William Findlay Maclean
I must congratulate the government upon bringing forward this Bill and also upon the statement that they have had it under contemplation for quite a number of months, although there was no statement of it in the Speech from the Throue. The Bill is a good Bill. It is very much on the lines of one that I gave notice of and introduced myself. But, the government might have gone further. I think
that when the government were taking up a measure of this kind they might have investigated the subject more fully, and had they investigated it more fully on the lines of legislation in England, they would have made themselves familiar with the state of affairs as it is in England in regard to telephones. In 1898 there was a special committee of the English House of Commons in regard to telephones and the question submitted to it was this :
The reference to your committee is as follows: To Inquire and report whether the telephone service is, or is calculated to become, of such general benefit as to justify its being undertaken by municipal and other local authorities, regard being had to local finance: and, if so, whether such local authorities should have power to undertake such service in the districts of other local authorities outside the area of their own jurisdiction, but comprised wholly or partially in the same telephone area, and what powers, duties, and obligations ought to be conferred or imposed upon such local authorities.
The finding of that committee was as follows. I shall read two or three of the clauses of the report :
From the point of view of local finance, your committee are of opinion that a telephone service would he as successful as has been the supply of gas, water, tramways, and electric light by local authorities. Much of course depends in this case as in those upon the cost of constructing the service, and in all cases the local authority is perhaps the best judge of what is likely to be successful or not. It seems clear to your committee that a local authority should be able to construct a system at a price below that which from various causes the company have spent upon theirs, and this opinion is confirmed by the fact that the probable cost of such a service in the hands of the Glasgow corporation is based not upon estimates alone hut on tenders actually received.
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On reviewing the whole of the evidence, your committee is strongly of opinion that general, immediate, and effective competition by either the post oflice or the local authority is necessary, and consider that a really efficient post office service affords the best means for securing such competition. We further consider that when in an existing area in which there is an exchange, the local authority demands a competing service, the post oflice ought either to start an efficient telephone system itself, or grant a license to the local authority to do so.
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With regard to areas in which there is no exchange, and districts which are not areas, we think some provision should be made beyond what is now offered by the National Telephone Company for giving a service when there is a reasonable local demand. In such cases the post office should either start a service of its own, or should grant licenses to the local authorities to do so, subject to proper regulations. ******
Your committee in thus recommending a post office service assume that it will constitute a real and active competition, and that concessions to the company not required by the agreement will cease. Such a competition should, iu their opinion, he carried on by a distinct and separate branch of the department, and in
future be conducted under strictly businesslike conditions, and by a staff specially qualified for such a duty.
That was the conclusion arrived at by the committee of the Imperial House of Commons appointed specially to deal with this question of telephones. They recommended legislation on the lines of a public owned system of telephones, either managed in connection with the post oflice, or owned by municipalities. That conclusion was arrived at in England some years ago and they are carrying it out now. The finest telephone service in the world to-day is the public owned one in the city of Glasgow which is operated, as far as the exchange service with outside places is concerned, in connection with the post oflice system of the United Kingdom. While the Minister of Justice (Hon. Mr. Fitzpatrick) has brought forward liis Bill proposing to place the jurisdiction over these telephone questions in the Railway Committee of the Privy Council, in England they have placed it in the Postmaster General. Because they have placed it there they have made it iu a measure hai-monize with the telegraph service which, like the telephone service ought to be owned and controlled by the state. I would like to see the telegraph system of Canada under the control of the post oflice and I would also propose that the jurisdiction in connection with the telephone service should be placed in the Postmaster General rather than in the hands of the Railway Committee of the Privy Council. I may say that within the past year there was a good deal of talk about taking over the telegraph lines owned by the government and placing them in the hands of the Postmaster General. I would like to see that carried out also and I throw out this suggestion now to the Minister of Justice that he should place the jurisdiction and control of the telephone companies under the Postmaster General rather than in the hands of the Railway Committee with the expectation that at an early date Canada intends to take over the telegraph lines and telephone systems of the country. The system adopted in England is this : When municipalities, or local companies, control local exchanges for the exchange of business with outlying places this exchange takes place over the trunk lines owned by the government and controlled by the post office. On the line of progressive reform and of public ownership I bring forward the suggestion to-day that this Bill ought to make provision, and that without delay, for the state taking over the telephone and telegraph lines and vesting the jurisdiction over them in the Post Office Department. If this is done in a short time we will have a system in this country on the same lines as that which they now have in England. Public ownership is in the air. More than that it is in practical effect in a great many places in the world to-day.
Tlie public telephones in Norway and Sweden are the cheapest in the world and the service is the best. The best telephone system in Great Britain is the public owned system of the various cities in the United Kingdom. If ever we are to make a departure in this country in the direction of public ownership, here the opportunity presents itself. I would have thought that with the experience the government has had, and in view of the information they have collected during the last few years, they would have come forward with a proposal of public ownership of the telegraph and telephone systems of Canada. It will take very little money to do it; it will pay from the start and the public will get the best service. Public ownership is the best way whereby such public utilities as the telephone and telegraph can be distributed amongst the greatest number of people at the smallest possible cost. Another reason why I urge public ownership in connection with telephones and telegraphs is, that I want to see it come about in connection with the public ownership of the railways of this country. If there was nothing else to justify public ownership there would be sufficient justification in the fact that patriotism goes with public ownership.