Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
April 2007

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Autonomy Bills



Claude Bélanger,

Department of History,

Marianopolis College


The Autonomy bills is the name given to the two laws, enacted by the Parliament of Canada, in 1905, creating the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta out of the North-West Territories. For some time, there had been agitation in the West for “autonomy (read provincial status)” to be granted to the Territories. Since the completion of the transcontinental railway, and especially since 1896 when Wilfrid Laurier came to power, immigration into Canada had increased and many of these immigrants had settled on homesteads in the North-West Territories. With the rise of population in the West, the pressure for provincial status had increased. The Territorial government was not authorized to negotiate loans to provide services (schools, roads, courts, etc.) for the rapidly expanding population. Clearly, provincial status was the answer to these problems.

As voiced by the then Premier of the North-West Territories, F. W. G. Haultain, the western view on the matter was that a single province, fully in control of its Crown Lands, its resources and the revenues to be derived from them, as well as of its school system, ought to have been created. However, this was not the position taken by the Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier. He proceeded to create two provinces and to withdraw from them – as had been done in the case of Manitoba in 1870 – control over Crown lands. These unpopular decisions made it even more difficult for Westerners to accept the Laurier proposal of restoring denominational educational rights, to Roman Catholics and Protestants, which had been significantly diminished by territorial regulations in 1892. Laurier’s Minister of the Interior, and the main Western representative in the Cabinet, Clifford Sifton, resigned from the government on this question. To him, as to most Ontarians and Westerners, a single, unified, non-denominational school system was essential to assimilate the hordes of “foreign” immigrants descending into the West. How else would they absorb the English language and the British institutions that were so essential to the building of a great country? In the end, Laurier agreed to compromise on the school issue but remained firm on the number of provinces and on the issue of control over Crown Lands.


© 2007 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College