Hewitt Bostock (Speaker of the Senate)
When shall the bill be read the second time?
Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister) moved for leave to introduce Bill No. 206, to amend the Railway Act, 1919. He said: Mr. Speaker, this bill is based upon the recommendation of the report of the committee which has just been adopted. Its purpose is t" suspend the Crowsnest pass agreement, except as regards grain and flour, for a period of one year, and to give to the Governor in Council power to suspend for a further period of one year if in his judgment the then existing conditions justify that course. Motion agreed to and bill read the first time.
When shall the bill be read the second time?
Moved by Mr. Mackenzie King, seconded by Mr. Fielding, that the said bill be now read the second time. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion ?
Mr. MACKENZIE KING:
I would like to recall to the attention of the House the statement I made on May 4 when the question of the Crowsnest pass agreement was, among other matters, referred by the House to the Special Committee on Railway Transportion Costs. On that day I spoke as follows:
In order that there may be no mis-take as to the Government's position on this matter, I have reduced to writing the exact statement of the Government's position towards the expira-
tion of the Crowsnest pass agreement, and I hope my hon. friends opposite, after hearing it, will feel, as I think they ought to feel, that, as regards this particular resolution, there is no reason why It should not have their wholehearted support. In a word, the Government's policy is this:
Unless it can be shown that in the public interest there are good and sufficient reasons why, what is termed the Crowsnest pass agreement of 1897, should not again become operative in July next, the existing Statute will not be interfered with.
In other words, the suspension of the Crowsnest pass agreement will then have expired.
A little further on I said:
All that the Government is asking is that there shall be an opportunity, not alone to the Government itself, but to the members of Parliament and to the country, to understand all that is involved in the coming into effect of that agreement on July 6th of this year, or in the continued suspension of it after that date.
The committee, in the report which has just been adopted, has gone, Mr. Speaker, very fully into all that is implied in the partial suspension of the agreement as proposed in the bill. In its report the committee says:
Some of the reasons advanced in 1918 as justifying the suspension of the Crowsnest pass agreement have disappeared, and your committee has reached the conclusion that an immediate reduction of freight rates on grain and flour is in the national interest.
Your Committee, therefore, recommends a suspension of the Crowsnest pass agreement, except in respect of grain and flour, for one year from July 6, 1922, with power to the Governor in Council to suspend for a further period of one year, if in its judgment the then existing conditions justify the same.
There was only one dissenting voice, I am informed, to the acceptance of its report by the committee. The House has just adopted the report, I think, without any dissent, and it is on the recommendation of the report of the committee that this bill is based.
Right Hon. ARTHUR MEIGHEN (Leader of the Opposition) :
Mr. Speaker, the first remark I wish to make has to do with almost the last sentence that fell from the lips of the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King). In that sentence he stated that the House had just adopted a report without dissent. He said that in the face of a vote by which the House has just passed on an amendment moved by the Opposition, and in the face of a recorded vote on the main motion "carried on division."1 The House by no means adopts this report without dissent. The dissent of the Opposition is decided, and it is reinforced by the arguments advanced frankly by the hon. member for Welland (Mr. German); advanced just as strongly by the hon. member for Halifax (Mr. Maclean) and just as strongly by the hon. member for Pictou (Mr. Macdonald) ; arguments expressed tersely and forcefully in the report itself-all of which tell against the conclusion the report arrives at and which the Government in an attitude of helpless silence now seeks to implement by legislation.
The Crowsnest pass agreement is embodied in legislation of this House dating back to 1897. As stated by the hon. member for Halifax, it has virtually been without effect from that day to this. For some time, possibly, the rates under it were lower than they otherwise would have been-for the time that intervened between the passing of that legislation and the creation of the Railway Commission. I apprehend myself that the agreement was not ratified at the time by this Parliament in the belief that there was to be established thereby any discriminatory rates, any rates that would not have been enforced at that time by any efficient judicial tribunal which had charged upon it the duty of fixing rates fair to all classes of producers and to all portions of the country. At that time there was no such tribunal, and as part consideration for some subventions then made this reduction, was agreed to by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. It was not felt on any side to constitute1 anything in the way of discriminatory rates. After the creation of the Railway Commission, rates fell far below the Crowsnest pass schedule, and remained far below until the summer of 1918. Then the McAdoo awards forced a situation wholly abnormal in this country. Then it was. seen that the Crowsnest pass agreement, were it kept in effect, would have resulted not only against the public advantage, but in. such a disaster as would mean the paralysis of the whole railway traffic of Canada. Consequently, that agreement was then suspended. We are now at the expiration of the suspension, and Parliament is about to decide by legislation what shall be done as regards the continuance1 of the suspension so expiring.
