House of Commons, 17 March 1892, Canadian Confederation with Alberta and Saskatchewan

217 [MARCH 17, 1892.] 218


Thursday, 17th March, 1892.


Mr. MCCARTHY moved for leave to introduce Bill (No. 27) further to amend the North-West Territories's Act. He said: The Bill which I have the honour to introduce deals with two subjects: one, that of duality of language in the North-West Territories, and the other the subject of education. The question of the languages, or of the duality of language in the North-West Territories, was very fully discussed in this House two sessions ago, and, as hon. gentlemen who were members of the House in that session, and who are still here, will remember, it ended in a compromise resolution, which was passed at the instance of the Government and acquiesced in by the great body of gentlemen, I do not think by all those constituting the Opposition. That compromise I did not accede to, nor do I now think it was a wise one. It may have been, perhaps, a political necessity, but I do not think that in the interests of the country it was a wise and judicious result. Before that time, the law was, and had been since 1877, that the French language as well as the English should be official in four different matters. That is, it was permissible either to use English or French in the debates of the Assembly which was constituted for the North- West: it was compulsory that the proceedings of the Assembly should be recorded in both languages: it was permissible to use both languages in the courts; and it was compulsory that the North- West Legislative Council, as it then was, should publish the ordinances they passed from time to time in both the languages. The compromise which was agreed to, and to which I have already made reference, provided that after the then coming and since happening election in the North- West the councillors for the North-West should have power to say how their proceedings should be conducted. and they should have authority to declare that the proceedings of the Assembly might be recorded in either one or both languages, but so far as the courts were concerned, and so far as the publication of the laws were concerned, the old provision remained. So that, although I do not think it is generally understood throughout the country, if there is an evil in the preservation or in the permission granted, or rather in the compulsion placed on the people of the North-West to use the two languages, that evil still exists. I did not complain, I do not know anybody complained of the fact that members of the Legislative Assembly might speak in both languages or either language, or in any language. That was a matter, I think, which might be left to the Assembly itself. What I did complain of, and what those who thought as I did felt to be wrong, was that in the North-West Territories it was made compulsory on the people to adopt the two languages; in other words, that the French language should stand, so far as the North-West Territories were concerned, on a par with the English language. I do not intend to do more than briefly state the history of this question, which will enable the House fully to understand it; and I need only address those members who were not present two years ago, in regard to this double language question. In the early days in the French province, now the province of Quebec, there was the right claimed, and I do not think it was an unreasonable right, by the gentlemen elected to the Legislative Council of that province, to speak in their own language. It was impossible for them, probably, to speak in English or any other language, and the request was conceded, not as a matter of law but of right, to address their fellow members in their own language. I repeat that that appears to have not been at all an objectionable request. But the difficulty that 219 [COMMONS] 220 arose from that proceeding led in 1840—and I do not desire at this stage of the discussion to introduce anything of a controversial character, remembering the rebuke administered to me on the last occasion by the leader of the Opposition—to the perpetuation of race distinctions which unfortunately, owing to circumstances, existed in Canada. In 1841, in the Bill uniting the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada the French language was prohibited. That Act remained in force for six or seven years when its repeal took place in England, on the petition of the Parliament of Old Canada, and then again the French language became permissive. At the time of Confederation an Act was passed which declared that the French language should stand, so far as this Parliament was concerned and in the matters referred to in the statutes and in the courts of Canada, on an equality with the English language; and so the law stood in the Province of Quebec. But that law did not extend to the Province of Ontario. and, of course, it had no reference to the Province of New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, nor did that law apply to the Province of Prince Edward Island when it became part of the confederacy, nor to the Province of British Columbia. It was, however. unfortunately as I venture to think, made a part of the law of the Province of Manitoba when a constitution was granted to that part of the North-West, and in 1877, when an amendment took place to the North-West Territories Act. it was made compulsory also in the North-West Territories. And so it remained