Robert Nelson WALSH

WALSH, Robert Nelson

Personal Data

Conservative (1867-1942)
Huntingdon (Quebec)
Birth Date
October 6, 1864
Deceased Date
December 31, 1938
veterinary surgeon

Parliamentary Career

November 3, 1904 - September 17, 1908
  Huntingdon (Quebec)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 1 of 8)

July 17, 1908

Mr. R. N. WALSH (Huntingdon).

Mr. Speaker, I desire to detain the House for a short time in making some remarks on the minority report of the committee. The kon. member who has preceded me (Mr. A. K. Maclean) stated that the members who have presented the minority report did not apparently treat this as a national disaster, but rather as a means of making political capital against the government. With that I take direct issue. I do not think that any members of the House appreciate more fully than do the members who have presented the minority report the greatness of the disaster, not only from a monetary standpoint, but in the loss of life which was occasioned; and in view of the fact that the report of the Royal Commission which was appointed by this government stated that had there been efficient supervision this loss of life could have been prevented, I say that it is more than a national disaster, it is a national disgrace. The government of this country practically controlled the construction of that bridge, which was not only a

national undertaking, but the largest undertaking of its kind in the world, and they handed it over to a company of which not a single man knew anything of bridge building. There was not a single bridge expert connected with the company, and they had a very limited capital. What is the history of that company V It was organized in 1887, and if you will read the minutes of the company, you will find that at their meetings at that time their principal business was the appointing of committees to interview one government or another with the view of getting subsidies. Previous to this the Quebec government had contributed money for the preliminary surveys, but up to 1897 very little had been done. At that time Mr. Parent was asked to join the company, as it was thought that his influence would have some effect in procuring assistance for the bridge. In that I think they were not disappointed, and I wonder if the reason that the government are continuing the project is not on account of their promises of .support made long ago. ^ I find in the minutes of the Bridge Company that at a meeting held in September, 1897, Mr. Parent stated that he had seen Sir Wilfrid I.aurier, who stated that the subsidy could not be voted at the next session owing to very grave reasons, which were privately explained ; but Sir Wilfrid wanted the company to proceed, and they would be sure to get the necessary security to finish the bridge if it is not voted next session; Sir Wilfrid would send a letter guaranteeing the subsidy for the following session. So as early as 1897 we have the government practically pledged to furnish sufficient securty ito carry out the work. However, in 1903 the government secured the bonds of the company. In the meantime interim bonds had been issued to Mr. Davis upon which there was a discount of some $188,000. In this agreement it was provided that there should be new stock furnished to cover that issue. Evidently the Finance Minister considered that this had been very injudicious financing, and that what had been lost in that way should be made up. Had that been done simply I could have understood it, but when this new stock of $200,000 was practically added to the capital, the government undertaking to take the bridge over and to pay 5 per cent and a premium of 10 per cent, I do not think they in any way helped the matter. It has been said that the sale of the bonds at a discount of 40 per cent was justified in a way, because Mr. Davis would not draw any interest until the substructure was completed. However, he was paid some time within two years, and I notice he drew some $29,000 in Interest, which I think was a pretty fair return for the money. It has'also been said that the reason the bonds were sold in that way was because there might be a loss on them.


At any rate, the government accepts the statement made that this bridge will be a paying concern. Mr. Parent had made a statement which the government evidently accepted, that, taking out operating expenses in the first and second year, they could still pay 3 per cent and leave a balance of some $36,000, so evidently Mr. Davis was not likely to lose anything. Further, in securing these interim bonds, he practically got a mortgage on the bridge after the reconstruction of the company, which gave him a first lien and practically put him in a better position. As to his cheque being held, the statement is made that this practically carried out the legislation. X wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Finance Minister, in giving his evidence, said that he would not consider that was carrying out the statute. When first it was brought to his notice he wrote to the Bridge Company drawing their attention to the fact that the statute had not been lived up to. It has been said that there was no harm in that, that Mr. Davis' cheque was taken and could have been cashed at any time. It seems peculiar to me that Mr. Davis should be so complaisant, that if he had nearly $100,000 in that he should pay his money and not secure his stock and have nothing to say. I think the history of this transaction, if completely followed out, would be very interesting.

