Mr. Hector Dupuis (St. Mary) moved:
That, in the opinion of this house, the government should consider the advisability of entering into negotiations with the government of the province of Quebec for the purpose of reaching a mutual agreement for the abolition of tolls on the Jacques Cartier and Victoria bridges.
He said: Mr. Speaker, this is not the first time the subject matter of this motion has been brought before the house. As early as 1946, my hon. friend, the member for Chambly-Rouville (Mr. Pinard) placed on the order paper a motion along the same lines. He renewed his attempt several times but in spite of all his efforts and his well known talent no progress has been made. I myself have repeatedly asked that we grant the requests of the citizens of the province of Quebec and especially those of the city of Montreal and of the municipalities and towns of the south shore of the St. Lawrence who, for many years, have been calling for the abolition of tolls on the Jacques Cartier and Victoria bridges.
The motion I submit is somewhat different from those which were placed on the order paper in the past. It merely asks the government to consider the advisability of entering into negotiations with the government of the province of Quebec for the purpose of reaching an agreement for the abolition of tolls on these two bridges, and in particular on the Jacques Cartier bridge, the province of Quebec being party to a contract signed by the national harbours board, the province of Quebec and the city of Montreal.
Such an agreement would not establish a precedent since, a few years ago-in 1928, if I am not mistaken-the province of Quebec was authorized, through a separate agreement, to use the Quebec bridge and build on it a vehicular road. At any event, before 1948 the province of Quebec had abolished all bridge tolls. Well, the new contract provided that the province was authorized to build a second vehicular road but that no tolls would be collected. After negotiations between the two governments the Quebec bridge ceased to be a toll bridge.
One might say that it would be difficult to negotiate with the Quebec government when the latter refuses to honour its obligations in connection with the Jacques Cartier bridge.
We know that by virtue of a tripartite contract between the national harbours board, the government of the province of Quebec and the city of Montreal the two latter are supposed to pay part of the deficit resulting from the operating costs of the bridge, interest on the debentures issued at the time the bridge was built, as well as other expenses.
That share was not to exceed the sum of $150,000 per year for each of the two parties. They have acquitted themselves of their obligations until around 1944 when they stopped paying the amounts due. Legal proceedings were brought against the city of Montreal, to recover the money owing, by the national harbours board which won the case. Judgment was passed against the city and it has paid since an amount approximating one million dollars, representing the arrears owing. Will the national harbours board have to proceed in the same way against the province of Quebec for the same purpose? I do not know.
I should like to express the hope, however, that a friendly settlement may be effected out of court. I should think the provincial gov-
ernment would seek to meet its obligations like every other government. To my mind it would be possible to arrive at some generally acceptable understanding through a meeting between the federal and provincial authorities, at which the city of Montreal would be represented. It should be possible to achieve once more the result obtained in the case of the Quebec bridge, as long as every interested party is willing to show the understanding necessary to the solution of this matter, at least in the case of the Jacques Cartier bridge.
Now, as far as Victoria bridge is concerned, I am of the opinion that the federal government alone can do away with the toll charges, since the province of Quebec and the city of Montreal are under no contractual obligation in this regard.
As far as the settlement of this matter is concerned, that is with regard to the abolition of toll charges on the Jacques Cartier bridge, it must be remembered that the city of Montreal alone has paid nearly $3 million to cover the deficit incurred and that the province of Quebec will have disbursed as much once it has paid the million or so dollars still owing according to the terms of the contract I have mentioned.
I would not like to be harsh in my remarks, but I believe it is time to put a stop to this unfair treatment which is being inflicted upon the people of Montreal and of neighbouring municipalities. I do not know of any other place in Canada where people are required to pay toll charges for the use of federal bridges or of those of the Canadian National or again of those of the national harbours board.
As I have already pointed out during previous debates on this matter, the development which has taken place, in the course of the last ten years, along the south shore of the St. Lawrence, has been tremendous. It is sufficient to recall, to mention one place in particular, that the town of Jacques Cartier, which is 5 or 6 miles from Montreal and which, in 1940, had a population of only 700 to 800 has now a population of nearly 35,000. The majority of them are workers who have left Montreal and who have built themselves small houses in this locality.
They work for the most part in Montreal, so that they have to cross over one of the two bridges, which means heavy expenses for them, as they cross over at least twice a day. Those who own cars-perhaps I should say jalopies-give rides to other workers who
also have to pay the toll charged the passengers in all vehicles, with the sole exception of those who use a public bus.
