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

LIB

Alexander Kenneth Maclean

Liberal

Mr. A. K. MACLEAN (Lunenberg).

Mr. Speaker, just before one o'clock I had reached that stage in the history of the Quebec Bridge Company when they found the substructure of the bridge built, and when they found themselves considerably in debt and in need of financial assistance to proceed
with the erection of the superstructure. In October, 1903, they made application to the government for financial assistance of some character or another. Up to that time they had expended $914,862 upon the bridge; they were indebted to the extent of $779,550 and they calculated that it would take $6,866,882 to liquidate their indebtedness and place them in possession of the funds necessary to complete the undertaking. An agreement was entered into and the main features of that agreement are: In the first place the company released the government from its obligation to pay the subsidy of one million dollars, a portion only of which (about $375,000) they had received and expended. The company also on its part undertook to receive from the shareholders of that company as of that date the stock issued and to substitute therefor a stock issue equal in amount to the sum actually paid upon the stock. The company also agreed to procure $200,000 of new stock. That $200,000 of stock was subscribed and was eventually paid. Whether it was technically subscribed or paid prior to the guarantee of the bonds by the government is after all not of very great importance because the $200,000 was eventually paid; it went into the treasury of the company and became a part of the common fund of the proceeds arising from the issue of the bonds which were guaranteed by the government. In consideration of these agreements on the part of the company the government agreed to guarantee the bonds of the company to the extent necessary to liquidate their indebtedness and to provide them with that amount of money which they believed would be sufficient to complete the bridge. That agreement was ratified by an Act of parliament and under that agreement the government subsequently guaranteed the bonds and the company were placed in a position to liquidate their indebtedness and to be in possession of funds, and they proceeded with the construction of the bridge. That is practically the history of the bridge until it fell in August, 1907.
To epitomize the story of the bridge in a few words and in chronological order let me say. First, the scheme received its inspiration in the city and in the province of Quebec. The city of Quebec, its citizens, and the province of Quebec wee primarily interested in the construction of the bridge. In 1887, a company was organized to commence the undertakir . and I submit that was the proper way to connnenc" the construction of such a work. Neither us provincial nor federal governments would at that time undertake it, and it was only natural that a company composed of the citizens of Quebec should be organized for the purpose. There were three parties interested: first, the province of Quebec: sacond-lv. the city of Quebec; and thirdly, the shareholders of the company. The city of Quebec voted by way of subsidy $300,000; the province of Quebec voted $250,000 and the

