The existing law provides that municipal councils may lease certain wharfs. It is proposed to give to the Governor in Council the right to lease wharfs to shipping and railway companies also. This Bill is framed on the same lines as the legislation now existing with regard to piers and breakwaters under the control of the Department of Public Works.
The rates will be the same as they are to-day in the case of wharfs leased to municipal councils. The main object of the Bill is to enable the department to commute the tolls in order to avoid the great difficulty of collection. We have a number of wharfs leased in this way to the Richelieu and Ontario Company, although I do not know that the leases are strictly legal; the arrangement is giving great satisfaction and I think we receive more revenue than from similar wharfs that are not leased.
Does the minister not think that this might lead to great injustice to some shipping companies which would be placed at the mercy of their competitors? Charges of that kind were made with reference to the Standard Oil Com-
pany in its dealings with other companies upon railroads owned by it. Is there any tribunal to which these rates may be submitted from time to time?
I would make the following suggestions to the minister: That the wharfs or piers should be leased after public tender; that the leases should be given for a limited number of years and that the government should fix the tolls to be charged before calling for tenders. If the leases fell in after a number of years it might be possible to obtain a much higher rental for the second term owing to the development of business. I am not making these suggestions in any spirit of hostile criticism, as I think it is perhaps better to have the government lease a wharf than to maintain a staff and receive little or no revenue.
Our object is to secure a larger revenue. My hon. friend is probably aware that we have many wharfs from which we derive practically no revenue. It is a matter of great difficulty to get any revenue at all from these wharfs under the present system by which the consignees of the goods are charged five cents, or ten cents, or fifteen cents, a package, and it often costs more to collect it, if you can collect it at all, than the debt is worth. The idea is to average the business done at each whaTf during the past few years, and after having ascertained the amount of business done by each steamboat company using the wharf, to fix a Tental for its use on that basis. I believe in this way we will get a revenue from these wharfs which it is impossible for us to get under the present arrangement. In the case of several wharfs in the lower St. Lawrence the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company has been authorized by order in council to commute the Tates and the object of this Bill is to legalize that system and to ex-Mr. SPROULE.
tend it. Under the Bill we take the power to lease the wharfs as is done in the Public Works Department, and we also take power to commute the rates. Possibly the steamship companies may add the wharfage dues to the freight rates but whether or not the system will be more convenient to the public and to the department. My hon. friend (Mr. J. A. Currie) has suggested that we should lease these wharfs by tender and that might be a satisfactory system if there were several persons or companies who were competing for the same wharf, but in the great majority of cases I think only one company uses the wharf.
The charges on these wharfs are paid by the shippers and not by the carrying company, and there is nothing in the Bill which says that the tolls shall be fixed by the government. Neither is there anything in the Bill to prevent the lessee of the wharf excluding the general public or other steamship companies from the use of that wharf.
It is well known that in many cases the steamship companies have wharfs of their own which they will not allow the public to use except on the payment of fees, so that the only relief outside steamers have is to tie up at the government wharf and discharge their cargo. Before this Bill is passed there should be provision made to take care that the public shall have the free use of government wharfs. It is quite true that a number of government wharfs do not pay any revenue, but it is also true that the only place certain steamers have to land their cargo is at the government wharfs as distinguished from privately owned wharfs.
In any case, where more than one company would wish to use a government wharf, it would of course be stipulated as a condition of the lease that others should have the right to its use. It is not the intention to create a monopoly at all. As to the leasing of the wharfs I do not know whether we will take a great deal of advantage of this legislation or not, because, so far, I do not think there are four wharfs leased to municipal councils. I do not know whether there aTe two even. I know of one only. Perhaps there has been another one leased during the past year. But, so far, the provision has not been taken advantage of. So, it was thought that if we had the same legislation as they have in the Public Works Department, under the Public Works Act, we might induce some railway and shipping companies to take advantage of it. The part of the Bill to which we attach the greatest importance
is that which makes provision for a commutation of rates for a certain sum of money so as to avoid the necessity of undertaking do collect small sums of money from different individuals, an undertaking which is not always successful. I am under the impression that the Act will be taken advantage of by companies which may use those wharfs. We will make arrangements with three or four companies for the use of a wharf according to the volume of business they are doing at that wharf. There will be no monopoly. It will be an advantage to us not to have to collect these wharfage rates but to charge these companies a lump sum for the use of the wharfs.
I would like to draw the minister's attention to (the fact that in the building of some of these wharfs the government have monopolized the only approaches to them so that the general public have no method of getting into the towns and villages in which these wharfs are situated except over the property that the government have taken advantage of in the building of the wharfs. Consequently, any man coming to town to buy a few groceries or a bag of flour can only get his goods into his boat or conveyance over the property that the government have taken possession of. If this property is handed over to some steamboat company which would naturally like to cut out that means of transportation they could very easily prevent people from getting in or out of town by charging a toll which would be exorbitant. I think that in handling this matter the government ought to protect the people who would be affected in this way. There is only wharf accommodation to a limited extent and they should not be subjected to a toll in getting in or out of town with a small boat such as I have referred to. In many of these places there are little boats and tugs that are perhaps not controlled by any one particular company, and I do not think the full control of these wharfs should be handed over to any steamboat company. It would be in the interest of the government and of the public if these small wharfs-I am referring now more particularly to the small wharfs-were handed over to the municipal councils. You are taking the power to do that but at the same time you are taking the power to hand them over to steamboat companies.