Wilfrid Laurier: “The Sunny Way” Speech, 1895
The Manitoba Schools Question involved a struggle over the rights of francophones in Manitoba to receive an education in their mother tongue and their religion, constitutional rights that had been revoked by the provincial government of Thomas Greenway in 1890. Wilfrid Laurier’s solution to the problem followed what he called the “sunny way” — the way of negotiation, diplomacy and compromise — rather than forced legislation. He first used the term 8 October 1895, when he was leader of the opposition, in a speech he delivered in Ontario. The sunny way is a reference to one of Aesop’s Fables, in which the wind and the sun compete to see who can motivate a man to remove his jacket. The sun shines down, pleasantly and patiently, and the wind blows with bluster. The sun ultimately wins the day, proving that patience and enticement are more effective than force and coercion. After coming to power in 1896, Laurier settled the Manitoba Schools Question with sunny ways — but the politically expedient settlement his government achieved came at a steep price: the sacrificing of French language minority rights in Manitoba.
The Sunny Way: Morrisburg, Ontario, 8 October 1895
I am not here to solve this [Manitoba schools] question, because it is not in my province to solve it, but I understand that the ministerial press of this country and of this province [Ontario] has been very anxious to know what was the policy of Mr. Laurier with regard to it. I would not be worthy of the position I occupy and of the trust that has been placed in me by my colleagues of the House of Commons if I were afraid to speak on this question.
"The government are very windy. They have blown and raged and threatened, but the more they have threatened and raged and blown the more that man Greenway has stuck to his coat.… If it were in my power… I would try the sunny way. I would approach this man Greenway with the sunny ways of patriotism, asking him to be generous to the minority, in order that we may have peace amongst all the creeds and races which it has pleased God to bring upon this corner of our common country. Do you not believe that there is more to be gained by appealing to the heart and soul of men rather than to compel them to do a thing?"
I intend to do so though I am sure I shall not satisfy the ministerial press. I do not hope to, but I hope to satisfy, as far as I can, every sensible man. I hasten to plunge at once into that question, because it is to be faced with courage by every man that has on his own conscience the duty of doing well by the country in which we live.
I have been accused by the Conservative press of having expressed no opinion on this question. I expressed an opinion more than once upon this question, but I have not yet expressed the opinion which the ministerial press would like me to express. I am not responsible for that question, but I do not want to shirk it; I want to give you my views, but remember that war has to be waged in a certain way. When the Duke of Wellington was in Portugal, as those of you will remember who have read that part of the history of England, he withdrew at one time within the Lines of Torres Vedras, and there for months he remained, watching the movements of the enemy. The French at the time were commanded by Marshal Masséna, and Masséna said: “I want that man to come down from his lines: let him come down into the plain and I will thrash him, but I cannot assail him within the lines.” Gentlemen, I am within the lines of Torres Vedras. I will get out of them when it suits me and not before.
There is a way of discussing that question. Time and time again I have laid down my views before the Government, and I do not hesitate to tell you what my views are. I have to speak the same words here as I have spoken everywhere else. I have the same sentiments whether I speak in one language or the other. I would not be worthy of the position I occupy today if I did not, as far as I could, educate the Liberal Party to the views which I think are the sound views upon that question.
There is a question to be settled. There is an appeal of the minority in Manitoba to the Governor-in-Council, which has to be heard and determined upon. We have a very peculiar constitution as you know. Section 93 of the British North America Act provides that whenever a minority in any province where a system of separate schools has been established is not satisfied and thinks itself aggrieved by the legislation of that province, that minority has an appeal to the federal executive.
As you know, it has been decided by the Judicial Committee of the [British] Privy Council that in this matter the minority has a grievance and has the right of appeal. What are we to do here? That is the question. The minority has the right to appeal. This is conceded and granted.
I say this and I submit it to your knowledge. If the minority has an appeal, you must not conclude, as some men conclude, that this appeal is to be denied in every case; but if the minority has an appeal it is the duty of the Government to investigate the subject and to ascertain what the facts are in order to see whether or not a case has been made out for federal interference.
The Government, instead of investigating the subject, proceeded to render – what shall I call it? – an Order in Council they called it, commanding Manitoba in most violent language to do a certain thing, to restore the schools or they would see the consequences. Manitoba answered as I suppose every man approached as the Government of Manitoba was approached, would answer; Manitoba answered it by saying, “We will not be coerced.” I ask you now, would it not have been more fair, more just, more equitable, more statesmanlike, at once to investigate the subject, and to bring the parties together to hear them, to have the facts brought out so as to see whether a case had been made out for interference or not?
That is the position I take in the province of Ontario. I have never wavered from that position. Two years ago, when the question first came before the House, I said to the Government, which desired to consult the courts to ascertain whether it had the power to intervene: “You have the power to intervene; it is written in the constitution. The only question is a question of facts. Make an investigation; it is the first thing to be done.” That is the position I have taken in the Province of Quebec. That is the position I take in the Province of Ontario. I have never wavered from that position. I venture to say that the question cannot be settled until there has been such an investigation, to see what are the rights and pretensions of the case. But what are you to investigate? There are many things to investigate. You will have to see what is the position of affairs, what is the relative strength of the population, how the groups of population are constituted and how far the pretensions of the minority can be met without encroaching upon the rights of the majority.
