September 23, 1903 (9th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Thomas Simpson Sproule

Conservative (1867-1942)


Was the speech that the hon. gentleman made the other day intended as a pleasantry or is this an amusing pastime with which we are dealing ? Is there nothing rational in the conduct of the hon. gentleman when he is committing the country to this great undertaking, and can he not treat it seriously ? He does not look at it from a business standpoint, but regards it as a huge joke and a source of amusement that the government should propose this scheme, that he should assent to it, and that no member of the House should dissent from it.
The advice given by the hon. member for Bothwell (Mr. Clancy) is timely and important ; advice is always important at the inception of an undertaking. There are important interests involved in this enterprise. It is to be a great transcontinental road which must carry the produce of half a continent either cheaply or dearly, and in proportion to the cheapness or dearness of that carriage it will be for the weal or woe of the people who contribute the money to build it. To the people who raise and ship the grain it is important that it should be a road, as the hon. member for North Norfolk (Mr. Charlton) said, with few curves and low gradients, a standard road-bed of very finished quality. It must be that if it is going to carry the produce at a price, which will pay the farmer of old Canada who puts his money into the construction of the road and the farmer of the west who sends his grain over it.
It must as well be a road of equally high standard to be available for the consumer, because, for the produce that is taken over it the consumer must pay part of the cost as. well as the producer. So, from whichever standpoint you consider it, I say it is an important undertaking and we should give timely advice on this the eve of the government committing itself to it. Who is responsible for this information ? What is the duty of parliament ? We have 213 members in this House who are endeavouring to bring their intelligence to bear upon

an important business proposal to which the government is committing the country. If the government makes a proposition to parliament it is its bounden duty to lay before parliament such intelligent information as will enable parliament to judge whether it is wise or otherwise before committing the country to it. Has the government done that ? We complain that it has not done it. It is! true that we have had the statement made by the right hon. leader of the government (Rt. Hon. Sir Wilfrid Laurier) that there are mountains of information, but the mountains of information have not been made available to the members of this House because they have not been placed before the House. If the right hon. gentleman knows where these mountains of information are he and his colleagues are failing in their duty when they do not lay them on the Table of the House so that every hon. member can examine this information for himself and decide whether it is wise or not to go on with this great undertaking. What information have they doled out to us ? We have had certain data laid before us, but when we come to examine it we find that it is made up of the reports of missionaries who passed through that country one hundred years ago, who had no knowledge of what our advanced civilization might require in that country and who directed their attention not to procuring any information which might be valuable to us to-day but to giving information that pertained more particularly to the line of life in which they were engaged and ns to what the country might be in the future. We desire to-day to get such information as will enable us to do our duty as members of this House in assenting to or opposing this proposition. We had some other scraps of information that were given us and which were obtained from travellers, pleasure seekers, hunters, men who were looking for timber, but in. forty-nine cases out of fifty, I am within the mark when 1 say that these men did not give us the class of information that is necessary to enable us to undertake the construction of q. great transcontinental railway. They told us something of the flora of the country, of its beautiful rivers, of its spruce timber, which is to be found within a limited area, but their exanimation of the country was such as to justify us in saying that the reports which they have given afforded us no information whatever. We have no information from surveyors who have_ passed through that country. Have they given us any information regarding the topographical features of the country ? What information do we require to-day ? Is it a mountainous country ? Is it a level country ? Is it a country of rocks or a country of alluvial soil ? It is true that portions of it contain alluvial soil, but a great deal of the territory through which this road will run is a terra incognita to the members of this House. If there is any
further information about this country available why has it not been collated and put before the House so that we could examine it ? The information which the government has put before the House is the merest epitome of knowledge available on the subject and it is not such information as would justify any intelligent man in deciding whether it would be wise or otherwise on his part to support the government on 'this great undertaking. This is a proposition that every intelligent man in Canada ought to give heed to. The government and its friends are supposed to represent at least the average intelligence of the country because they are sent here as representatives of the people. Then it becomes important to them in defence of their own reputations that they should look closely into this undertaking, that they should examine it carefully, and that they should analyse it before they support the government in committing the country to it. The importance of this country demands it. This is a great commercial transcontinental railway designed to handle the produce of half the continent. If it is the right sort of a road it will handle it cheaply and successfully. If we cannot get the right sort of a road without expending too much money and we go on and build it, then we would be doing an unwise thing. But not only for the country we represent, not only for the people who will use the road in the future, whether the farmer in the west, or the consumer in the east, or the manufacturer or others who send their goods over it, it is important that we should make haste slowly and that we should have this information before us before committing ourselves to the project. Its success or failure depends upon the character of the road. What information have we from any intelligent source that enables us to understand whether it is possible to construct such a road as we desire to have in such a manner as to ensure that it shall be a successful commercial railway ? What information have we from experts ? What information have we from railway experts or intelligent engineers who have gone through the country to procure this information ? Practically none. But, we are called upon to give an opinion upon this great undertaking without this information and we are asked to go it blind. We, as representatives of the taxpayers of the country, do not desire to go it blind. We desire to have that information. On behalf of the taxpayers of the country we demand it. On behalf of the people we represent we demand it. On behalf of the people who are to use this road in the future, we demand it so that we may know what we are committing the country to at the present time. If there were nothing beyond the financial importance of the undertaking to consider it would be wise that we should have this information. Any undertaking that involves the country in an

