Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt
championed minority rights

His quest to ensure the protection and survival of minority language community school boards

By Irwin Rapoport

In previous articles regarding school boards, I have stressed that Section 93 of the BNA Act was referred to as the basis for Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects the existence of English and French minority community school boards, guaranteeing their survival and the right of those communities to manage and control their schools and education infrastructure.

States Section 93, Legislation respecting education. In and for each province, the Legislature may exclusively make laws in relation to education, subject and according to the following provisions:

(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 in the province at the union;

(2) All the powers, privileges, and duties at the union by law conferred and imposed in Upper Canada on the separate schools and school trustees of the Queen’s Roman Catholic subjects shall be, and the same are hereby extended to the dissentient schools of the Queen’s Protestant and Roman Catholic subjects in Quebec;

(3) Where in any province a system of separate or dissentient schools exists by law at the union or is thereafter, established by the Legislature of the province, an appeal shall lie to the Governor-General in Council from any act or decision 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;

(4) In case any such provincial law as from time to time seems to the Governor-General in Council requisite for the due execution of the provisions of this section is not made, or in case any decision of the Governor-General in Council on any appeal under this section is not duly executed by the proper provincial authority in that behalf, then and in every such case, and as far only as the circumstances of each case require, the Parliament of Canada may make remedial laws, for the due execution of the provisions of this section, and of any decision of the Governor-General in Council under this section.

Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt

Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt – Image: courtesy of

This clause is crucial for the protection of English and French minority school boards in Canada. Before Confederation, Ontario and Quebec formed the United Province of Canada, which meant that the English community in Lower Canada (Quebec) was part of the English-speaking majority.

Section 93 was brought in as part of the quid pro quo in which Quebec was allowed to become a province with a French Canadian majority. Other clauses for the protection of the English community and its institutions were: Section 90, the clause that allows the federal government to disallow and reserve provincial legislation; Section 133, which provides bilingualism guarantees for the use of English and French in Quebec legislative assembly and the Canadian House of Commons, federal and provincial courts, and the requirement for federal and provincial laws to be written in English and French to be legally valid; and another clause which required federal approval for the Quebec government to change the boundaries of ten provincial ridings with English-speaking majorities at the time of Confederation.

Sections 90, 93, and 133 also protect English and French minority communities across Canada. Several years ago, when a Quebec government attempted to pass a law with only a French version, it was declared invalid via a court ruling and an English version was required. This confirmed the power and authority of Section 133.

Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, an MP who voted in favour of Confederation and was Canada’s first minister of finance, is credited as the prime mover for the inclusion of Section 93. Galt, who was born in England, travelled to London in 1866 to lobby for the inclusion of Section 93 in the constitution.

Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, an MP who voted in favour of Confederation and was Canada’s first minister of finance, is credited as the prime mover for the inclusion of Section 93.

This link is a short biography of Galt, and it includes several sections that deal with the drive for Confederation and his concern for educational guarantees and minority rights. The section, entitled Guarantees for minority rights, says it all about Galt’s concerns for minority language community education rights. I cite in full as it not only deals with school boards but for the necessity of minority communities to band together for mutual protection – a policy that the Quebec Community Groups Network is pursuing vigorously.

Stated the section:

Yet it was the question of minority education rights that Galt called “one of the most important questions,” about which all present would “feel the greatest interest” (Galt 1864, 14). Disquiet was rippling through the minority community Galt represented and on whose support his political survival depended. Education would be a provincial responsibility and therefore, a risk was felt among the Protestant English-speaking community that they would be placed at the mercy of the new French-Canadian majority in Quebec. Guarantees were needed to prevent injustice, said Galt, declaring it was not enough to trust the majority and hope for the best (ibid.).

Minority education rights were needed for Upper Canada Catholics, as well as for Lower Canada Protestants. The Quebec resolutions had provided protections. A reservation was made in the provincial power over education, carving out “the rights and privileges which the Protestant or Catholic minority in both Canadas may possess as to their denominational schools at the time when the Union goes into operation.” Galt announced an amendment to the Lower Canada school laws would be made before Confederation went into force, extending additional protections. It was a fateful move that would soon have personal consequences.

Galt’s arguments reveal how similar were the dilemmas faced in his community to those of French-Canadians, how alike for both Galt and Cartier were the principles of equity and justice underpinning their advocacy of Confederation. The difficulty with Confederation, Galt said, was to allay “the fears and apprehensions” of these two populations (Galt 1864, 19).

‘Galt’s arguments reveal how similar were the dilemmas faced in his community to those of French-Canadians, how alike for both Galt and Cartier were the principles of equity and justice underpinning their advocacy of Confederation.’

Fortunately, the record of the past gave grounds for confidence in the future: “For over twenty-five years harmony had reigned in Lower Canada and the British and French Canadian populations had felt they could go hand in hand in promoting the common interests of the country. What was wanted now was to maintain that feeling of confidence, to show that no wrong was thought of by one or the other” (ibid.).