I can also add that Longueuil, Montreal South, St. Lambert and other municipalities on the south shore of the St. Lawrence have seen a tremendous increase in population during those years.
One can easily see the burden which these thousands of taxpayers have to carry. They are charged a sort of indirect tax while everywhere else people can cross any bridge without having to pay a cent.
And what about the thousands of Montrealers who use that bridge many times a day? They also have grounds for complaining about such an anomaly which puts upon them charges of which residents of the other communities of the province of Quebec and of all other provinces are exempt.
I know the cost of building the Jacques Cartier bridge was very high, reaching the amount of $18 million, and that there is still a considerable amount outstanding. Yet conditions were the same with regard to the Quebec bridge, on which the toll was abolished.
In 1928, the province of Quebec was authorized by the Canadian National Railways to build a vehicular road on the bridge, on certain conditions. It was also allowed to charge a toll for automobiles and passengers. This toll was put into effect and abolished a few years later, as it was on all other bridges belonging to the province of Quebec. In 1948, the latter was authorized to build another vehicular road; this time the permit stipulated that no toll should be charged. At the time of both agreements, the province of Quebec was to assume the maintenance of both vehicular roads, and establish a sinking fund with regard to these two roads. Although the bridge was the property of the Canadian National Railways, an agreement was signed between the Canadian government-not the Canadian National-and the government of the province of Quebec. As I was saying, it was a matter of paying interest on the amount spent for building this road and of setting up a sinking fund which, if I remember rightly, was not to exceed $400,000.
Should the government accept my point of view and meet with the provincial authorities in order to work out an agreement on the matter of tolls on the Jacques Cartier and Victoria bridges, I believe the contract signed in relation to the Quebec bridge could be
used as a basis for discussion. An estimate could perhaps be made of the cost of the vehicular road on the bridge to find out the amount of capital invested for that purpose. It would then be easy to agree on an amount, a reasonable rate of interest and to set up a sinking fund which would eventually reimburse the national harbours board for part of the amount expended for the construction of this bridge.
As far as the Jacques Cartier bridge is concerned, I am sure the situation is different from that of the Victoria bridge. Indeed, I am wondering if the Jacques Cartier bridge would ever have been built if the province had not been willing to assume certain responsibilities together with the city of Montreal. The contract must be respected but consideration must be given to the situation in which the users find themselves.
I deem it advisable to make a thorough study of that contract, and to negotiate a new agreement which would satisfy all the parties interested and more particularly the citizens of the province of Quebec and of Montreal. I am wondering whether the citizens of Montreal should really have to do more than anybody else in the province of Quebec toward meeting the deficit. I repeat that this was admissible in 1930 when it was a matter of building the bridge, but now the operating deficit has been reduced, and, taking into consideration the possibility of such an agreement with the province of Quebec, I believe that the city of Montreal should not be forced, in such a case-no more than Longueuil and adjoining municipalities, Outremont for instance, the mayor of which is here with us-some day or other to make good the deficits created through a tax assessment established by the metropolitan district for the whole island of Montreal. I do not wish to raise that question because I would be out of order; I am simply reminding the house that the city of Montreal should not have to pay anything whatsoever for the upkeep of the bridge or for the maintenance of a sinking fund.
Therefore, in my humble opinion, nothing would prevent us from obtaining, following negotiations in which everybody would show sufficient good will, the same results which were brought about when the problem of the Quebec bridge was taken up. In my humble opinion, the present problem would be even easier to solve.
If I am not mistaken, the initial cost of the bridge has long since been repaid. The hon. Minister of Transport (Mr. Chevrier) shakes his head. Even if it has not been entirely repaid, the city of Montreal has been called upon long enough to give financial help to the Canadian National Railways in so far as the use of that bridge is concerned. Let us not forget that a toll is collected from the users of the Victoria bridge, that obsolete structure which, everybody will admit, is no longer adequate for that part of the city, with its heavy traffic.
Every time 1 think of it, I am amazed to see that the citizens of Montreal, in particular, and the people of part of the province, in general, are forced to contribute to the income of the Canadian National Railways. Can anyone mention another instance where Canadians have to contribute to the income of that railway and to pay for the use of bridges belonging to that company. If there is such a case, I will deem it my duty to ask for the people concerned the same consideration I am now asking for those whose rights are being encroached upon, for the users of the Victoria bridge.
Why should we pay for the use of that bridge when we can use without charge other bridges belonging to the Canadian National?
