Surely the railway companies have the right to make exceptional rates in favour of the people of Manitoba. What is meant by exceptional rates, is lower rates for the people of that province.
I rose merely for the purpose of expressing my dissent from the opinion expressed by the Minister of the Interior as to the liability of this government to the people with reference to this bargain. I believe that by empowering these parties to enter into the agreement, you affirm and endorse the contract on its merits. By ratifying the bargain, you affirm its merits. This is not an empowering Act. An empowering Act is one which always precedes the agreement, but this is an indenture that is completed, and into the merits of which you have the right to look before you ratify it. Your ratification of it may be only a matter of course. Very little discussion may be required before ratifying some domestic agreement which two corporations have agreed upon. Perhaps in such a case, a court would not look into the merits at all unless fraud were alleged. But when, as in this case, there is a minority which protests that their rights are being interfered with, it becomes a duty of the ratifying power to inquire into the merits before giving its sanction to the measure and to refuse its sanction unless it approves of the agreement on its merits.
As regards the power of the province of Manitoba to enter into the agreement, I am perfectly in accord with my hon. friend the Minister of the Interior. But if the province of Manitoba has not the power to enter into such an agreement, we are not capable of delegating to it any such power. Any legislation to that end would, in my opinion, be futile. We cannot divest ourselves of any power or delegate to a province any power which we possess ; and to pass any Act empowering Manitoba to enter into a contract, which she had the right to enter into of her own accord, would be simply a work of supererogation. If Manitoba had not the power to make this agreement, the agreement is null. It is legal and binding only to the extent to which the province has the power to enter into it; and any Act of ours empowering the province to do that which it cannot now do, would be nugatory. If our legislation amounts to anything at all, it is legislation confirmatory of the merits of the transaction. We are giving to railway corporations, which have their entity from this government, the right to do what they have done ; and in so doing, we ratify what they have done.
But I am inclined to think, with the Minister of the Interior, that this is a question that after all concerns Manitoba alone, and that perhaps it is not of the serious nature which some hon. members have argued it is, and will not so seriously interfere with the financial position of that province that we may be called on to come to its aid.
But let us make no mistake about it, in affirming this legislation, we are approving the whole thing on its merits, and are lending our sanction to an agreement entered into by the province and the two companies.