April 17, 1905 (10th Parliament, 1st Session)

CON

William Humphrey Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. W. H. BENNETT (East Simcoe).

The other day attention was called to certain peculiarities in the tenders for dredging at Port Arthur and Fort William, and the acting Minister of Public Works (Mr. Hyman) took the matter so seriously to heart that he has called for new tenders. However, the terms of the new advertisement are no better than the terms of the old because they inevitably provide that Conmee & Bowman, the contractors who have been doing work there for two years past without open competition and practically at their own price, must secure this work. Although Port Arthur and Fort William are a considerable distance from points in the Dominion where contractors own dredges, still the minister proposes to spend $200,000 for dredging, and he only gave practically two days notice for the receipt of tenders. The original advertisement was issued on the 7th of April, and tenders were to be in on the 14th of that month. Although there is direct communication of the best kind between Ottawa and Toronto there was the startling fact that these advertisements did not appear in the newspapers until the 11th of April. The acting minister (Mr. Hyman) may treat $200000 as a trifling expenditure, but the people of the country will hardly agree with him in that. The terms in this dredging tender are strikingly in contradiction to the terms of other tenders. I have here an advertisement for tenders for paving a small portion of Wellington street in this city, and yet eighteen days are allowed for tenders to be received, which is in marked contrast with the two days allowed for the dredging tenders. It is notorious why such a length of time was allowed for this comparatively small contract in Ottawa.' It is notorious that the Minister of Public Works dare not give an undue advantage to any contracting friend of the government in Ottawa, because the rest of them would be up in arms, and so perforce he was constrained to allow a reasonable time for tendering. Here is also an advertisement calling for repairs and alterations to the Toronto Drill Hall. This advertisement is dated the 10th of April and tenders have to be in on the 2Stli of April. The same rule applies in Ottawa as in Toronto; the minister dare not insert a newspaper advertisement giving only two days for tenders to be in, because the friends of the government who are contractors in that city would protest. Here is another advertisement for tenders for repairs to the public building at Galt, which is a comparatively trifling work, and yet the minister allows eighteen days for the tenders to be received. Compare that with this precious contract at Fort William and Port Arthur, where $200,000 is to be expended and which was so arranged that only Conmee & Bowman could secure it. It is idle to say the hon. member for Rainy River (Mr. Conmee) is not interested in this firm. Away back on the 9th of February
last, this contract-I will not call it a contract ; it is bargaining or trafficking in a contract-this very contract was before the [DOT] House then, and in the course of a lengthy discussion the name of the hon. member for Rainy River (Mr. Conmee) was introduced as being a beneficiary in the contract, or rather in the trafficking that had gone on for two years. Although that hon. gentleman (Mr. Conmee) is in Ottawra sometimes, though in his seat very rarely, yet he has not dared to deny that he is one of the beneficiaries. More than that, I saw the hon. gentleman (Mr. Conmee) in the city on Friday or Saturday last, and I understand he is still here this morning, and yet, although, liis name was introduced into this discussion last Thursday he has made no denial. There is not a doubt in the world but that the hon. gentleman from Rainy River is practically interested in this matter. The minister is going to spend $195,000 at Port Arthur and Fort William, and yet here is a contract so framed originally that the member for Rainy River (Mr. Conmee), and his partner Mr. Bowman who is a member of the local legislature, were bound to get: it without competition. Let us look at some of the terms which hedge this contract and we will find that some of them are the direct opposite of the terms in other contracts.' One provision is that no compensation will be allowed on account of towing the plant to and from the site of the works. Now, we find from the Auditor General's Report of last year that Mr. Boone, a very great friend of the government, had some dredging to do at Victoria Harbour in the county of Simcoe. He brings over a dredge from Collingwood to Victoria Harbour ; he has some further work given him at Depot Harbour and he-brings the dredge from Depot Harbour to Collingwood, and for the use of the tug in connection with towing these dredges Mr. Boone is allowed a large sum of money. Mr. Boone has a contract at Dunnville-I won't call it a contract because that is a misnomer-and he is allowed by the government $1,533 for towing his dredge from Sarnia to Dunnville and from Dunnville to the Grand river, or in all over $3,000 is allowed him for the towing of these dredges to the works. There can be only one reason given for this condition in the Conmee contract, and that is that it will prevent competition from persons who might own dredges at Collingwood, Sarnia or other points, and who would not be allowed a single cent for towing them to the works. But, when there are party friends like Mr. Boone they have to be paid for towing the dredges and they are paid high prices too. What change has the minister made in this second advertisement calling for tenders ? Instead of the date for the reception of tenders closing on the 14th of April, it is extended to the 1st of May.
Now, what does that mean ? The ad-

vertisement was not published till the 11th oi 12th of April, so that parties have only from that time until the 1st of May, practically only a couple of weeks, in which to tender for this large work. But the most striking clause, and it is the same as appeared in the old form of tender, is that which provides that one firm and one firm only, can have this work, and that is, the *firm of Conmee & Bowman-why ? Because it provides that only such dredges as are registered in Canada at the time of the filing of the tenders with the department can be employed on the work ; and the acting minister has already stated repeatedly that the department is employing all the dredges which there are in the province, and there are practically only two dredging firms in the upper lakes

