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Thomas Greenway (March 25, 1838-October 30, 1908) was a politician, merchant and farmer. He served as Premier of Manitoba from 1888 to 1900. A Liberal, his ministry formally ended Manitoba's non-partisan government, albeit that a de facto two-party system had already existed for some years.
Greenway was in Cornwall, England, emigrating to Canada with his family in 1846. He began his political career in Ontario, contesting Huron South for the Conservative Party in 1872. He narrowly lost this race to Liberal Malcolm Colin Cameron , and suffered the same result in 1874. Cameron's 1874 victory was overturned for illegal campaign activities, however, and Greenway was elected unopposed the following year. He entered parliament as an Independent Conservative , in opposition to Alexander Mackenzie's Liberal government.
Greenway's affiliation with the Conservative Party was always tenuous. He opposed protectionism, and in 1876 voted for the budget of Liberal Finance Minister Richard Cartwright. He generally favoured the Liberals for the remainder of his time in parliament (though continuing to sit as an Independent), and stood aside in favour of Cameron in 1878.
Greenway moved to Manitoba in 1879, having acquired a large tract of land in the province's southwestern corner (with financial backing from Cameron). When a provincial election was held on 16 December of that year, he was elected unopposed in the riding of Mountain. Greenway again referred to himself as an Independent Conservative , and sought to represent his constituents in the manner of an independent country politician; however, he soon became known as a leading opponent of John Norquay's government.
When Prime Minister John A. MacDonald disallowed Manitoba's local railway legislation in 1882, Greenway formed an opposition group known as the Provincial Rights Party, which ran 15 candidates in the provincial election of 1883. Although it did not achieve immediate success (Norquay's government won 21 of 30 seats), it emerged as the most powerful voice on the opposition side. Greenway had to fend off a personal challenge from Premier Norquay, who ran as a candidate in Mountain as well as his own riding of St. Andrew's. If Norquay had hoped to silence the strongest opposition voice by this tactic, he was unsuccessful; Greenway won the riding by 330 votes to 244.
The Provincial Rights group subsequently consolidated the non-government MLAs into the Manitoba Liberal Party -- rather to the chagrin of some Winnipeg Liberals, who were suspicious of Greenway's rural base. Some extra-parliamentary "Provincial Rights" groups emerged in the same period. These faded away after a few public protests, but Greenway's control over the provincial Liberal organization soon became unchallengeable.
The Liberals believed they had a chance to win the provincial election of 1886, and in fact received about as many votes as Norquay's Conservatives. A personal visit from John A. MacDonald boosted Conservative strength, however, and Norquay's government won roughly 21 seats compared to 14 for the opposition. Greenway himself faced a surprisingly strong challenge in Mountain, defeating Conservative candidate R. Rogers by 385 votes to 370.
Norquay was unable to maintain his alliance with John A. MacDonald, and resigned after losing the support of his ministers in December 1887. When his successor D.H. Harrison also proved unable to keep the Conservatives united, Greenway was asked to form a new administration in January 1888. Through by-election wins and defections, Greenway was able to sustain a relatively stable administration before calling elections in mid-year.
Greenway's Liberal administration did not meet with strong disapproval from John A. MacDonald (who claimed in private correspondence to prefer Greenway to Norquay). The Premier's commitment to "liberalism" (in the Canadian context) was no stronger than his commitment to "conservatism" had been ten years earlier. As an administrator, he remained an independent figure, unbothered by abstract questions of ideology. Perhaps the only thing that Greenway unambiguously stood for was provincial rights in the field of railway legislation: when he assumed power, he promised to be more successful in securing these rights than the now-discredited Norquay administration had been.
Greenway was extremely fortunate, in this sense, that his term began just as the Canadian Pacific Railway decided to end its provincial monopoly over rail travel (subject to hefty compensation from the federal government). Greenway rode a wave of popular support to a landslide election victory on 11 July 1888, taking 33 seats to 5 for the Conservatives. No Conservative even bothered to challenge Greenway in Mountain.
Greenway, however, proved unable to resolve the railway issue. His administration mishandled negotiations for a new connection to the United States, resulting in the CPR's continued dominance in the region. Transportation rates remained high, and provincial development suffered accordingly. One of Greenway's MLAs, Rodmond Roblin, bolted to the Conservative Party in disgust.