In regard to the plans, the evidence of Mr. Douglas is that the plans on which this bridge was built were the ordinary bridge specifications of 1890, that even in the department after that these specifications had been amended, but that the original plans of 1896 were used as a specification for this bridge, and that it was considered that they were entirely inadequate and that new plans should have been made. When they were submitted to Mr. Douglas he found fault with them and criticised the unit stresses. After that Mr. Douglas had nothing more to say evidently in regard to the plans. Mr. Schreiber, who was a very busy man I understand, evidently considered that he had not the time to properly look after this work, and suggested to the government that they should appoint a bridge expert, which I think was a pretty good idea. It has been stated that the Bridge Company did not object to the appointment of Mr. Nichols. I find, however, in the report of the Royal Commission, a reference to this order in council. The commissioners state :

The policy of Mr. Schreiber was not in accordance with the wishes of the Quebec Bridge Company and its association-see letters, Hoare to Cooper, July 1, 1903 (exhibit 70 I); Parent to Fitzpatrick, June 29, 1903 (exhibit 70 T); Fitzpatrick to Parent, July 118, 1903 (exhibit 73 C)-and as soon as Mr. Mr. WALSH.

Cooper fully understood the deputy minister's plans be protested vigorously.

From that it is quite evident that the Quebec Bridge Company were not in accord with the appointing of an expert, and some of the correspondence in regal'd to that is interesting. Mr. Cooper objected, it is true, to the appointment of a bridge expert, and in a letter to Mr. Cooper from Mr. Deans, the chief engineer of the Phoenix Bridge Company, there is a paragraph which I think is significant. It says :

The order in council was taken solely to save time and to have your approval of our details final and binding on the government-it simply being necessary to have Mr. Sclireiber's signature a.s a matter of form.

That was the understanding of the chief engineer of the Phoenix Bridge Company. In a further letter of August 1, 1903, he

says :

I talked with Mr. Hoare over the 'phone yesterday (the service was not very satisfactory), and also wired him two long messages, and have received his reply, stating that ' he will take up the question with parties at Ottawa, and that we should go ahead, aud if anything turns up to cause trouble tell Cooper to let me know at once/ I have written him again, and urged him to stop entirely this proposed plan, and explaining that the sole purpose of the order in council was to give you the final authority to settle all details, the government approval being a mere formality.

It is evident that the construction and carrying out of the plans [DOT] were all in the hands of the bridge company, the government exercising no supervision. It is true that Mr. Cooper was considered an expert authority, and the hou. member for Lunenburg (Mr. A. K. Maclean) read the finding of the commission, in which they speak of his ability. But he did not read the whole jrassage. It continues :

In considering Mr. Cooper's part in this undertaking, it should be remembered that he was an elderly man, rapidly approaching seventy, and of such infirm health that he was only rarely permitted to leave New York.

Mr. Cooper assumed a position of great responsibility, and agreed to accept an inadequate salary for his services. No provision was made by the Quebec Bridge Company for a staff to assist him, nor is there any evidence to show that he asked for the appointment of such a staff.

From the evidence of Mr. Holgate, it is apparent that while Mr. Cooper was considered to be simply the consulting engineer, he was compelled to act as engineer in chief, and there was no engineer in chief on the works. The commission find directly against that system, and say distinctly that while it would not have been possible, probably, not to prevent the fall of

the bridge, it would have been quite possible had there been a man in charge wtho had authority to stop the work there to prevent the loss of life which occurred. The report goes on to say that the staff in charge of the bridge as a whole was inefficient and not well organized. This, I think, shows there was practically no superintendence for the government, little interest was taken in the matter, it being left wholly in the hands of the Bridge Company, and, as the report says, everything was taken, as far as the government was concerned, as merely a matter of form.