Two bridges built by the Grand Trunk railroad, one of the companies that preceded the Canadian National, now belong to the Canadian National; they are located at the eastern end of Montreal island and they have been used until recent years for horse-drawn vehicles and automobiles. Yet nobody ever thought of levying toll charges on those bridges. I am referring to the bridge that connects Montreal island to Charlemagne and the one that connects Charlemagne to Repentigny.
We used them for several years-as all those who live in Montreal and the vicinity very well know-before the new bridge was built by the provincial government and nobody ever paid for using the bridges, although they are the property of the Canadian National, just like Victoria bridge. It is useless to go back several years past in order to try and find who decided to levy toll charges on Victoria bridge. Perhaps the reasons put forward at that time justified the levying of such charges. But those reasons cannot hold today when the financial situation regarding the cost of erecting the bridge has
greatly improved, even though it may not be entirely paid for, because I am convinced that it is not far from being so.
Mr. Speaker, it is unfair to tax, and I repeat the word tax, indirectly the citizens of Montreal and the vicinity in order to increase the revenues of the Canadian National.
In my opinion, the share paid by the eastern provinces in the cost of building that railroad and to make good the operating deficits of the railroad is at least equal to that of the western provinces. Shall we continue to pay the operating expenses of our railway system by means of a tax in disguise levied in the form of toll charges on this bridge that is far from meeting our traffic needs and is used mainly by the Canadian National and the Montreal and Southern Counties Railway?
I know that the Minister of Transport is well disposed. He clearly stated his position in a speech he made in the house on February 22, 1951, as reported at page 570 of Hansard and of which I quote the following excerpt:
I do not think there can be any disagreement in principle as to the elimination of tolls. In principle we favour doing away with the toll system. There is no difficulty on that point. But we have to decide who should bear the costs. As regards jurisdiction, moreover, the three parties have already come to an agreement. To my mind, tolls cannot be removed unless there is some agreement on the procedure to be followed. It goes without saying that, for the time being, this agreement concerns only Jacques Cartier bridge. Nor should hon. members forget that the agreement which related to the building of the Montreal bridge, the Jacques Cartier bridge, was signed following the enactment of a statute by the house, the passing of legislation by the provincial legislature and the approval of a minute by the city of Montreal.
Therefore, I submit that the suppression of the tolls would necessitate the agreement of the three parties concerned.
We must also consider the practical side of the matter which is no less important than its legal aspect. In 1950, the national harbours board collected, I believe, $1,200,000 in tolls on Jacques Cartier bridge. As for Victoria bridge, I cannot give you any idea of the amount collected since it is buried in the accounts of the Canadian National.
What I mean is this. It is not easy for the national harbours board or for the Canadian National to give up without further ado revenues exceeding a million dollars.
I agree with the Minister of Transport that the abolition of toll charges on these bridges will bring about considerable loss of revenue for the national harbours board or the Canadian National Railways. He might allow me to add, though, that the situation would be identical with that brought about by the abolition of toll charges on the Quebec bridge.
At that time, the Canadian National Railways had the benefits of the toll charges levied on this bridge; however, the practice has been discontinued.
Once again, I know that the federal government cannot abandon the toll charges without the co-operation of the province.
Before going on any further, I should like to point out that the Quebec bridge has nonetheless remained the property of the Canadian National Railways. So, the national harbours board could very well remain the owner of the Jacques Cartier bridge. The suggestion I made a moment ago should be considered thoroughly.
In view of the capital invested in the construction of the vehicular road over the Jacques Cartier bridge, the federal government is not required to provide everything; besides it is bound by a properly drawn up contract. But, in the meantime, in order to alleviate the lot of the man in the street and settle the matter of toll charges, I think my suggestion should be accepted; it is supported wholeheartedly by all my colleagues who are interested in the matter.
Therefore, I humbly submit that in so far as the Victoria bridge is concerned, I cannot admit that we should have to increase the income of the Canadian National Railways by means of a toll charge, however low it may be, which is not required anywhere else in this country. I do hope that this situation will come to an end as soon as possible.
A few years ago, the Minister of Transport stated that the implementation of the St. Lawrence waterway project would settle the problem of the Victoria bridge. This project would include the construction of a tunnel below the Victoria bridge, which would be used by the Canadian National Railways trains. My colleague, the hon. member for Chambly-Rouville (Mr. Pinard), has already quoted in this house part of an address delivered by the Minister of Transport, in Montreal, a few years ago. Allow me to quote once again what the hon. minister had to say then:
The plan provides for the construction on the north shore of one or two locks designed to overcome the difference in level and to make navigation possible from Montreal harbour to and above the new industrial area which is to be established. Thus, the level of lake St. Louis would extend as far as below Victoria bridge and would provide a maximum fall for power development. One of these plans considers diverting railway traffic from Victoria bridge to a tunnel. Thus, Victoria bridge
could be used exclusively for motor vehicles. This would improve markedly transportation on the south shore.