company subscribed $200,000, so that tbe undertaking was launched with a capital either promised or subscribed of $750,000. Later, the Dominion government became interested and voted a subsidy of $1,000,000 so that the company at this stage with all the parties interested, had a fair and reasonable amount of capital at their back. Objection was made by the member for Jacques Cartier (Mr. Monk) that certain stock was issued to directors on account of services rendered on behalf of the company. This is a matter 1 need not detain the House about because after all it is not important. The stock of the company had no value at that date; the directors rendered very valuable services, the business of the company occupied a great deal of their time and in many other ways they devoted themselves to the project. Then, we have the company undertaking the project with a capital at their disposal of about $1,600,000. In 1900, they gave a contract for the substructure to Mr. M. P. Davis, the anticipated cost of which was to be over one million dollars. The substructure was successfully built; it stood the test of the collapse of the bridge and I think no adverse comment can be made upon that portion of the enterprise. In addition to the substructure a contract for the terminals on each side -of the river approaching the bridge was given also to Mr. M. P. Davis, and that contract was completed at a cost in excess of $1,000,000. Then the company invited tenders and the submission of plans for the superstructure, and the plan of the Phoenix Bridge Company appearing to be the best-was accepted. It was submitted later on to the consulting engineer of the company, Mr. Cooper, of New York, who was a bridge engineer of considerable eminence and one of the best known bridge builders in America. Mr. Cooper approved of that plan subject to some modifications. It was also approved of by the government engineer. and in 1903. a contract was actually entered into with the Phoenix Bridge Company to complete the work. It was suggested by the hon. member (Mr. Monk) that because at one stage in the history of the Quebec bridge, Mr. Schreiber. the government engineer, had recommended the appointment of an inspecting engineer and because this inspecting engineer was not appointed that therefore the government acted without consulting Mr. Schreiber. I wish to correct that statement in case there may be some misapprehension on the part of hon. gentlemen about it. It is true that Mr. Schreiber recommended the appointment of an engineer and such recommendation was confirmed by order in council. Later, on the recommendation of Mr. Schreiber himself, it was agreed that inasmuch as the interests of the government and of the Quebec Bridge Company were in common, and inasmuch as Mr. Cooper was regarded by the profession generally as the most capable man whose services they could secure, it would be suffl-Mr. A. K. MACLEAN.
cient if the construction of the bridge were left to .the sole supervision of Mr. Cooper. The construction oP the superstructure was proceeded with and everything was going well until in August, 1907, the bridge fell and instantly the critics developed over night. The critics say that there was not a sufficient system of inspection. Now Mr. Speaker, I submit that when the government of the day had secured the services of the most eminent bridge builder in America, and when as the Royal Commission have found-and they have emphatically found upon this point-the government and the Quebec Bridge Company were justified in assuming that everything as regards inspection and construction was in good hands when in the hands of Mr. Cooper, and that the complete confidence placed in Mr. Cooper by the government and by the bridge company was deserving, I say in view of all that, the criticism is most unfair.
I submit further that if that bridge were being built by a private individual, and he had the endorsement of the plans by a man so eminent and so highly regarded by his profession as Mr. Cooper, he would have done just what the Quebec Bridge Company did and what the government did. It is all very well to suggest now that there should have been a commission of engineers in charge of the construction of the bridge. Human aftersight is better than human foresight. So long as there is that limitation of the human judgment, it is only fair to say that accidents of this character are liable to happen and have happened in the past, notwithstanding every precaution that may be taken. The question to-day is, what is to be done to insure the completion of the . bridge ? The resolution which has been placed on the Order Paper by the Minister of Railways is to the effect that the government are to take over the stock of the company and pay the shareholders. I submit that there is nothing unreasonable about that; it is the only fair and businesslike thing to do. Immediately after the collapse of the Quebec bridge, it appeared to be the opinion of the public generally that the government should take hold of this enterprise.
I think it is only fair that under the terms of the agreement of 1903 they should possess themselves of the stock of the company and proceed with the completion of the bridge. The hon. member for Jacques Cartier suggested that we were taking over liabilities, the amount of which was unknown to us. I submit that there are no liabilities which we are assuming that we do not know of. In the first place, we shall have to pay the sum of $260,000 to acquire the stock of the company plus ten per cent premium. That is definite and well-known. In the next place, we know what our loss is in the guaranteeing of the company's bonds, and I suppose it is only fair for me to state that that will in all probability be a total loss to the government of this country.

There is no possible liability, so far as I can see, in connection with the loss of life. 1 understand that the Phoenix Bridge Company carried with some insurance company a policy which will liquidate any loss which they may be obliged to pay by reason of the loss of life, and I understand that the Phoenix Bridge Company have up to the present time liquidated all claims for damages in that regard. Therefore the only thing left for the government to do is to acquire control of the company and to proceed with the completion of the bridge. It is a national undertaking, and nobody else can assume that responsibility. It is unfortunate that the collapse of the bridge occurred. The government took all reasonable precautions to prevent any such thing happening. I have no hesitation in expressing the opinion that it is unfortunate in a sense that the government are obliged to step in and take control of the bridge. It is an undertaking that I think could be better handled and controlled by a terminal company ; and it might be worth the consideration of the government, after they have obtained control of the company, whether they should not invite all the railway companies of Canada who have an entrance into the city of Quebec to become part owners in the bridge. In so far as the minority report so-called makes findings of fact, I make no protest against it ; any statements in it regarding the history of the enterprise appear to be properly set forth. But in so far as that report charges the government or the Department of Railways and Canals with want of care or with gross negligence,. I do not concur in-I do. not desire to occupy further the time of the House upon this matter at this late hour, as I know that there is considerable business yet to do.

Topic:   THE QUEBEC BRIDGE.
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