The resolution which is before the House in regard to taking over this bridge is evidently supplementing the promises made to these gentlemen who took up the stock. In regard to this $200,000 of stock, it is also interesting to note that of the directors of the Bridge Company, with the exception of Mr. Parent, there was not a man who took over $400 of stock. It is also very interesting to note that the voting of this money for their services and divided up, simply comes to a sum which supplements their subscription to make up this extra amount of $200,000. The greater part of this is made up by the railways and Mr. Davis. When Mr. Sharpies was giving his evidence I asked him if he had subscribed to the undertaking previous to the government guaranteeing the bonds, and he said : No, he was not Jfoolish

enough for that. So this stock was perfectly good to these gentlemen. They were sure of 5 per cent. I believe assurances must have been given them to that effect, and that this action of the government is simply in pursuance of that promise. I believe that this matter should be left in abeyance until the government has a report from a board of engineers who will say whether this work is of any use at all or not and whether the bridge shall be built there, and make sure of all the conditions which will make the superstructure practicable, without paying money where there is no need to pay. I protest against it. If the government intend to build the bridge, they have all the necessary authority in the charter of the Transcontinental Railway. They do not need to go to the Bridge Company and beg for money which was put up to replace bad financing on the part of the company.

So far as the construction of bridges is concerned, New York maintains a board of three or four, every one of them an expert bridge builder. All construction of bridges is placed in the hands of this board. The details are all carefully gone into and everything provided for. But the government of Canada undertook the largest engineering feat in bridge building in the world simply relying on the efforts of a bridge company with little or no capital,

allowed that company to select all the engineers, and even interfered with the action of their own officer when that officer sought to have greater precautions taken. Mr. Douglas was evidently too critical in his supervision of affairs, and so he had nothing further to do with them. That the company had their way in this, and that Mr. Hoare was aware of it, is shown by the letter of 27 May, 1907, which Mr. Hoare writes to Mr. Deans, the chief engineer of the Phoenix Bridge Company, in which he draws attention to the fact that the regulation of the government in regard to the plans had not been followed out. He said :

The signature of the government engineer does not comply with the government regulations. The order in council passed some years ago only authorized certain modifications in the specifications and details from time to time if found necessary.

And he closes his letter :

We are under very close investigation now

Showing that there had been little or no superintendence of the work done.

I agree heartily with the minority report. I think it is in accordance with the facts. And I hope the government will not put through the resolution this year with regard to taking over this work. Before sitting down I desire to put on record in ' Hansard ' the report of the minority :

1. -Financial responsibility of the Quebec Bridge Company.

The Quebec Bridge Company was incorporated in 1887, and, having regard to its undertaking to construct a bridge across the St. Lawrence at or near ithe city of Quebec, the oost of which would be at least $6,000,000, the company was from its inception deplorably weak financially.

2. Of its modest nominal stock capital of $1,000,000, never, until the arrangements of 1903 to be presently referred to, did the money paid in by its 'shareholders exceed $65,000, and even of that amount, so petty for such a vast undertaking, some $20,000 consisted not of cash found hy the promoters but of the proceeds of fees voted by them to the directors and paid by the country itself for their services in that capacity.

In 1890, the province of Quebec voted to the enterprise a subsidy or aid of $250,000, and further aid of $300,000 was granted in the following year by the city of Quebec.

The parliament of Canada also voted $1,000,000 in aid of the undertaking payable as construction progressed.

The .site being chosen, the substructure of the bridge progressed; but in 1903, the company had more than exhausted all its resources, its subsidies as well as its small paid up stock capital weTe expended, and it had a floating debt of $779,550. It was then without money or means to further prosecute its enterprise.

At this time, the Dominion had undertaken the construction of the National Transcontinental Railway whereof the Quebec bridge was

recognized as an essential and most important portion. The early completion of the bridge was not only of national concern as a matter of trade and commerce, bnt any delay or misadventure would be fraught with most serious responsibility to the lessees of the eastern section of the great railway of which that bridge must necessarily be a part. _

In the condition of the bridge company, it was not possible to prosecute its undertaking without the aid of the Dominion, and refusal of such aid would have ensured a forfeiture and abandonment of the venture. The obvious duty of the government, therefore, was to refuse aid, to deal liberally with the promoters, , and to take over the property and hold the bridge as a public work.