without question until I had the honour to bring the matter before the House a session or two ago, when, after a long and rather acrimonious discussion, the compromise was arrived at to which I have referred. Now that promise was not carried into law until last year, but in the North-West Territories Act of last session, when very enlarged powers were granted to the people of the Territories, this particular provision to which I refer was enacted and is now to he found on the statute. The proposition is to eliminate that, to repeal that clause, and that is all, Sir, that I can say in order to make perfectly plain what the object of the Bill is with regard to the duality of languages. I have mentioned that it deals also with the subject of education. Now, the genius of our constitution is: that the subject of education belongs to the Local (Governments, the provincial bodies. That is the general scheme of the British North America Act, and it is upon that basis that province after province which has been added to the Dominion, has been entrusted with the absolute and exclusive control of legislative matters. But between the old provinces of Canada there was an arrangement come to at the time of Confederation, by which, as we all know, separate school privileges were made perpetual so far as the constitution could make it perpetual upon the people of the Province of Ontario. I am not dealing with that question in the slightest degree. Of course we all know that this Parliament has no power to deal with it. It is an imperial Act which this Parliament has no power to alter, change, or amend. But, when in 1875, the constitution was first conferred upon the Nort-West Territories, there was a clause with regard to education engrafted in that constitution. It is peculiar in this way: that it is not to be found in any other of our statutes or constitutions, and it enacted as follows:—
"The Lieutenant Governor in Council shall pass all necessary ordinances in respect to education: but it shall therein always be provided that a majority of the ratepayers of any district or portion of the territories, or of any less portion or subdivision thereof, by whatever name the same is known, may establish such schools therein as they think fit,and make the necessary assessment and collection of rates therefor; and also, that the minority of the ratepayers therein, whether Protestants or Roman Catholics may establish separate schools therein."
That, the House will perceive, confers upon the majority of every particular locality the right to determine what the school is to be. The language is very wide indeed:
"May establish such schools that they think fit."
Then the minority, no matter how small, may put up a rival separate school in any locality whether that minority he composed of Roman Catholics or Protestants, and they are free from the necessity or obligation of supporting a general school. I venture to say—and I do so, of course. merely speaking for myself and with no desire to raise a controversy—that no more mischievous provision is to be found in any Act of Parliament. If there is any part of the Dominion where schools ought to be not separate,—I am not desiring now to raise the question which divides us upon that point. I am merely speaking with reference to the spargeness of population in the North-West—it is in the North-West Territories. It seems to be an exceedingly unfortunate provision where there is a small population, that there is a provision made for two schools, one of the majority, and one of the minority. I contend that if there is any part of the Dominion where that provision ought not to he compulsory, it is in the North-West Territories. Now, we added very largely to the powers of the North-West Territories in the last session of this Parliament. We have conferred upon them, I think I am right in saying, almost every power that the ordinary (constitution confers upon Provincial Legislatures. We have not given them power to amend their own constitution; we did not give them power to borrow money; we did not give them power to manage or to sell the public lands, nor was the power conferred upon that body for the establishment or maintenance of hospitals and so on, but there were enormous powers conferred upon them—power of direct taxation, power towards the establishment of territorial offices and the appointment and payment of territorial officers, the establishment and maintenance of prisons and municipal institutions, in the territories; power to impose licenses for shops, saloons, taverns, and auctioneers and incorporation fees and so on, power to solemnize marriage in the territories, and power over territorial and civil rights. You will, therefore, see that we added very largely to their powers, but we did not enlarge their powers nor did Parliament remove the restriction with regard to education. That was left untouched. Now the proposition is to confer upon that body the power to deal with education as that body may see fit, not by any means to say there shall not be separate schools, not to interfere with them in that sense, but to see that the legislative assemblies of the territories upon whom we have conferred every other power that can be conferred upon legislative assemblies, may deal with the matter of education, as they are competent to decide other matters. These are the provisions which I desire to see incorporated in the law, and therefore I move, seconded by Mr. Denison, for leave to introduce this Bill. I may add one word further. It is with 221 [MARCH 17, 1892.] 