July 17, 1908 (10th Parliament, 4th Session)


Alexander Kenneth Maclean


Mr. A. K. MACLEAN (Lunenburg).

At this stage of the session, when prorogation is at hand, I do not desire to occupy the the time of the House for more than a few moments. There is nothing very difficult or complicated about all the matters relating to the Quebec bridge. I agree with the hon. gentleman (Mr. Monk), who has just taken his seat, that the collapse of the bridge was a national disaster. But I think it should be treated as a national disaster by hon. members in discussing the subject instead of, apparently, gloating over the country's misfortune. The hon. member (Mr. Monk) finds fault with the report of the majority in not reaching conclusions similar to the findings of the Royal Commission. I submit that the position taken by the majority of the committee was the correct one. Immediately after the collapse of the bridge in August last year, the government, very properly, appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the disaster and all questions relating thereto. That necessarily was a technical question and could only be dealt with by men who have professional knowledge. The report of the commission was, later, placed before parliament. The majority of the committee, feeling that this _ was a technical question, did not think it advisable to make any finding on that subject.
Now, my hon. friend boasts that the report of the minority in this respect concurs with the report of the royal commission. Well, if that is a comforting thought to my hon. friends, they are at liberty to entertain it. But I submit that the minority of the committee appointed to investigate and look into the matter of the Quebec bridge construction, and later, of its collapse, have no more idea of the causes of the collapse than have the mummies in the tombs of the Pharaohs. I have great respect for the attainments and judgment of the hon. gentlemen who compose the minority of
that committee, hut I submit they have no evidence before them, and they were not competent to form any conclusion of any value when they made the report which they have made, and which is called the minority report, and upon which report the hon. gentleman who has just_ taken his seat compliments himself and his confreres because it was similar to that of the royal commission.
Now, just a few words as to the history of this project. This project had its genesis in the city and province of Quebec. The idea of the construction of this bridge developed in the province of Quebec, and naturally and properly there were many reasons why the people of that city and province desired the construction of such a bridge. It was not then a political question, everybody, irrespective of politics, around the city of Quebec were willing to invest a few dollars in the project. When the Conservative party were in power they time and again promised assistance. At one time Mr. T. Chase Casgrain, then Attorney General of the province of Quebec, publicly stated that if the government of Sir John A. Macdonald did not _ implement their promises and give a subsidy to this bridge his Quebec colleagues should resign their seats. It was not until the present government came into power, however, that the enterprise received any aid. The company was organized first in 1887. The hon. gentleman complains about the amount of their capital. It was small, it is time, only $65,000 of paid-up capital, but the subscribed capital was over $200,000, and the unpaid portion of the subscribed capital was certainly an asset of the company. But, in addition to that, the province of Quebec had voted a subsidy of $250,000 and the city of Quebec a subsidy of $300,000. So at that stage, at least, the company had assets to the extent of over half a million dollars. In the year 1900 the bridge company had made such progress that they entered into a contract with Mr. M. P. Davis for the construction of the substructure. The contract involved an amount of over $1,000,000. The plans were approved of by the government, and the substructure, under that contract, was eventually completed. The affairs of the Quebec Bridge Company were then in charge of Mr. Hoare. I wish to submit to this House that the building of the substructure was probably as important and as difficult an undertaking as the construction of the superstructure. Mr. Schreiber, in his report to the government, stated that in his judgment Mr. Hoare was quite competent to be In charge of the construction of the substructure. The fact that the substructure withstood the collapse of the bridge last year was a tribute to the efficiency and competency of the work of the contractor and the oversight of Mr. COMMONS
Hoare, who was then in charge of the project on behalf of the bridge company. Later, the question of the construction of the superstructure had to be dealt with by the Quebec Bridge Company, and the procedure they adopted was this : A general plan of the bridge was prepared under the supervision of Mr. Hoare. They then invited tenders from the most eminent bridge builders in America, and with the tenders they invited plans and specifications to be prepared by those tendering. The successful tenderers were the Phoenix Bridge Company, the best known and probably the most reputable bridge constructing firm in America, and their plans and specifications were accepted. At this time the Quebec Bridge Company secured the services of Mr. Cooper, of New York, as their consulting engineer. Mr. Cooper, let me say, was, in tiie judgment of the profession, regarded as the most eminent bridge designer and builder in America, and perhaps had no superior in the world. I just wish to dwell for a moment on this point, because it is important, because it afterwards transpired that the government, that the Quebec Bridge Company, that everybody interested relied very much on the judgment of Mr. Cooper ; and having, as they believed, in their employ one of the most competent men available in the world, it was only natural that they should rely to a great extent on his judgment. I wish at this point to read what the Royal Commission say regarding Mr. Cooper :
Mr. Theodore Cooper, of New York, was the consulting engineer. In the extent of his experience and in reputation for integrity, professional judgment and acumen, Mr. Cooper had few equals on this continent, and his appointment would have been generally approved. Mr. Cooper's strict duties were to examine, correct and approve plans prepared by the contractors,, and to give the engineering advice to Mr. Hoare when requested. Mr. Cooper and his chief assistant, Mr. Berret Berger, carried on a most thorough and painstaking examination of the plains. Mr. Cooper appointed both shop and erection inspectors for reasons explained in his evidence, and had these inspectors report fully and regularly to him. Mr. Cooper states that he greatly desired to build -this bridge as Ills final work and he gave it careful attention. His professional standing was so high that his appointment left no further anxiety about the outcome m the minds of almost everybodv concerned.
That is the finding of the commission respecting Mr. Cooper's capabilities as an engineer. They summarize their finding in the beginning of their report, and they say this :
The professional record of Mr. Cooper was such that Ms selection for the authoritative position that he occupied was warranted, and the complete confidence that was placed in his judgment by the officials of tbe Dominion Mr. A. K. MACLEAN.
government, and of tbe Quebec Bridge and Railway Company and of the Phcenix Bridge Company was deserved.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I ask in ail fairness, wliat more could be expected of the government in the circumstances ? They believed that the Quebec Bridge Company had as its consulting engineer the most eminent man available in America, a man of well known professional standing, and a man of very great experience. It is true, as was stated by my hon. friend who proceeded me, that Mr. Schreiber recommended the appointment of a consulting engineer who would act on behalf of the government as well. It is true that Mr. Schreiber's suggestion received confirmation by order in council. Later it was found that Mr. Cooper objected to the appointment of an engineer to act on behalf of the government and, Mr. Schreiber, owing to the opposition of Mr. Cooper to the appointment of such an engineer, reported to the government that he had such confidence in the ability and integrity of Mr. Cooper, the interests of the government and of the Quebec Bridge Company being in common, that he felt that they might rely upon Mr. Cooper solely. Accordingly the government abandoned the idea of appointing an inspector. It is very easy to be wise after the event. Had this bridge not fallen, Mr. Cooper's reputation would have been enhanced, had the bridge not fallen, Mr. Hoare might have been known to the engineering profession in Canada as a great bridge builder, but, unfortunately, a fundamental mistake was made in the design of the bridge. I submit in all fairness, that, the design of the bridge having been supervised and approved of by Mr. Cooper and been approved of by Mr. Schreiber on behalf of the government of Canada, it is hardly fair criticism to say that the government were careless and that they did not take sufficient precautionary measures with reference to inspection.
In 1903, as I have already stated, the bridge company had completed the substructure, and the question of the commencement of the construction of the superstructure was before them. They were, not in good financial circumstances and late in October of that year they addressed a communication to the Department of Railways and Canals, or probably to the government, explaining their situation and asking for financial assistance in the way of a guarantee of bonds. This request was granted upon certain conditions. An agreement was entered into and that agreement was ratified by parliament in October, 1903. That agreement contained several features, one of which was that the company were to pay up $200,000 of additional capital. The hon. gentleman who preceded me stated that a portion of that agreement was not complied with. Well, if it was not complied with at the moment at which the bonds were issued it certainly was subsequently. To say