The president and directors of the bridge company, hopeless though their case appeared to be, succeeded in inducing the government to agree to guarantee the company's bonds up to $6,688,200, the amount required to meet its liabilities and finish the bridge.

An order in council was thereupon passed on the advice of ministers setting forth the terms and conditions of the proposed guarantee and an Act of parliament was passed to confirm the same. The Act referred to (3 Edward VII., chapter 54) was passed in the last hours of a long session, and in the course of a few days was rushed through the Senate and House of Commons with undue haste and *without opportunity for deliberation and proper consideration.

10. One of the conditions enacted was that before tbe guarantee should be given, the oompany would procure the subscription and full payment in cash of $200,000 of additional stock, and apply the said money to a specific object, the restoration of $188,000 discount which had previously been allowed on an issue of the company's bonds.

11. That condition was only in part fulfilled, though the government, having accepted the written certificate of the company's officers that it had been fully carried out, guaranteed the new issue of bonds. Attention is called to the admission of the Hon. the Finance Minister in his evidence, that had this deception been known to him, he would not have authorized the execution of the guarantee.

12. The government's present liability or outlay on bonds, subsidy and special guarantee to the Bank of Montreal is $6,322,008.13 represented as follows:

Subsidy $ 374,353 00

Special indebtedness to Bank of Montreal 174,431 26

Liability on bonds with interest to April 30, 1908 5,773,223 77

If you look on page 35 of the commissioner's report you will find the same thing :

In September 1898 the bridge contracting firms were asked to submit tenders upon their own designs, to be drawn in accordance with certain specifications.

The specifications, as I said before, given by Mr. Hoare were taken from the design drafted by the Phoenix Bridge Company themselves.

Practically this meant that each bridge company was asked to spend several thousand dollars on the preparation of plans, and that in return it was given an opportunity to bid for a contract 'to 'be let by a company of weak financial standing. The result was that although the magnitude of the work placed, it outside the limits of established practice, most of the tenders submitted were made from immature studies based upon insufficient data.

Supporting what I said, that on account of the Phoenix Bridge Company having the advantage In filing the plans from which Mr. Hoare took his specifications, no other responsible company would dare to put up some serious plan because it would have involved an expense of a few thousand dollars. There was only one company that had a chance to get its tender accepted.

The evidence shows that the Phoenix Bridge Company gave more time and attention to the competition than any other tenderer, but the error afterwards made by it in assuming the weight of the structure for final designs shows how faulty the estimate accompanying . its original tender was. We consider that the procedure adopted in calling for tenders was not satisfactory in view of the magnitude of the work, and was not calculated to produce the most efficient results.

Now, Mr. Speaker. I think I have proved by the commissioner's report that there was a lack of bona fides in the method of tendering. Now what was the first hitch after that ? This company spent a few dollars for the preparation of plans which were taken from the suggestion of the Phce-nix Bridge Company, and finding that they had not (sufficient money, came to the government and made a request for a million dollars subsidy. This is what the report says :

But when, for the purpose of a guarantee of $6,178,200, the Deputy Minister of Railways and Canals, found himself called upon to examine for approval, the plans and speci-fioations of the bridge, he formally applied for authority to employ a specially qualified bridge engineer. Such authority was granted by order in council of January 21, 1903.

Now why was Mr. Schreiber!s request made to the government ? A few years previously when a million dollars guarantee was demanded from this government, Mr. Douglas, the railway engineer of this government, was asked to submit a report upon the plans given to him by the Bridge Mr. ROBITAILLE.