I am glad to find that a man who carries weight in this province by his character and ability, Principal [George Monro] Grant [of Queen’s University], after going to the province of Manitoba and looking into the thing for himself, has come to the conclusion that first of all the Government is bound to investigate that subject.
Why, sir, there is a way and a way of doing things. I am asked, “What would you have done if you had the responsibility?” That is the way I would have acted, but instead of that you know how the Government have proceeded. They have proceeded in a way which, instead of solving the question, has made it far more difficult to solve than ever.
If they had proceeded in the way I have indicated there is reason to believe by this time, perhaps before this time, they would have accomplished something; but having done it in the way they have, you see the position in which they are. That position is that there is an entanglement out of which they do not know how they are to extricate themselves, and do not know, perhaps, what they are going to do at the next session of Parliament, which is to be summoned to deal with that question.
According to the fable, once upon a time the Wind and the Sun saw a traveller upon the highway, and the Wind said to the Sun, “I will make you a wager that I will go to that traveller who has a comfortable coat upon his shoulders and I will compel him to take if off.” “Very well,” said the Sun, “Try your hand at it, and when you have done I will try my hand at it also.” So the Wind proceeded to blow and to rage and to blow, but the more he raged, the more he blew, the more the traveller stuck to his coat. After the Wind had exhausted all its force and blown down and rooted up trees from the ground, the traveller still had his coat upon his shoulders just as close as before.
“Now,” said the Sun, “I will try my hand; you have exhausted your power, let me try.” So the Sun commenced to smile upon the earth and sent down his sweetest rays, and by and by, as everything was blooming, as the birds were singing, the traveller commenced to open his coat, and as the Sun continued to send down his gentle warmth, the traveller presently wiped his brow and then took off his coat altogether.
Well, sir, the Government are very windy. They have blown and raged and threatened, but the more they have threatened and raged and blown the more that man Greenway has stuck to his coat. If the Government has anything better than this to offer, let them do so and they will receive my heartiest support.
If it were in my power, and if I had the responsibility, I would try the sunny way. I would approach this man Greenway with the sunny ways of patriotism, asking him to be generous to the minority, in order that we may have peace amongst all the creeds and races which it has pleased God to bring upon this corner of our common country.
Do you not believe there is more to be gained by appealing to the heart and soul of men rather than by trying to compel them to do a thing? If you have a difference with one of your neighbours, and if he comes to you and says, “You must do this,” in a moment you will say, “No, I will not do it.” Your manhood will rise against it. But if you go and appeal to your neighbour and say, “We have a difference, and must settle it,” he will say, “I will meet you half way.”
But the Government of Canada, instead of appealing to Mr. Greenway in this way, have threatened to coerce Mr. Greenway, and the people of Manitoba have declared: “No, we will stand no coercion.” This is not the way to settle the question. I have stated to the Government again and again the first thing they must do is to investigate the question. I stand upon this ground today, and I have done so in all the provinces in which I have discussed this question, and tomorrow you will hear the Conservative press say: “Mr. Laurier has spoken about this question again, and he has said nothing.”
I am prepared for that. I cannot hope to satisfy them. But, while I cannot satisfy them, I hope, at all events, I can satisfy the honest people, the thinking people of Canada, that this is the only way in which you can give justice upon that question. If there is any other method whereby the Government can give justice upon that question, why let us have it by all means, and for my part I shall be ready to give them a fair hearing and consideration, but so long as they continue to do as they have been doing in their press and to say that I do not discharge my duty upon this question, I discharge my duty as an Opposition leader, but I am not bound to frame a policy for the Government, it is not to me that the petitions of the minority have been addressed. I have not been charged by the constitution with the duty of looking into this case.
The only thing I can do is to point out the means by which the end can be attained, if there is any better means than that let the Government adopt such means and they will be welcome to it. But if it does not, it will not do for the Government to be acting as they have been acting upon this question, and for their organs to say in the province of Ontario: “There shall be no interference,” and for their organs in the province of Quebec to say: “There shall be interference.” It must be the same thing whether in Quebec or in the province of Ontario, on this question, as on all other questions.
I have held to the language which I do here today. You have heard in the ministerial press that in the province of Quebec I use different words to those I speak in the province of Ontario. I am quite willing to stand here responsible for my acts. Let a speech of mine be quoted that has been delivered anywhere: let it be quoted entirely and I will be responsible for it. But when a speech of mine that has occupied one hour in delivery is condensed into six lines, I refuse to be bound by such a report as that.
The last time I spoke on this question was at St. Anne de la Perade and I will give you the words, because they were reported verbatim, not in any paper supporting me, but in the Evenement and this is what I said: While the Government has done nothing, all the party organs throughout all the provinces have demanded what was my policy. It does not belong to me to settle this question, but I shall not wait until the responsibility is put upon my shoulders to outline what I believe to be the true way.
