then, goes out under the happiest auspices. Young and high-born, and accustomed to diplomacy, and speaking both English and French with an absolute fluency, he has shared, as no man alive has, in the daily companionship and sacred intimacy of the private life of the Sovereign Pontiff. Pope Leo could have given no stronger proof of the high importance he attaches to this mission than by the choice of the envoy He has chosen. It is not difficult to predict success when all the elements of it are assured ; and it must be the earnest hope of every lover of Canada that when in June Mr. Laurier comes to stand by the steps of the throne, he may bring with him a message of peace from all the Dominion.


POSTCRIPT. - Since the above lines were written a step has been taken which does not make for peace. The "settlement" provisionally arranged between Mr. Laurier and Mr. Greenway quite failed to satisfy the minority, and has been absolutely repudiated by the Catholic authorities. Mr. Laurier, accordingly, will take no further steps with regard to it, and, on the contrary, has since made himself a party to the request sent to the Holy See for an Apostolic Delegate, through whom other terms may be negotiated. Not the less the legislature of Manitoba has hastened to ratify this "settlement" which settles nothing, and to give it the force of law. A Bill to that effect was passed on the 18th of March, almost unanimously. The apparent object of this step, which is just a move in the political game, is to strengthen the hands of Mr. Greenway, by enabling him to confront the Apostolic Delegate with a fait accompli. It is an ugly indication of the temper of Manitoba, but otherwise is not important. If this question had rested only with the local authorities it would have been settled against the minority any time these seven years. But the final word will be spoken not in Winnipeg but in Ottawa, and not by the legislature of the province but by the Parliament of Canada. Both the great political parties in the Dominion are now pledged to secure for the minority in Manitoba a restitution of their educational rights. And assuredly, in the present condition of political parties in Canada, the men who have summoned Mgr. Merry del Val across the Atlantic have burned their boats behind them. For if, after all, he fail, his failure at least will achieve one thing - he will leave behind him a united Catholic province ; and Quebec to-day holds the scales at Ottawa.

J. G. S. C.

Source: J. G. Snead Cox, "Mr. Laurier and Manitoba", in The Nineteenth Century, Vol. 41, No 242, april 1897, pp. 656-670.


© 2000 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College