Ontario Schools Question
Ontario Schools Question, an issue regarding the use of the French language in Ontario elementary schools. It was the first major schools issue to focus on language rather than religion, as English-speaking Catholics and Protestants were both aligned against the French-speaking Catholics.
Ontario Schools Question
Ontario Schools Question, an issue regarding the use of the French language in Ontario elementary schools. It was the first major schools issue to focus on language rather than religion, as English-speaking Catholics and Protestants were both aligned against the French-speaking Catholics. English had been made a compulsory subject in Ontario schools in 1885. In 1890 regulations further required that English be the language of instruction, except where it was impracticable. In 1910, after their numbers had grown, Franco-Ontarians organized l' Association canadienne française d'éducation d'Ontario to promote French-language interests. They were opposed by the ORANGE ORDER, which demanded "English only" education, and by Irish Catholics, led by Bishop FALLON of London.
A commission headed by F.W. Merchant, the province's chief inspector, confirmed that educational quality and English teaching in the bilingual schools were inadequate and recommended better teacher training and the flexible introduction of English as the main language. The government, responding more to political than educational considerations, stressed instead restriction of French.
In 1912 Ontario Premier James WHITNEY's Conservative government issued Regulation 17, which limited the use of French as the language of instruction and communication to the first 2 years in elementary schools. Regulation 17 was amended in 1913 to permit French as a subject of study for one hour per day.
Escalation to National Conflict
During WWI the Ontario schools issue escalated to a national conflict, contributing to the tensions of the 1917 CONSCRIPTION crisis and further alienating French Canadians in Québec and Ontario from Prime Minister Robert BORDEN's Conservative government. At the federal level the JUDICIAL COMMITTEE OF THE PRIVY COUNCIL decided that Regulation 17 was constitutional, because denominational school guarantees did not include language; however, it ruled that the commission appointed by the government to enforce its policy in Ottawa was unconstitutional. A political compromise came after war tensions were removed. Senator Belcourt of ACFEO and the Unity League of Ontario, representing influential English-speaking Ontarians, worked for conciliation. Another commission composed of Merchant, Judge Scott (an Orangeman) and Louis Cot (a francophone lawyer) agreed that Regulation 17 had led mainly to defence of French and continued inferior schooling.
In 1927, unable to enforce Regulation 17, Howard FERGUSON's Conservative provincial government accepted the recommendation that the use of French in each school be considered on its merits by a departmental committee. Ferguson, a leading proponent of Regulation 17 during the war years, thus presided over its demise. The new policy encouraged improved bilingual teaching, including recognition of the University of Ottawa Normal School, and produced higher retention rates for Franco-Ontarian students.
1960s and 1970s
In the 1960s concerns regarding Québec separatism led for the first time to legislative guarantees for French-language education in Ontario. In 1968 Bill Davis, education minister in the Conservative administration of John Robarts, introduced legislation giving Franco-Ontarians the right to French-language schooling at both the elementary and secondary level. The legislation assuaged potential critics because French high schools became part of the public system, but several local disputes arose regarding whether francophone students needed a separate building to protect their culture.
Robert M. Stamp, The Schools of Ontario, 1876-1976 (1982) and Minorities, Schools and Politics (Canadian Historical Readings#7, 1969); Peter Oliver, "The Ontario Bilingual Schools Crisis, 1919-29," Journal of Canadian Studies VII 1 (1972).