Mr. M. J. Coldwell (Rosetown-Biggar):
Mr. Speaker, I do not want to delay the business of the house, but had there been an opportunity I would have moved an amendment this afternoon with regard to the announcement made today concerning freight rates. I want to say something on behalf of my constituents particularly who are affected, as are other people who live in the more remote parts of Canada, by this recent announcement of a flat increase in rates to the extent of 7 per cent.
There have been a number of increases in freight rates in recent days. When I raised the matter on the orders of the day today the minister objected or said that this increase was due largely to the recent increases in the wages of the employees of the railway companies. I do not believe that any member of this house desires that the railways should be operated at the expense of any single group in the country, whether they be the people who operate the railways or those who produce the heavy commodities that have to be carried from one end of this' country to the other. The cost of living has gone up and wages have been increased in all fields. The application for increased wages arose out of the economic circumstances in which many of our railway workers found themselves.
Moreover, the increase in wages was decided after conciliation and negotiations between the employers and the employees. I want to state emphatically that I do not believe that any group of individuals, whether they are workers in industry or users of a service which is essential to the well-being of the country, should be called upon to bear an undue share of the cost of operating that service.
Our railway system in Canada was designed originally to bind this country together. We are bound together by bands of steel. The probability is that but for these railways there would have been no Canada as we know it today. When the fathers of confederation agreed to the building of the first transcontinental railway and the making of large land grants and the guaranteeing of bonds for a number of years they had in mind the binding together of this country that is now Canada.
Consequently I believe that what we require is not a railway policy such as we have had, but a transportation policy. I believe that the recommendations a few years ago of the Turgeon commission were in most respects quite sound. The report of that Turgeon commission recommended a transportation policy. This would apply to our major transportation facilities. I am not talking about small groups of people who run trucks here or there; I refer to the major transportation systems whether they be air or truck or bus or railway. They should all be integrated so that we might get the maximum service for our people at the minimum cost, particularly in connection with the movement of heavy commodities.
After all we in this country are largely dependent upon the movement of bulky and heavy commodities. Lumber is moved across the country from the Pacific coast or from the interior to points within our own country. Coal is moved over great distances. Oil is moved largely by pipe line, but none the less we are dependent upon the transporting of fuel from one end of this country to the other. Since this is a problem that affects the well-being of the whole of Canada, no particular area or group of people should be placed under a disability.
That was the reason for the subsidy to the maritime provinces in connection with coal and so on. That was the reason why this house accepted the recommendation in the Turgeon report that a subsidy of some $7 million be paid for the maintenance of the lines over that great unproductive area of northern Ontario, between Sudbury and Fort William on the Canadian Pacific, a distance of -I am speaking from memory-about 552
miles, and a comparable distance on the Canadian National. That carried out only in small part the recommendations of the Turgeon commission which recommended that there should be some attempt at the equalization of freight rates. We have not achieved that equalization. These constant increases in freight rates are not imposed equally on the whole of Canada.
We all know that rates in central Canada are generally lower than they are on the prairies, in British Columbia or indeed in the maritime provinces. That is due of course to the competition from water, from truck and otherwise. That part of Canada reaps the benefit of that competition. Either the whole of Canada should benefit from competition, if it were possible to give that kind of competition in all parts, and it is not, or we should have a national transportation policy that would tend to equalize the burden of transportation over all parts of Canada.
These horizontal increases in rates-you understand that they need not be put into effect in areas where there is competition- tend to make the burden heavier on the prairie provinces, British Columbia and the maritime region. Those of us who come from these areas have brought this matter before the house on a number of occasions. This afternoon I asked the minister to use the power under the Railway Act which permits the government to rescind or suspend the order until organizations or governments in the regions affected have had a further opportunity of making representations to the federal government.
After all, the government has power by statute to rescind or to suspend and also to hear representations from those who feel aggrieved. We have noted that farm prices have been falling in the last few months. During the last week what a strange picture we saw in the transportation of steers from Chicago. It was noted in the papers on Saturday that 30 carloads had been bought by Canadian packers for transportation to Toronto and Montreal for sale as Canadian beef. That indicates that the price of that particular commodity has fallen in the United States. I do not blame the packers because under our system of business, as Mr. McLean once said, they buy in the cheapest market, and at the moment Chicago is the cheapest market. But our cattle raisers and our wheat and grain growers, our farmers, generally, have to transport their commodities hundreds of miles to get them to the markets. Hence anything which tends to increase the rates on bulk commodities is bound to impinge more on people who live in the distant areas than on those who live in the more competitive area of central Canada. I
urge the minister this afternoon to consider representations of this sort. I am not doing so, may I say, on behalf of any particular group in the house but because many of us come from regions where the impact of freight rates is felt very seriously indeed by those who sent us to this parliament. In my opinion the excuse that wages have gone up is not an excuse at all because if the government allows the economy to become more and more inflated then no group, as I have said, should be called upon to bear the burden of that inflation.
We should see to it that we go back to the original point of view when the railway system of Canada was first visualized by the fathers of confederation, that it should be a means of building up the country in unity, of building up a country which will enjoy in all parts as great a measure of equality as it is possible to give our people. The Turgeon report had equalization in mind. While I say to the minister that we are very grateful for the subsidy of $7 million that was granted for the 552 miles of line on the C.P.R. and a comparable distance on the C.N.R. over the bridge of northern Ontario, yet that has not equalized the situation.
Every time there has been a flat increase in freight rates of a horizontal nature it has borne more heavily on the people who live in the non-competitive areas or, as I prefer to say, the more remote areas of Canada than upon those who live in the more favoured regions of our country.
May I raise one more point. I have followed very carefully the statements of the representatives of the railway companies before the board of transport commissioners and the Turgeon commission. I have not had time to refresh my memory today, and I am drawing upon it without having had that opportunity; but my recollection is that any examination, for example, of the railway that is looked upon as the yardstick, the Canadian Pacific, reveals that the bulk of its profits arise from movements of commodities in and out of the prairie provinces, in and out of the remote areas of Canada. Before this additional increase is granted I think that the government should hear further representations and bring before the house a transportation policy that will be just to all of Canada and that will not mean again, as happened this afternoon, an attempt to place the responsibility of higher freight rates on one group within our country.
I do not think that any one group, whether they be farmers, workers or whatever they are, should be called upon to bear the results of inflated costs of transportation or of any
other service rendered to the people of Canada. As I said at the outset, I do not intend to prolong my contribution to this discussion, but I wanted to rise at the earliest opportunity and once again express the point of view, at least on behalf of the people who sent me here, that the government owes it to our people to recommend to parliament a transportation policy that will equalize the burden of transportation costs and will maintain Canada as a country bound together by these bands of steel without placing a burden upon any particular group in our society.