Mr. Boone, who is fully occupied in the harbour of Colling-wood, and Mr. Conmee, who is similarly employed at Port Arthur ; and naturally between these two firms there is no competition. When the minister makes his explanation, I would like him to state whether he knows that these dredges of Con-mee & Bowman were not formerly American dredges. Here is an idea for the minister. Let him throw open these tenders, make the competition fair and frank and full ; and if Mr. Brown or Mr. .Smith succeeds in getting the contract, let him go to the United States, buy a dredge, bring it to Canada, pay the duty on it, and register it as a Canadian dredge. But the minister says : No, you must first run the gauntlet, buy the dredge, bring it to Canada and register it ; if you get the contract, well and good ; if not, she will be idle on your hands. The minister and everybody else knows that dredges are dismantled in winder, and until after the 1st of May no dredges on the American side will be ready for commission ; but the minister says that no man can have this contract unless he has a dredge in Canada at the time of filing the tender with the department; and in the next breath he tells the House that the number of contractors in Canada is limited, and we all know from the public accounts that these two firms are the only ones that do the work. I said the other day, and I have no reason to withdraw the statement, that with the change of government in 1896, the exploitation of the dredging to be done in Canada was looked on as a means for the friends of the government to fatten at the public crib. That is not only the case with the Owen Sound Dredging Company. A man who is now a judge, who was formerly a member of parliament became associated with that company, and a gentleman who was not a member of the House at the time, but afterwards became a member, was also associated with that company. I made the statement the other day that the ex-Deputy Speaker of this House was associated with that same com-Mr. BENNETT.
pany, and I made it by reason of the fact that I heard a discussion in this House, in which the hon. member for East Grey (Mr. Sproule) stated that the then Deputy Speaker, Dr. Macdonald, was part owner of a dredge. What was the excuse that Dr. Macdonald gave ? He said that he was not the owner of any stock in the company, but that his daughter was. I did not charge the other day that his daughter was the owner of stock in the company, because I thought it was decent to have a little delicacy in these matters ; but does any man who knows Dr. Macdonald, or who lives in his immediate neighbourhood, suppose that the members of his family, and particularly a young lady, had money with which to purchase stock in a company of this kind ? His son-in-law, Dr. Horsey, who was formerly a member of this House, had stock in that company before he was a member ; 1 shall not make the statement that he had stock while he was a member. That Mr. McKay, the ex-Coru-missioner of Crown Lands of Ontario, also had stock in the company is notorious, and I am surprised to hear the acting minister state that he was not aware that Mr. McKay was interested in that company. Why, it is notorious to everybody in the town of Owen Sound and also in the town of Midland that Mr. McKay is the largest stockholder in the company. There is nothing in the law to prevent Mr. McKay being a stockholder, but this only goes to show the close relationship of their friends in Ontario with this government. I had a letter the other day from Dr. Macdonald, who makes a mild protest against the statement I made, and I am going to be fair enough to place this letter on ' Hansard.' After a recital of the statement, he says :
That Dr. Macdonald, ex-Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, is not nor he ever was the owner or part owner of any dredge operating in the Georgian bay or elsewhere, and that never profited directly or indirectly one cent by the operation of any dredge either in Canada or elsewhere.
That is the explanation Dr. Macdonald gives to the House ; but the explanation only puts the matter in a worse light; for when he had a seat in this House, he did not attempt to contradict the statement of the hon. member for East Grey, but the explanation he gave was that his daughter was an owner of stock in the company. That was the explanation he gave, and I think it would have been more discreet and more decent for himself had he dropped the matter. The public knew that members of Dr. Macdonald's family were interested in that dredge, and the public know that Mr. Conmee, the member for Rainy River, is interested in this company ; and it must be for no other reason than that fact that he has a heavy political leverage over bon. gentlemen opposite, that he is allowed prae-