Of course the carrying out of such a project would solve our problem. But how many years will that require? Therefore I think we should settle at once the toll problem, without waiting for the carrying out of the huge St. Lawrence project. The reasons I have already set forth warrant the earliest possible action by the government in an attempt to settle the matter of the abolition of tolls. I realize that the problem of Jacques Cartier bridge is different from that of Victoria bridge. The former was built after an understanding between the province of Quebec and the city of Montreal, both parties agreeing to assume jointly maintenance costs, interest on debentures, etc., up to $150,000 a year.
I am not familiar with the conditions laid down when Victoria bridge was built, but I doubt very much that the city of Montreal agreed to accept indefinitely the charging of a toll, even after the cost of the bridge had been fully paid for. At any rate, if the administration of the day signed such an agreement, it is time for the government to correct the situation and to grant the repeated requests of the people who want an end to a situation which is indeed detrimental to them.
I do not know the feelings of the provincial government, but I rather believe that an agreement could be entered into on a basis that would be mutually satisfactory and in the interest of the people who have been asking for a long time that the toll be abolished on these two bridges and more particularly on Jacques Cartier bridge as far as the Quebec government is concerned.
I have not been asked to speak on behalf of the Quebec members, but I remain convinced that all right-thinking members of this house would favour an agreement to eliminate the evil of tolls required from those who have to use these two routes.
As some time is sure to elapse before such an agreement is signed, might I suggest a middle course until the matter is finally settled? Since 1950 or so, the revenue from tolls on Jacques Cartier bridge brought a rather large surplus. In 1950, I think that the revenue was $1,250,000, and it is possible that, in 1951, it was quite as high. With regard to 1953, the revenue has perhaps reached a million and a half dollars, if not
more. I do not have the exact figures here, but let us suppose that, for 1953, it amounted to $1,200,000.
Well, with regard to Victoria bridge, the receipts have also been more than satisfactory for some years already. It seems to me that means could be found to do something pending the final solution of the problem, and I am still speaking of Victoria bridge in particular because the province of Quebec is not bound to it by contract. If tolls cannot be completely eliminated I wonder whether it would not be possible to at least reduce it on the two bridges and abolish entirely the fee required from the passengers in these vehicles. Both these things should be done or one at least.
We could manage in such a way that the national harbours board, like the Canadian National Railways, would not have a deficit. It should be possible also to bring relief to the taxpayers. It would be an excellent opportunity for the government to show that it gives serious consideration to this problem. It would be a generous not to say a liberal gesture, which is synonymous, to reduce these charges upon that part of the population.
In conclusion I wish to let the government know that all I have said has been said in the best possible spirit. I feel that I am at present faithfully discharging the mandate given me by all my fellow citizens. Not only is it my duty to request abolition of toll charges on the Montreal bridges, but also to insist that at least cogent reasons to justify a possible delay in this connection be given to me and to those colleagues of mine who will no doubt take part in this debate.
Once again I wish to remind the house of the difference between a resolution moved here, in the House of Commons, and a motion put before a municipal council. Here we are moving something that requires the government to consider the advisability of doing such and such. We are not instructing the government to do this or that, but simply to take a certain thing under consideration.
We merely ask the government to consider the advisability of doing something. To ask the government to consider the advisability of enacting a measure does not mean that the government has to recommend the measure which we asked to be considered. For instance, when the members of the city council of Montreal submit a matter to the executive
committee, the latter is in no way obliged to report favourably on the proposals. That is the difference between the interpretation given to motions here and that given elsewhere.
It is not a matter of abolishing tolls directly. We simply ask that the government consider the advisability of entering into negotiations with the provincial authorities of Quebec, and request them to see that the tolls on the bridges concerned are removed.
I believe I am speaking on behalf of all the citizens of Montreal, of the greater part of the people of Quebec, and of the chamber of commerce. I also hope that in the very near future the government will find it possible to meet the wishes of all the citizens concerned. Needless to say it would then be entitled to the gratitude of all those people as well as of the member for St. Mary.
Subtopic: VICTORIA AND JACQUES CARTIER
Sub-subtopic: ABOLITION OF TOLLS