A fresh take on the Manitoba schools question and the Conservative Coup that toppled Canada’s fifth prime minister.
When Mackenzie Bowell became Canada’s fifth prime minister in December 1894, everyone — including Bowell — expected the job would involve nothing more than keeping the wheels on the Conservative wagon until a spring election.
Plans for a quiet caretakership were dashed in January 1895 when the courts ruled that the Manitoba government had violated Roman Catholics’ constitutional rights by abolishing the provincial separate school system. Catholics in Quebec demanded that Bowell force Manitoba to restore the schools, while Ontario Protestants warned him to keep his hands off.
Backed into a corner, Bowell tried three times to negotiate a compromise with the Manitoba government over the course of 1895, but to no avail. By January 1896, seven of Bowell’s cabinet ministers had had enough. Convinced that Bowell had tarnished the Conservative brand, the caballers forced the prime minister to resign and make way for a new leader, who they believed could revive party fortunes in time for the coming election—the old Warhorse of Cumberland, Sir Charles Tupper.
Ultimately, the coup didn’t matter. Tupper and his conspirators pleaded their case in Parliament and on the hustings, but nothing could stand in the way of Wilfrid Laurier and his Liberals’ historic rise to power in the June 1896 election.
A Very Canadian Coup brings fresh sources and new perspectives to bear on the life and times of Canada’s fifth prime minister and his Sixth Ministry.