The Laurier-Greenway Compromise
Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier had always argued that a solution to the Manitoba Schools Question had to take into account the Manitoba government’s right to determine its own educational system. This right was limited by the federal government’s ability to pass remedial legislation to protect religious minorities and Laurier wanted a negotiated rather than an imposed settlement.
Within a year of being elected as Prime Minister in 1896, Laurier had succeeded in negotiating a compromise agreement with the Manitoba government that took the political spotlight off the Manitoba School Question.
Roman Catholic teachers were to be employed where there were more than 40 Roman Catholic children in an urban school and 10 in a country school. When it was requested by ten families or more, religious instruction would be provided from 3:30 to 4:00. The instruction would be by a minister of the faith of the families making the request and other children were not required to attend. When ten or more students in any school spoke French (or any language other than English) the teaching was to be in French (or such other language) and English on what was termed the bilingual system. (This bilingual system was not described in the compromise.)
Greenway was able to describe these as concessions to individuals not churches and to point out that there was no special treatment for French.
The first question to be asked about the compromise is why the Manitoba government was willing to compromise in 1897 when it was so unwilling in 1895? Many of the answers are political. The Liberal government of Thomas Greenway was quite pleased to create difficulty for a federal Conservative government. Indeed several members of the Manitoba Liberal government hoped to move on to federal politics if the Liberals won the 1896 election: several of them played prominent roles in Laurier’s government.
The second point is that Laurier compromised far more than Greenway. Laurier could have passed legislation that completely restored the rights of denominational schools: instead denominational schools, either Protestant or Roman Catholic, got absolutely nothing out of the compromise. Manitoba was to continue to have a single public school system, and while there was the opportunity for religious education after regular school hours, this would not take the same form as the integration of religion into education that would take place in a denominational school. Finally, while there was provision for education in French, French had no special status but was equal to another language other than English.
Not surprisingly the Roman Catholic Church in Manitoba rejected the compromise. (Ref2, Ref3) St. Boniface Archbishop Adélard Langevin said that Franco-Manitobans, the pioneers of the country, had no “more than the last arrivals; we whose rights are guaranteed by the constitution, are placed on the same footing as those who came from Ireland or the depths of Russia, we are not better apportioned than the Chinese and the Japanese.” Catholics also noted that under the new system Catholic children might end up being taught by Protestant teachers, but it would be very unlikely for a Protestant student to have a Catholic teacher. To keep up enrolment in the Catholic schools, Manitoba church leaders also increased their recruiting efforts amongst European Catholics. In the end, Pope Leo XIII intervened, saying that while the compromise was inadequate, Catholics were to accept it and continue to work for a restoration of their rights.
As history was to reveal, the compromise was not only inadequate from the Catholic perspective, it was not a permanent solution. Less than 20 years later another provincial Liberal government was to strip away the language rights that been provided in the Laurier-Greenway compromise.