Sir Mackenzie Bowell

Sir Mackenzie Bowell

The Right Honourable Sir Mackenzie Bowell, 5th Prime Minister of Canada.

Time as Canada’s Prime Minister:
5th Prime Minister of Canada
December 21, 1894 to  April 27, 1896

Born: December 27, 1823 at Rickinghall, Suffolk ,England
Died: December 10, 1917, at age 93, in Belleville, Ontario
Resting place: Belleville Cemetery, Belleville, Ontario
Political party: Conservative

He was Minister of Customs, 1867-1892, and imposed protective tariffs of the new National Policy.

He was Minister of Militia and Defence, 1892.

Constituencies: North Hastings, Ontario, 1867-1892.

He was Liberal-Conservative Party Leader and President of the Privy Council, 1894-1896.

Became Prime Minister on the death of John Thompson and was faced with the Manitoba Schools Question which proved too much for Bowell’s abilities:

When Manitoba became a province in 1870, a system of Protestant and Catholic Schools was established based on a provision in the British North America Act to ensure minorities the right to education.

In 1890, Manitoba government abolished funding of Catholic schools.  The law was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada.  That decision was reversed by the Privy Council in England.  The task fell to Parliament to make a final ruling and became the most controversial issue in Canadian history.

Quebec supported the Catholic rights. Protestant Ontario supported Manitoba.

Manitoba defied the federal government’s interference.  These divisions overflowed into Bowell’s Cabinet, which made any decisions impossible.

Bowell was also hampered by the fact that, as a Senator, he could not take part in House of Commons debates.

The Canadian government ground to a halt.  In June 1895, legislation was drafted to force Manitoba to reinstate Catholic School support under the BNA Act, but Cabinet opposition caused Bowell to postpone the issue for 6 months.

By January 1896, with the Cabinet questioning Bowell’s competence, 7 ministers resigned in order to force Bowell to step down as Prime Minister.

The Cabinet also prevented Bowell from appointing a replacement ministers and the government fell into crisis.

Governor General The Earl of Aberdeen intervened and reinstated 6 ministers and Charles Tupper joined the cabinet and assumed virtual control of the party.

Bowell was forced to resign in favour of Charles Tupper, becoming the only prime minister forced to resign by his own Cabinet. He remained in the Senate until his death in 1917.

The extremely volatile nature of the Manitoba Schools Question effectively divided the new Dominion of Canada, pitting friend against friend, province against province, Catholics against Protestants, English against French, Liberals against Conservatives, the Church against the State. Each group overlapped another, and loyalties changed from minute to minute. Canada was caught in a quicksand of tension.

Religion: Presbyterian

His family emigrated thence to Belleville, Ontario, in 1832.  He apprenticed with the printer at the town newspaper, The Belleville Intelligencer. He became a successful printer and editor with that newspaper, and later its owner.

On a personal note:
Married to Harriet Moore in 1847; she died in 1884.
Had children 9 (four sons and five daughters)

 “I am quite convinced from the utterances made by most of the Brethren in the press and on the platform, that they do not understand the question, nor draw the distinction which exists between this matter and the Jesuits’ Estates Act.” Mackenzie Bowell, on Protestant sentiments regarding the Manitoba Schools Question, March 1895.

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