Company. I must say in passing that it Is the rule of this government never to grant a subsidy for a bridge until their engineer has previously examined the proposition. Mr. Douglas, however, not having the weight of authority that Mr. Cooper has, condemned the plan. Later on he condemned the same plans when they came hack in 1903. Mr. Speaker, who Is the chief engineer, found himself placed between Mr. Cooper's high reputation and his more humble assistant Mr. Douglas, because these two gentlemen did not look at the matter from tlie same engineering standpoint-Mr. Sch-reiber finding himseif in this dilemna, and not knowing what responsibility he was assuming, came to a logical conclusion and said to the Governor in Council, I want an assistant to help me sift out the difficulty and see what responsibility I have taken. The Governor in Council thought that the idea was a good one, and an order in' council was granted on the 21st of July. What happened then ? If you look through the evidence given at this inquiry you will find that the pivotal point on which revolved the relations between the government and the Bridge Company, has been, not the contractors of the comnany, but Mr. Parent the president. Mr. Parent communicated with Mr. Cooper and said to him, how is it that a man of your standing should be subordinate to a humble engineer who has no standing ? It seems but right that if we keep you as. consulting engineer, we should not be embarrassed by correspondence with regard to the acceptance of certificates or approval of plans. The first tiding we knew, Mr. Cooper came up to Ottawa and said he would not play second fiddle in this matter-that Is at least the information that is given us, and immediately the government found that Mr. Cooper's views were all right. Now let us see what Mr. Sehrei-ber says in making his demand :

I would suggest that the department he authorized to employ a competent engineer to examine from time to time the detailed drawings of each part of the bridge as prepared, and to approve of or correct them as to him may seem necessary, submitting them for final acceptance to the chief engmeeer of * railways and canals.

Mr. Cooper strongly objected, saying, this puts me in th,e position of a subordinate which I cannot accept. Mr. Cooper at the same time wrote to Mr. Schreiber :

I do not see how such engineer could facilitate the progress of the work, or allow me to take any responsihile steps independently of his consent.

Exactly what I said. He found it. would jeopardize his authority and naturally delay the work. Consequently he was given a free hand. Further on the Governor in Council recalled this nermission of 1903, and in August, 1905, they said this :

Provided the efficiency of the structure be fully maintained to that defined in the orginal Specifications attached to the company's contract.

I must say that that condition of the order in council was not fulfilled, because there was no engineer competent to say who was to determine the efficiency of the structure, and to see that it was maintained to the standard the Governor in Council stipulated. [DOT]

The Governor in Council intimated that Mr. Cooper must have some one else with him acting on behalf of the government to check over his work. The order of the Governor in Council was not heeded and Mr. Cooper was the only man who was responsible for the approval of the plans and for checking the work for the government and for the bridge company. Probably it might interest our good friends on the other side to state how Mr. Cooper was engaged. He was not hired in the ordinary manner. The first thing he states before the commission in New York is that about February 25, he received a communication from the Quebec Bridge Company asking if he would be prepared to make an examination of these plans and he consented. There was no suggestion that he should become the consulting engineer for the greatest bridge in the world ; simply that he should give the company expert advice upon the plans which would be submitted.

Some months later

He states :

-Messrs. Parent, Hoare and Bar-the came to New York to see him. He stated to them what his fee would be for inspecting and passing on the plans.

They asked him then if he would act as consulting engineer, not resident engineer, but to stay in New York and advise them from time to time when they wanted his services.

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July 16, 1908

Mr. R. N. WALSH.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to place myself on record as opposed to this resolution and I believe that in doing so I am voicing the strong feeling of the constituency which X represent.

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July 13, 1908

Mr. R. N. WALSH.

In this case men who are buying did not wish the test. In South Africa they have more disease in a square mile than we have the country over. Tiie test of the cattle was insisted on here.

Topic:   SUPPLY.
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July 13, 1908

Mr. R. N. WALSH.

How long does the ninister intend to continue this system of egistration. because you cannot improve he breed unless you record the ancestor, fou will have to draw the line at some ioint, or a horse will not be regarded as of he French Canadian breed.

Topic:   SUPPLY.
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July 13, 1908

Mr. R. N. WALSH.

Does the department propose continuing the present system of testing for tuberculosis? Our cattle intended for export are tested while that test is not necessary in the case of those which remain at home. This interferes considerably with trade, and I do not see why we should insist on our cattle being tested before being sold. I have read the opinion of some officials of the department to the effect that there is no danger in using the milk of a tubercular cow. Why then should we, by applying this test, interfere with our export trade ? I have in mind a case in which the export of Holsteins to South Africa was prevented because we insisted on this test.

Topic:   SUPPLY.
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