tically to frame a form of tender so that the contract will fall into his own hands and nobody else's. If the minister wants to be fair in this matter, if he wants to give the country the benefit of cheap dredging, let him call for new tenders, and let him provide that the man who gets the work must use a dredge of Canadian register, without any date fixed to it at all. Then, if any person or firm in the country succeeds in undercutting and giving the department a better price than Conmee & Bowman have given, let them put up their marked cheque, as required by the department, and let them go to the United States, purchase their dredge, and bring it over and register it as a Canadian dredge. If it is brought over, it cannot go back to the United States, as the customs duties must be paid upon it. At present it is a matter of necessity that the dredge shall be in Canada by the 1st of May, a time when it is almost impossible to bring her in ; first, by reason of the state of the weather, and, in the next place, because no one is going to bring in a dredge unless his tender is accepted. It is a notorious fact that Conmee & Bowman have been enjoying a monopoly of this dredging business. What is shown by the report of the town of Penetanguishene? That Mr. Bowman-I do not know whether Mr. Conmee is associated with him in that dredge or not-is also employed in that town, and on the same terms ; and those terms are such as can only be of great benefit to the dredge owners and great disadvantage to the public generally. How is this dredging done? This question was brought up in the House before on February 9th, as will be seen on referring to 'Hansard,' page 862. The minister then admitted that Messrs. Conmee & Bowman simply got to work and were paid for their dredging $10 an hour. What does that amount to? It means that these little dredges-because they are very trifling dredges-will earn over $25,000 in the season. I know of another dredge which is owned by the Owen Sound Company which does work at Midland and is paid $120 a day, and it must be of the same capacity as these because they are all paid at the same rate of $10 an hour. I think if that dredge were put up for sale it would go begging a long time before any one would give $25,000 for it. It is notorious that wherever dredging is done under this government there is suspicion attached to it. When this matter came out I had a letter from a gentleman in Collingwood asking me why I did not move for the papers in connection with the dredging done there by Boone & Company and telling me that I would find out some revelations if I did. Go to Midland and no one will say that the country is getting full value for its money. Why? Because of the manner in which the work is done. At all hours of the morning and night you will hear this dredge popping away, and what do we get out of it? It seems to be working away at the same old place all the time, and there is a suspicion in the minds of every one, irrespective of politics, go where you will, that this .dredging is being done improperly and that the country is not getting the benefit. If you want any proof, all you have to do is to look at the fact that the men who own these dredges are closely allied with the government and are their own intimate personal friends. The hon. minister will not deny that Messrs. Conmee, Bowman and Boone are warm personal friends of his. To clinch the matter, you need only ask for one of these forms of tenders. Last year it was bad enough because no tenders at all were called for, and the work was given to Conmee & Bowman. In fact, protests were made even by the friends of the hon. gentlemen opposite. I have been informed that men who intended tendering, if there was open competition, have been petitioning the department. They ask that tenders be called for a certain date and that the party who succeeds in getting the contract may get his dredge where he likes, provided it be a Canadian dredge. There are many men in Canada to-day prepared to go to the States and buy dredges and pay the duty on bringing them in and take their chances in tendering in an open market, but they do not propose to go into competition with Conmee & Bowman on the terms mentioned in this advertisement. They want fair and open competition. The amount is a large one, some $200,000. But while the minister will not let a paltry piece of pavement on the street here or some little repairs on a public building in Galt or Toronto without giving three weeks' notice, he thinks it all right to give only a two days' notice when a contract of $200,000 is in question. It is due to the House that the minister should explain why this advertisement did not appear in the public prints at once as it should have. It was dated on the 7th of April and did not appear in the Montreal 'Herald' and the Toronto 'Globe' until the 11th and 12th. Why was that advertisement held back in the department? Why was it not directly sent to the newspapers when it was a notorious fact that two days' notice would not be sufficient? That is a matter which the hon. gentleman should explain. If some clerk held it back he is blameworthy. The House will expect the hon. minister to announce to-day that having found it was unfair, in the interest of the Dominion, not to have given more delay, he will withdraw these advertisements and substitute a new call for tenders altogether. Let him give till the 1st May and let him state that the party who is successful must employ a Canadian dredge and there will then be no cause for complaint. Let him reject this obnoxious clause which provides that at the time of the closing of the tenders the dredge must be a dredge registered in Canada. Of course if re-

gistered here it must be present in Canada. The minister should in all fairness change the whole form of the contract and even let it go till the 1st May. He should provide that so long as the dredge is a Canadian dredge all parties can come in and tender.

Topic:   DREDGING CONTRACT AT PORT ARTHUR AND FORT WILLIAM.
Full View