Greenway's administration is most commonly remembered today for its reforms to Manitoba's education system. When Manitoba was created in 1870, the provincial government established a dual school system intended to reflect the demographic balance of the province. The Manitoba Act of 1870 and School Act of 1871 provided for separate (and equally funded) Catholic and Protestant school boards. These boards were divided by language as well as religion: the province's original Catholic population was predominantly francophone, while its Protestant population was almost exclusively anglophone.
Between 1870 and 1888, the demographics of Manitoba had changed considerably. Protestants now far outnumbered Catholics, and the dual system was regarded by many newer settlers as an anachronism. Many anglophones (both Conservative and Liberal) resented continued state funding for French-language education. Greenway, in need of a distraction from his railway failures, decided to appease these voters. He abolished the dual system in 1890, and set up in its place a single Department of Education. While Catholic schools were not forbidden, they were denied state funding, and parents who sent their children to Catholic schools were be required to contribute to the secular board as well. Most lay Protestants supported these changes, particularly among the evangelical faiths (Greenway was himself a Methodist). His government was re-elected on 23 July 1892, winning 28 seats to about 12 for the opposition (which did not have a leader).
This election did not bring an end to the education issue. Greenway's legislation brought about a complex series of legal cases, as well as threats of disallowance from various levels of government. The resulting controversy (known as the Manitoba Schools Question) dominated Canadian politics in the mid-1890s, and divided both the Conservatives and Liberals on the national level.
In 1895, after the Privy Council refused to decide the matter, Conservative Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell passed remedial legislation defending Catholic rights. Greenway responded by calling another election, and again presented himself as the champion of provincial rights against federal intrusion. The result, on 15 January 1896, was another Liberal landslide -- Greenway's Liberals won 31 seats, compared with 6 for the still-leaderless Conservatives (the Patrons of Industry, an upstart third party, were sidelined by the education controversy and won only 2 seats). These results were a significant blow to the federal Conservatives, who soon withdrew their remedial legislation. Bowell stood aside as national Conservative leader, leaving a weakened and badly-divided party in his wake.
Shortly thereafter, the federal Liberals under Wilfrid Laurier won a national election, and resolved the Schools Questions with a mild compromise (providing minimal state support for Catholic and French education on a case-by-case basis). Greenway's efforts to introduce secular education into the province were successful, and the Laurier government's bid for further concessions in later years came to nothing.
The resolution of the education issue did not benefit Greenway's chances for re-election, however. No longer able to benefit from protest votes, the Liberals were defeated by the Conservatives under Hugh John MacDonald (son of the former Prime Minister) in late 1899. Many voters were apprehensive about recent East European immigration into the province, and were offended by even the minor concessions which Greenway had made on the education question; the Conservative Party was able to tap into this xenophobia, and won 22 seats out of 40. Greenway reluctantly returned to the leadership of the opposition, and sought a patronage appointment to cap off his career. An attempt for an early Senate promotion came to nothing, and he continued to lead the Liberals in a desultory fashion through the election of 1903 (wherein his party won only 9 of 40 seats).
Greenway returned to federal politics in 1904, winning election for the Manitoba riding of Lisgar . Although his loyalty to the Liberal Party was now unquestioned, he accomplished very little in Ottawa and continued to spend most of his time seeking out a comfortable sinecure. In 1908, he finally received an appointment to the expanded Board of Railway Commissioners; unfortunately, he suffered a fatal heart attack on the day that he was scheduled to be sworn in.
Greenway remained a controversial figure for much of the twentieth century. Some regarded his education reforms as discriminatory toward minority groups; others (including some in the social gospel and secular left) saw him as a champion of the public school system in western Canada. With the rise of official bilingualism in the 1960s, the latter view has largely fallen into abeyance -- few supporters of today's public system would recognize Greenway as an heroic figure from the movement's past.
Notwithstanding this, Greenway was certainly responsible for bringing a mature party system into Manitoba politics. Following his departure from the provincial scene, no one doubted that partisan politics had become an established part of Manitoba's cultural landscape.
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