The two communities would rely upon each other, argued Galt, to allay their mutual fears. Good treatment of the English-speaking minority of Quebec would ensure their continued support for French-Canadian rights: “The truth was that while the French Canadian population must look to our support in the General Legislature for the protection of their rights – while they must look to us as Lower Canadians, to stand shoulder by shoulder with them for the protection of their rights in the General Legislature – we in the Local Legislature should demand that no wrong should be attempted against us. If it should be otherwise, the result would be most disastrous to those who attempted it” (ibid.).

The section, entitled From realism to idealism – French and English bound together, goes further:

To this realism, Galt added a note of idealism linking up with Cartier’s new Canadian political nationality discussed in George-Etienne Cartier: The Canadian. True enough, self-interest would help secure minority rights but Galt now conjured an ideal of community loyalties embracing both English-speaking and French-Canadian publics. Taking his seat at the Quebec Conference, Galt said he felt “charged, not altogether with the simple duty of a representative of the British portion of the population of Lower Canada but he felt that he equally represented his French-Canadian friends; and his conviction was that, instead of there being any clashing and division of interests, they would be found in the future more closely bound together than ever before” (ibid.).

Confederation would benefit all without distinction: “It would be found that the effect of the combination of all the Provinces would be to benefit Lower Canada – not French Lower Canada, or British Lower Canada – but the whole of Lower Canada – by giving it the position of being the commercial heart of the country – that that position we should share together, and that anything which tended to damage that position would be fatal to the interests both of the one and of the other” (ibid.).

‘Galt lauded the liberality of the existing French-Canadian leadership as grounds to expect fair treatment in future. He credited Sir Etienne Taché… George-Étienne Cartier, Thomas Chapais, and Hector Langevin as acting with honour in the course of the Confederation negotiations.’

Though pointing to the federal government as the guarantor of his community’s security, Galt lauded the liberality of the existing French-Canadian leadership as grounds to expect fair treatment in future. He credited Sir Etienne Taché, the ageing titular head of government, George-Étienne Cartier, Thomas Chapais, and Hector Langevin as acting with honour in the course of the Confederation negotiations:

“There was not a single instance when there was evidence on their part of the slightest disposition to withhold from the British of Lower Canada anything that they claimed for their French Canadian countrymen. (Cheers.) They acted wisely in taking the course they did, for certainly, it encouraged himself and others to stand up for the rights of their French Canadian friends” (ibid.). Were there any attempt to give one community “power or dominance” over the other, Confederation would “fail from its manifest injustice.” The only way to ensure success was to ensure that “no just cause of apprehension existed on the part of any considerable class of the community. (Hear.)” (Galt 1864, 21)

Galt monument

Galt monument in Mount-Royal Cemetery – Image: Robincantin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Galt, who passed away in Montreal in 1893, foresaw Montreal and Quebec as the economic centre of Canada and having a bright future as long as the French and English communities worked in harmony and thus prosper together. He feared a future breakdown in French-English community relations that would unravel the marvellous future that could be, or as William Shakespeare put it, “the undiscovered country.”

States the section entitled Mutual trust between French and English Canadians:

If obstacles to mutual trust could be overcome, both communities of Lower Canada stood to benefit most from Confederation, declared Galt. Shared economic interests had the power to unite all Canadians. Lower Canada would become “the great commercial centre for the whole of the Provinces and even when we extended the boundaries of our Empire to the countries bordering on the Saskatchewan and the Rocky Mountains, then the whole wealth of that great country must pour down the St. Lawrence and stimulate the cities of Lower Canada” (ibid.).

Quebec had great prospects ahead and would form, he said, “a society, a community, which would have within itself more of the elements of greatness and strength than any other community in Confederation.” What was required was good faith: “It must not be expected that this could be attained if they evinced a want of confidence and entertained a mutual distrust. They ought to come together for the protection of their common interests and not with the desire to obtain any mean advantage over one another but to preserve their interests, defend their rights and do what lay in their power to make Lower Canada attractive to foreigners and the whole country so to the wealth and industry of other lands” (ibid.).

If Galt could return to us and see what has occurred in Quebec since the passage of Bill 22 in 1973 and Bill 101 in 1977, he would undoubtedly shudder in horror and bemoan the present situation as a needless tragedy.

If one is keen to take a stroll on Mount Royal on a fine spring day, Galt is interned at the Mount Royal Cemetery, and he is honoured in Verdun via Galt Avenue, a major thoroughfare in the borough.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its publishers.

Feature image: Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, courtesy of BAnQ

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Irwin RapoportIrwin Rapoport is a freelance journalist and former school commissioner with the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal (1990-1994). He is currently a candidate in Ward 3 for the English Montreal School Board elections.

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