This is required to meet the expenditure for rural mail delivery, the opening of new post offices and new postal routes, particularly in the western provinces, and the increased frequency of existing services on existing routes.
Between $80,000 and $85,000 is estimated for rural mail delivery; the balance is for the other purposes. Demands are pouring in every day for the opening of new post offices, particularly in the western provinces, which affords an excellent barometer of the progress of the west.
The leader of the opposition (Mr. Borden) called my attention to this matter yesterday and pointed out that the Dartmouth office is quite too small for the business done there. This morning I asked the deputy minister to get a report from our inspector at Halifax and I will try to convince my colleagues that something should be done this year.
I would remind the Postmaster General that there is a request before his department for the opening of a post office at Mount Pleasant in Peel county. I would also ask the hon. gentleman to have his inspector examine into the mail routes in that county. These routes were established a great many years ago; since that time some new railways have
been constructed necessitating a rearrangement of the mail service, to which I think with benefit to the public the other mail routes might be made to conform. The committee will be surprised to know that in some parts of that old county of Peel the people have not yet a daily mail service. It would be in the public interest if the Postmaster General would have his inspector make an adjustment of the mail routes, and while it would not increase the general expenditure much it would be a great convenience to the people.
In October last there was considerable talk about the erection of a new post office in the village of Lake-field where the postal accommodation is very inadequate, but I fail to see any appropriation in the estimates for that building although the Postmaster General is providing post office buildings in many places with not half the population of Lake-field. I trust that in the near future he will erect a post office there.
Yes. In reply to questions which I asked in the House I was informed that the present contractors receive $24,750 per year and that the contract had not been let by tender since 1897. This is probably the most important mail contract in the west.
The mileage with the side routes must be 400 or 500 miles. In 1862 or 1863 the first contract was let going up to Barkerville, about 280 miles north of the main line at Ashcroft. This is the country built up by the great mining rush in 1858 and 1859. From 1862 until 1896, this very important mail contract had always been let by open tender and for periods of four years. Prior to 1896, from Ashcroft to Lillooet, which is a separate line, about 36 miles, was let with the same contract; but as the country got developed, the policy was adopted-I think a wise policy-of letting these 36 miles by four year contracts separately and letting them direct by the government. In 1897 this big
contract of $24,750 was let to an eastern firm and since that time, probably the minister hardly realizes the fact that there have been absolutely no calls for tenders at all, and in addition the branch lines, of which there are quite a number, have not been let separately, as they should have been, by four years contract, but were merged in this main contract. There are four of these branch lines-one from Clinton via Big Bar and Dog Creek to Alkali lake, 112 miles and return; another one from the 150 mile house to Harper's camp; another one from the 150 mile house to Quesnel Forks; another to Alexis creek, Chilcotin. I want to speak of what I regard as an evil, and that is having these side lines merged in the main contract. The past practice has been for the company which has the main contract to sublet these lines by yearly contract. Take No. 4 from the 150 mile house to Alexis creek as an example; this line is 172 miles return trip, and it takes the contractor five days to do it. That contract has been sublet for $1,100. The passengers and express matter are so small that they add very little to the contractor's profits, and we think it rather absurd that a man, only equipped with four horses, should be doing 172 miles round trip in a country such as that Cariboo district. It is practically impossible, under the circumstances, for him to give a satisfactory service. It is bad enough in ordinary times, but An bad roads and bad weather it is impossible. The question may be put, why did this man take the contract at so small a sum ? The answer he gave to this question was that he had learned his lesson and would never do it again. Next year of course, the company will again let out that contract at as small a figure as they can.
From Ashcroft. The letting of these side contracts is on an entirely wrong principle. They should not be sublet by the year. The result of this practice is that a number of people will tender who do not realize that they are tendering at absurdly low figures, and they get stuck and lose money, and at the end of the year they throw up the contract. In the meantime the public is badly served and there is profound dissatisfaction through the country. The proper practice would be that which was always pursued prior to 1896, namely, to let each of the side contracts directly by the department for four years after calling for tenders. The contractor has then time to equip himself in good shape for doing the work and will give better satisfaction. I wish now to say a word about the mail contractors. I am not putting it too strongly when I say there 108
is throughout the whole of that country very strong resentment regarding the methods followed. 1 am not saying whether this company is getting too much or too little ; but I would point out that a large and important company of that kind, with ramifications of one kind or another, can exert a very strong political influence, and very naturally will exert it on behalf of this government which gives it this $24,000 per year contract without any call for tenders. The district of Cariboo is really worse off to-day than in former days because this company while having a monopoly, though not perhaps giving a worse service than the people formerly had, is charging higher fares. Formerly return fares were given at reduced rates but there are none such today. If that contract were thrown open to tender, there should be some fixed rate of fares in the public interest because the only possible way the people have of transportation over that 280 miles is by this means.
I remember that when this matter was up before, the minister said that the policy of his department was to let all the contracts by tender, but no public tender has ever been invited for this important work since early in 1897. And a peculiar thing is that it is a Toronto firm which has the contract. What would my hon. friends from Ontario think if there was a contract north of Toronto for a 280 mile mail route to be let and if that contract had been let by tender 12 years ago to a British Columbia firm, and instead of new tenders being invited every four years, that contract were renewed from year to year without tenders and without any opportunity being given any Ontario firm to bid for it? I am sure the minister will see that the Toronto people would, under the circumstances, feel that they had a very strong grievance. The contract was renewed early last summer. I do not know whether it is possible to cancel that contract, but at all events I hope that when the time comes to renew it, the minister will see his way clear to deal with it in that spirit in which he promised to deal with all those matters and throw it open to public competition. I am expressing the opinion, not only of my own friends, but of the minister's all through that country, when I say that he would give profound satisfaction to the people of that part of British Columbia,-a part which is not served by railways-if he would throw open that important contract to public tender and also adopt the policy of letting all those side lines directly by four years' contracts in the same manner.