A committee was appointed on the 4th day of May, such committee being asked to inquire into the general question of transportation costs and to hear witnesses as to the effect on the whole rate structure of this country of the Crowsnest pass agreement. At the time I expressed the view that a general inquiry of this sort by a committee of Parliament was a wholly
impracticable and worthless piece of procedure, that inquiry into transportation costs toy a committee with a view to ascertaining the effect of the continuance of the Crowsnest pass agreement upon the rate structure of Canada could end in nothing, and could have no result save to delay a determination of policy by the Government, which determination had to toe made before general reductions in Canada could take place. I wonder have I been vindicated by the event?
Som hon. MEMBERS: Hear, hear.
I wonder is the view then expressed not expressed just as well, and possibly more forcefully, in the report of this committee? Is there any finding here on transportation costs? There is an acknowledgement by the committee that they have come back with hands empty, With nothing to report on the whole subject. Is there any verdict here, any information in this report to throw light' to this Parliament on the question as to what effect the Crowsnest pass agreement would have now on transportation costs? There is an open confession that the committee can make no finding or even comment on that-point at all, and the report abounds in the conclusion expressed over and over again that the whole subject of transportation costs, and the effect of the continuance of the agreement upon that subject, is one for the Railway Commission, and for the Railway Commission alone. If the members of that committee had come back to Parliament and said: "We find we were wrong in voting against the Opposition amendment,-the amendment should have carried," their language would have been no more explicit than the language of the report to-day. But it has had the effect of delay. For four months Parliament has been sitting, for two months since that motion was made, and the people of Canada have been paying excessive freight rates, because of the farce of that committee. Had the Government come to its conclusion at the opening of this session and brought it down, the people of this country in every part of Canada would have saved millions in transportation costs and there would have been that revival of business that such reduction brings about; there would have been acceleration in the recovery of this country from the after effects of war. >
That is all we have got out of the committee. Well, not quite all. No, we have a piece of reasoning, we have something
new in the realm of logic. We have a process of deduction which I think should be spread before the minds of all interested, for their delectation and amusement.
I have the report before me. It declares in explicit language:
Fixing rates by legislation is no doubt generally a bad principle, because it hampers the free action of the Board of Railway Commissioners and may create a discrimination in favour of the commodities covered by statutory rates.
I hope the House notes the full effect of that sentence. I wonder does any one question the truth of that sentence? Is there any one who in his mind to-night has the slightest doubt as to its absolute fidelity to truth? And if it is true, how does this House now justify fixing rates on any commodity whatever? The next sentence reads:
The Crowsnest pass agreement was enacted before the institution of the board. This board, created in 1903, have been charged by the Parliament of Canada with the duty of regulating railway rates and of establishing just and reasonable railway rates. It is the only body in Canada equipped for the determination of the intricate matters relative to railway rate making.
The only one. It goes on: .
The matter of the Crowsnest agreement becoming effective or being suspended is related to other concrete railway rate issues either pending or imminent. The one reacts upon the other, and both upon the whole freight rate structure which must, within a short period of time, undergo many substantial changes. The question would seem to be largely one that can best be treated by one body, the Board of Railway Commissioners.
Now, all the facts adduced,-not very many, all the premises laid down, all the reasoning advanced up to that point, are wholly consistent with the quotation I have just made. There is no want of harmony. There is no collision. All is consistent up to that point. What follows? Having declared that there is one body, and one only, constituted and equipped to decide the matter of rates, it then proceeds to say that as respects grain that body shall not be permitted to do so. I felt some sorrow for the hon. member for Halifax (Mr. Maclean). I was going to say that I knew his mind on this question. I once knew it, and I think I know it yet. The hon. member's mind, though it moves somewhat cautiously, moves true to reason if he gives it a chance. It is of sound and honest structure. When, from that point on he proceeded to explain to the House the conclusion of the report, the reluctance, the hesitation,
the mildness and the meekness of his sentences convinced me that they did not express his thought at all, convinced me that he knew he was enunciating not a conclusion from facts, not the result of the reasoning of his mind, but an irrational decision forced upon him by the Government after log-rolling for two months with hon. gentlemen to my left. Yes, the Railway Board is the only body in Canada equipped or fitted to give judgment on these matters; but he says, "we find that grain is very important to three provinces." It is a " basic industry of three provinces of Confederation," and furthermore " the prosperity of that basic industry is a factor vitally affecting the economic welfare of the nation." More than that, the grain grown in those prairie provinces is " mostly for export purposes," and the price of that commodity is settled " by competition in the world's markets." He puts that motley collection of words together as a reason for concluding that the Railway Commission should not be allowed to decide the freight rates on grain. It is true that grain is the main industry of these three provinces. Very well, is not something else the main industry of other provinces? Is not something else the main industry of British Columbia? Is not something else the main industry of Quebec? And if so, why not withdraw the subjects of those main industries from the Railway Commission too? The success of the grain industry, he says, is vital to the nation. Very well, is not the success of other industries vital too?