Two years ago when the question first came before the House, I said to the Government which desired to consult the courts to ascertain whether it had the power to intervene, “You have the power to intervene. It is written in the constitution. The only question is a question of facts. Make an investigation: it is the first thing to be done.” But they said: “Why an investigation; are the facts not clear?” I simply replied: “These facts are clear to you and to all those who believe in a system of separate schools, but remember there are those who do not think as we do on this question and they are the majority. I know that when I say that the first thing to be done in this question is to have an investigation. I do not, perhaps, express an idea that will be very popular I this province, but I hold to the same language in all provinces. Remember that there are differences of opinion, and profound differences on this question, and that to solve it we must enlarge our horizon and place ourselves on a basis that all who are Canadians, without a distinction of race or creed, may accept.”
This is the language I spoke in the province of Quebec; this is the language I repeated in the province of Ontario. This is a question which should not be approached from any standpoint of creed or race, but I appeal to all my countrymen, whatever may be their race or creed, to place themselves beyond these narrow inclinations, to stand up as Canadians to do justice to whoever justice may be due. Gentlemen, that is the policy which I advocate to you at present, and I say again, I would be beneath contempt if I dared approach this question, as every other question has to be approached, that is to say from the standpoint of a Canadian nationality before all other nationalities, and placing our common country before any other considerations that may animate us.
We are here a population of different races and creeds. We never can be a people unless we are able to stand up in any corner of this Canada of ours and repeat upon that corner what has to be said everywhere else. That is the ground upon which I arraign the policy of the Government. A policy – I make a mistake in using the word, for they have no policy – they never had a policy. That is the ground upon which I arraign their conduct. Their conduct is to appeal to the sentiments of one race in one province and to the sentiments of another race in another province.
Do you think when I spoke a few weeks ago in the parish of Ste. Anne de la Perade in the language I have just quoted to you, do you think that it would not have been an easy matter for me to have made myself very popular by saying that there must be interference in the same manner that the ministerial organs and speakers are saying every day? I could have made an appeal to the passion, to the prejudices of my fellow countrymen. I despise such conduct. I could appeal here to passion and prejudice because there are passions and prejudices in every human heart.
I am here to speak my mind, to try to lay down the principles upon which this great country is to be governed and, whether my words are popular or not, I have to stand by them because I believe in my heart and conscience it is the only way in which Canada can be governed, not only on this question, but on all other questions as well. The Liberal Party, in whose favour I am now speaking, has a record not only in this province and country, but in England as well, of fighting for the minority wherever minorities are oppressed, but there are laws for minorities as well as for majorities, and here we have not to appeal to the sympathy or to sentiment, but to apply the constitution such as it is.
In applying the constitution the remedy will be found and in no other way. Of course, there may be hostility to face and prejudices to overcome, but I trust that if you appeal to the best sentiments of the people everywhere, whether in Quebec, Manitoba or Ontario, you will find the solution of that question, and you will find it in no other way but that. That is the statement I have to make at this moment. Again, I say I know very well what will happen. Tomorrow you will read in the Mail and Empire that I have said nothing. The day after tomorrow you will read in the Evenement and the Courrier du Canada that I have betrayed my countrymen. Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow you will read again that Mr. Laurier is shifting upon this question. Shifting upon this question! What plainer language can be spoken than I have just uttered?
I tell the Government to do this and appoint a commission, and I will support you. Can I say anything more than that? Is that not as plain as it could be. Still that is not satisfactory to the Government. I will tell you what would be satisfactory. If I would say: I will support Sir Mackenzie Bowell. They would be pleased with a statement like that. I will support Sir Mackenzie Bowell when he is in the right. I will fight him when he is in the wrong, and, unfortunately, I will have to fight him more than support him. I know that.
The Conservative press today is very anxious to have my views upon the question, but I remember very well, and you remember also, that the Government is not very anxious to have my opinion as a rule. When they gerrymandered Canada in 1882 they did not consult any of the Liberals. When they passed the Franchise Act they did not consult any of the Liberals, and even last session when they brought in their legislation they never consulted us, but upon this question they want to consult me and to have my views. Here they have them. Let them act upon them and we will be in accord; but more than that I will not do. I will not say that I will support the policy of Sir Mackenzie Bowell until I know what that policy is, and then when we have it in black and white it will be time for me to speak upon it. Let the ministerial press abuse me all they can: I stand within the lines of Torres Vedras and I will not come out until I choose my time.
It may be that my position is not satisfactory to the Government or the supporters of the Government. I cannot help that. I am sorry it is so. I am an opponent of the Government. I have not much confidence in them, but after all if they gave me the satisfaction, for once, of supporting them, I would be only too happy to do so, but it is a pleasure, as you know, which has not very often been given to the Opposition, and I do not expect it on this question any more than upon any other question they have had to deal with.
(See also Sunny Ways: The Speeches of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.)