expenditure of from $100,000,000 to $150,000,000 iis a very important undertakingand in proportion to its greatness it is necessary that we should act wisely in carrying it out or otherwise. The financial importance of this undertaking demands that we should have this information before we commit the country to this heavy expenditure. What effect will it have in the future ? It is going to attack our credit in the world. It is going to roll up our debt. It is going to put a burden upon every farmer, labouring man, mechanic, and professional man of this country and it is going to put a tax of at least $125 on every family of five members in this country. Considering this, is it not wise that we should proceed slowly and along intelligent lines in considering a matter of such great financial importance ? The country's interests demand that we should have this information. The people whom we represent demand it as well. The taxpayers of Canada demand it and therefore we should have it. The farmers of the west demand it. Why ? Because they are led to believe that when this road is put through it w'dll carry their grain cheaper than it can be carried at the present time. They know what it costs to take their produce out of the country to the markets of the world, but they are deluded into the belief to-day that when this road is built and when we have committed this country to this great expenditure it will take out their grain for from two to three or four cents per bushel cheaper than any other roads are doing to-day.
The government tell us that this road is to be of a high standard, and the question then comes in : Will the financial resources of this country be sufficient to construct a road of such a high standard from Winnipeg to Moncton? We do not know what it will cost; we are absolutely in the dark as to that, and the government refuse us information on which we might intelligently form an opinion. For the last time we ask the government to furnish this information to the House. If this road should turn out as many believe, it wrill be a failure, and if it should strike a fatal blow at the country's credit; if after we have taxed every man, woman and child in Canada it is found that we have acted unwisely ; then. Sir, the government will be held responsible before the great electorate of the country for rushing headlong into this scheme and refusing to take the wise counsel1 given by the opposition in this House. Let the government dissolve the House and face the electors; let them seek justification for their policy at the hands of the people. I challenge them to do that. They dare not. If they accept that challenge we will say no more about information, but we will place the facts before the people to enable them to say whether we are right and the government wrong. It is evident that the government want to commit the country to this Mr. SPROULE.
expenditure before the people can pronounce upon it, and that being so, it is our duty here, to induce them, if we cannot compel them, to furnish the information which the country demands. We appeal to them for the last time. They may not heed the appeal, but the day will come when the electorate of Canada will speak in a voice louder than thunder, condemning the government for its imprudent and improvident policy on this question. For the last time, we ask the government to hasten slowly, before committing the country to this enormous' expenditure.

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