Were not those
things covered by a special contract?
And is the contract sacred? If so, why is the hon. member himself voting to violate it? Contract of course. We are debating now whether the contract is to our national advantage be cause if it is not we shall not longer bind ourselves by it, provided the other party is ready to let us out. The other party is ready, and we are deciding whether it is in our interests or not. The next assertion is this: That the grain is mostly for export. So is our copper, so is our nickel, so is our cheese. The very same could be said of all these and a dozen more-pulp-wood for example. Why should not those be withdrawn from the Railway Commission? Think, Mr. Speaker, of this piece of reasoning with which the Government has coincided. I do not know that I am
surprised at the Government, but I am surprised at many hon. members behind the Government. The report says, " The rate on wheat and grain is very important. It is immensely important that such rate be decided rightly." In the paragraph preceding it is said that the only body that could decide the rate rightly is the Railway Commission. And this follows: " Because it is something important we will not let the Railway Commission, which is competent, decide it, but we will turn it into this Parliament, which is incompetent, and let Parliament decide it." Such is the report for which the hon. member for Brome voted.
As regards incompetency I trust the right hon. member is only speaking for his own group.
I am not speaking for my own group when I said we voted for this report; I was speaking for the hon. member for Brome. The hon. member for Brome voted that way and also other hon. members of the Government, but I am more surprised at him than at some of the others-
As a matter of fact I was paired, otherwise I would have voted for the report.
They say, "Because the grain trade of this country is an important industry, we will not let the decision on the freight rates on that subject go to the only body that is competent to fix the freight rates; we will hold fast to it and decide it here in a body that is not equipped, that does not know the facts." The committee, after two months' consideration, says: "We do not know the facts. We do not know what effect it is going to have, but we will let it be decided by this unequipped, incompetent body, and take the consequences." "Oh," it is whispered somewhere, "there are some who have not confidence in the Railway Commission." That was stated, I know, in evidence before the committee. Indeed I do not know what can be behind the motive of the Government in supporting this report unless it also has no confidence in the Railway Commission. I know that one hon. member of the Government used to declare very loudly that he had no confidence. I know that he has been astonishingly silent in this debate. His representations still lie under consideration on the desk of the administration, and the personnel of the board hangs between heaven and earth awaiting the verdict of the Government.
That is the condition of affairs they think proper for this country-the right position in which to suspend the Railway Board. Well, if this decision arises in any degree out of lack of full confidence in the board, is the result any more logical than it was? They say: "the board is the right body, and we have confidence in it, to fix the rates on coal, but we have not enough confidence in it to allow it to fix the rates on wheat. We take out of the original Crowsnest pass agreement all fruits, and we declare that we will let the Railway Commissioners fix the rates on fruits, but we will not let them fix the rates on flour; we have not confidence enough in them for that. We will take binder twine out, we will take farm implements out, we will take furniture out, and we will let the Railway Commissioners fix the rates on all these unimpeded'; but for the life of us we cannot summon confidence enough in them to let them fix the rates on wheat." What a fine position to be in!
To-day the grain growers of the West come, and they say to the Government: "Grain is an important industry in our country. We ask you to make an exception, we ask you to take it away from the Railway Commission and fix the rates by log-rolling and agreement in Parliament because grain raising is an important industry." Next week the coal mine owners of Nova Scotia will come down to this Government and will say: "Here, the raising and the selling of coal is an important and vital industry to our country. We want you to take that out from the Railway Commission and fix a low rate by Parliament." What is going to be the answer of the Government to that appeal?
Mr. CARROLL. It is not out.-
The hon. member says it is not out.
It never was out.
Does the hon. member want it out?
I certainly do.
I expected he would. And what answer is the Government to make to him?
General lower rates.