222 some regret that I intrude this question upon the House at this time. I quite see, Mr. Speaker, that the proper opportunity to press these amendments would have been during the last session of Parliament when the subject of the added power to the constitution was conferred upon the North-West Territories. I can only say in excuse for not pressing it then, that I was not. here at the time the Bill was before the House, and when I left the country on other business connected with my profession —because when I left there was practically no Government—I had every reason to believe that nothing would be done during the session, except to pass the Supply Bill and prorogue Parliament. I was assured when I got to London: I was assured by the High Commissioner, that he understood also that no further business would be done.
Mr. DAVIES (P.E.I.) Does the High Commissioner speak for the Government?
Mr. MCCARTHY. Well, I think that he had some information. He gave me to understand that my opinion was correct about the business of the House. He gave me to understand that that was the programme, and I thought so myself when I left here, and he corroborated my opinion. However that may be, while I would prefer that this question would not come up session after session, notwithstatnling. I had thought that no great mischief had been done by the delay because the language question was not at all before the last session of Parliament. This Parliament has in no way practically pronounced upon it, and the question of education was brought to the notice of the House last session by my hon. friend from Muskoka (Mr. O'Brien), as I learned from the reading of the debates, with a protest and an intimation that at an early date it would be brought before Parliament: so that I do not think much harm has been done by the delay of one session.
Mr. LARIVIERE. Mr. Speaker, I am not surprised that this question should have been raised once more in the House by the hon. member who has just spoken (Mr. McCarthy). He is only following the course that he has adopted in the past, and perhaps he is only pleasing the friends who have retained him in a case which is similar to the one that we have now before the House. We know very well that some trouble is now pending in the Province of Manitoba upon this very same question. That trouble has been raised in the province by the visit of the hon. gentleman at a time when the question was not before the people at all. Following the same course, the hon. gentleman, though having nothing to do with the representation of the North-West in this House, much less than I have, because I am much nearer the people who are affected by the legislation that he complains of—is again trying to raise this question of religious and national feeling. We have already settled that question. Two years ago it was brought before the House, and the legislation of last session was the result of what the hon. gentleman has termed a compromise. It was a compromise, and it should be treated as such. What was abandoned at that time as one of the rights of the people of the North- West was abandoned as a compromise, so that the question should remain at rest for all time to come. It was decided then that we should give to the North-West Council the liberty of deciding whether their proceedings should be conducted in one or both of the two languages which were then official. We know what has since been done by the majority of that council who do not understand the French: that language has been abolished. When this question is raised it is always contended that though certain privileges may be granted to the French-speaking population of the Province of Quebec and the Catholics of that province, those privileges should not be extended to the rest of the Catholic or the French population of the Dominion of Canada. When it is stated that the privileges which exist in the Province of Quebec do not exist elsewhere, I answer that when the Confederation Act was entered into, those privileges were well guarded on behalf of the French and Catholic population of the Dominion. Have we not the two languages in this Parliament? Are not the Dominion laws printed in both languages? And not that in pursuance of the arrangement entered into at the time of Confederation? Why should we refuse to the handful of French people in the North-West the same privileges as those enjoyed by the French- Canadians of the Province of Quebec? Why should not both populations be treated alike? We have two leading languages in this. Dominion: why should they not both be placed on the same footing? Does it injure anyone that I speak French or that I get the laws of the country printed in my mother tongue? Should we disregard rights and privileges for the sake of a few dollars and cents? But, Mr. Speaker, that is not the reason at all. The reason is that certain gentlemen. certain parties, wish to excite public feeling in some parts of the Dominion: because they have nothing else by which to raise themselves above the level of the common people, they adopt the ways of the demagogue, in the hope of making themselves appear to be of some consequence.
Motion agreed to. and Bill read the first time.


Canada. House of Commons Debates, 1875-1949. Provided by the Library of Parliament.



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