August 11, 1917 (12th Parliament, 7th Session)


Wilfrid Laurier (Leader of the Official Opposition)



The tendency of the age is certainly towards government ownership of railways and other public utilities. That is a principle in regard to which I, for my part, have very serious doubt, but there is no doubt that public opinion is verging in that direction, and there is much to commend the principle. I am satisfied that if the government management of railways or other public utilities could he kept free from political partisanship, that evil of our system of government, government ownership might be very desirable.
At all events, it might be very desirable in an old country, -but I have my doubts whether a young country like ours can be better served by government railways than, by railways that are run by companies. I think in a young country like this, a company railway has more elasticity of management and can better serve the public, than a railway under government ownership. But undoubtedly the younger element of the country-western Canada, for instance-is in favour of government ownership. If we adopt government ownership we must also be prepared to take the consequences of it; as in everything else, we must take the bad with the good. The public should have the same recourse against the management of the government railways as against the management of company railways. The

company railways, under our Railway Act, are subject to the control of the Railway Board, which enacts the penalties and can enforce its decisions. It was not my privilege to be here yesterday evening, but I read this morning the discussion which took place, and I was struck by the objection which was made to subjecting the King to penalties. Of course, there is some anomaly in that, but it is an anomaly more in name than in anything else. If the King becomes a common carrier, he is entitled to all the advantages of that position-he can collect my fare-and he should also accept the responsibilities. We have provided already that he shall accept those responsibilities to a certain extent, but there is still the old doctrine that the King cannot be sued at law-you cannot bring the King against the King. Under our Small Claims Act, however, we have provided that the manager of the government railways can he sued for damages up to $500. There is no reason why he should not be sued, no matter what the amount of damages a subject may have suffered. What objection can there be to allowing a man to sue for $600? The public should have the same rights against the government railways as against the company railways, and there is no reason why all the penalties, and all the methods of enforcing the law, in the case of company railways, should not apply in the case of the government railways. I am quite satisfied that the minister is in earnest about this, and if his aim is, as I believe it always has been, to remove the railway from politics, I would commend that suggestion to him.

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