the worst of it there may have been a postponement of the fulfilment of that condition, but it was eventually complied with. I am doubtful if it is even open to the interpretation placed upon it by my hon. friend from Jacques Cartier. One hundred and nineteen thousand dollars of that subscription'was made by Mr. M. P. Davis, a gentleman of well known financial standing. That would have given him a control in the company. The company desired that the railways entering at Quebec should be interested in this project and that they should become shareholders. The delivery to Mr. Davis of his $119,000 of stock was postponed in order to obtain a subscription of stock from the Grand Trunk Railway Company. Later the Grand Trunk Railway Company did subscribe for $25,000 of stock, they paid the amount and when they did pay it Mr. Davis substituted a cheque for $94,000 in place of his $119,000 cheque and subscription. When this was done the cheque was cashed. The company say that they always regarded that cheque as the equivalent of cash, and I have no doubt they were justified in so doing. Thereupon the company certified to the government that $200,000 had been subscribed and paid. I do not know that it is very important whether the company were justified in treating that cheque for $94,600 as cash or not. It eventually went into the undertaking ; at least it is so reported by Mr. Bell, an auditor of the Department of Railways and Canals. Neither the interests of the government nor of the Quebec bridge, nor any other interest suffered by the postponement of the conversion of this cheque into cash. They certified to the government that the full amount was subscribed and paid and upon this certificate the government guaranteed the $6,000,000 issue of'bonds. It is said that the government were not justified in doing so prior to the subscription and payment of this $200,000 of stock. In addition to that I have this to say that I am very doubtful if it were possible for the agreement to have been worked out in any other fashion than that in which it was. The Bank of Montreal later advanced moneys upon these bonds and accepted the certificate of the company. They must have had legal advice to the effect that the portion of the agreement requiring the payment of $200,000 had been fully complied with ; otherwise the issue of bonds might not have been legal and there was an issue, as I say, of $6,000,000,
At one o'clock House took recess. '
House resumed at three o'clock.

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