April 23, 1901 (9th Parliament, 1st Session)


John William Bell

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BELL (Pietou).

tect and develop home industries; hut we certainly feel that in giving a bounty of $0 a ton to the manufacturers of steel rails, they have gone quite as far as it is necessary to do. and they might have conserved the public interest better if they had limited the contract to the price at which they could have bought the rails in the United States, and still have acted equitably in this matter.
Now the Minister of the Interior, in defence of the action of the government, pleads that this contract is simply for one year and not for five years. That is a point upon which there may be room for difference of opinion ; but I am afraid, judging from the course of the government in the matter, that we cannot expect them to act much more providently the next year than they have done this year. If the government of Canada has put in that contract a condition that the price to be paid for future years shall be the price in England, what is there to justify us in expecting that they will not in succeeding years pay $6, or $7, or $8 a ton more than the market price in the country in which these rails are cheapest, as they have done this year, now that rails are $26 in the United States and they give $32.60, pleading as an excuse that the current price in England at the time when they made the contract was $32.60 a ton ? What is to prevent them, if they wish to do so, finding a similar condition of affairs in England next year ? There can only be one proper, safe or secure position for the government to take, and that would be, if they were going to purchase these rails, to purchase them in the open market, and to consider that the Clergue syndicate was amply protected and amply bonused by the fact that the department was giviug them a contract for 25,000 tons of rails extending over a period of five years during the whole of which these bounties would be paid for, although on a gradually declining scale.
Now, I think one very serious objection to this contract, and one that lias been pointed out over and over again, is the fact that in this agreement, as entered into with the Clergue syndicate for the purpose of developing the manufacture of steel rails in Canada, there is not one line, or one word, which will compel the Clergue syndicate to supply to the government rails either made in Canada, or produced from steel made in Canada. This is certainly a most amazing piece of carelessness, of criminal carelessness, I might almost call it, on the part of the hon. minister who is responsible for the drafting of the instrument. It is perfectly idle for the minister to come to this House with a transaction of such immense proportions involving such an enormous amount of money and set up the defence that some subordinate official in his department has badly drafted the agreement. These subordinate officials are Mr. BELL (Pictou).
not present in this House. They are not responsible to parliament. There is one man and one man only who is responsible to parliament and to the people of Canada, for the blunder, for the carelessness, for the amazing ignorance that is being displayed in this matter by the lion. Minister of Railways and Canals. It is idle, it is useless, it is to subvert every sound principle of parliamentary government to allow the minister to set up such a contention in defence of his conduct. If this syndicate were disposed and were not ready, as they are not ready, to produce steel rails, they can go to the market of the United States, import steel billots and roll these billets into rails in Canada. They can buy steel billets for $18 or $19 a ton, bring them into Canada and at a comparatively small cost, at a cost of some $5 or $6 a ton, they can roll these billets into steel rails. There is nothing in the contract to prevent them (tendering to the government steel rails thus manufactured, and there is nothing in the contract to enable the government to refuse to accept such rails if tendered to them-not one word in the contract that I can discover. I believe that the government has very seldom occupied a more indefensible position than the government occupies in respect to this matter. If it were its purpose to extend a helping hand to the steel rail industry of Canada, why did it proceed in secret ? Why did lion, gentlemen select as their favourites in this matter this particular syndicate which is not in a position to produce one pound of pig iron, and which has not a single steel furnace or rolling mill in operation ? Why did not they open their arms to the manufacturers of steel and iron throughout Canada in every part of this country, so that the advantage of such an immensely important institution as a great steel rail plant would be available to them ? Why was this secrecy observed ? What was the purpose of it ? It seems to me that so far as my own province of Nova Scotia is concerned, the province in which iron development is going on at a rapid rate, it has been most unfairly dealt with by the government in this matter. Why should" they proceed to the eastern end of Lake Superior to attempt to procure rails for a railway commencing at Montreal and ending at Sydney, to the entire exclusion of an industry that produces its own steel, which has the financial resources necessary to establish rolling mills, and which is located at one extremity of that road ? If these rails are to be used, why does the government go to the extreme western end of the province of Ontario ? Taking all these things into consideration, taking into consideration the manner in which they made known to the people of Kingston, without any secrecy whatever, *the fact that they were going to be in a position to turn out locomotives, taking into consideration the secrecy they exhibited in

the matter of the production of steel rails, taking into consideration the fact that the government, just on the eve of an election, entered into a contract involving $4,000,000, there is ground to warrant the suspicion that there was a rake off on a scale of the most gigantic magnitude. Now, the government would not naturally lay itself open to such a suspicion for no purpose whatever, but what else can explain the manner in which the government has proceeded to conduct this whole matter ? Why did the government proceed in secrecy from the moment that it began this negotiation in council with Mr. Olergue, through every step through which this matter has proceeded, in parliament up to this afternoon, when, now, for the first time, parliament is beginning to know the facts of the case? Why should parliament be kept in the dark? Why should these things be kept secret? It is not good government. It is not treating the people with proper respect. It is not treating the representatives of the people with proper respect. It seems to me that the government should not enter into a contract, such as has been entered into, not only for one year, but, involving the policy of the government for five years, during which that government may possibly pass out of power, and leave to their successors a contract, the responsibility of which that succeeding government might not care to take. I say again that in this matter the government is departing from the soundest principles of parliamentary, representative government for no reason whatever that I can see, unless it be for some such improper purpose as may very well be puggested. This most improper contract, involving such huge profits for the syndicate selected, without any reason that any one can discover, to be the favourite of the government, has been entered into. Unless some such improper reason as has been suggested was in existence, it is impossible for any one to discover any reason whatever that should induce the government to conduct this business in the manner in which it has been conducted. To my mind nothing much more wide of the mark than the very amazing statement made by the hon. Minister of the Interior could be conceived. It was a piece of oratory that to my mind was very much more adapted to the stump than to the floor of parliament, designed to divert the attention of parliament and of the country from the facts of the case and to accuse the opposition in this manner, not of finding fault with the government for making this contract, but of finding fault with it for not making it. Now, it may be that history is going to repeat itself. Those men who took part in the campaign of 1878 will recollect that for a much smaller steel rail business the late Hon. Alex. Mackenzie and the government of which he was the leader, received great blame, were held to account, 114}
were passed upon in judgment, and were turned down by the people. This transaction, in whicli this government is involved, is worse than the transaction in which Mr. Mackenzie involved himself. It is greater in extent, it is just as improvident, because this government has committed what is worse than a crime ; it has committed a great blunder. At a time when the market was falling steadily it agreed to purchase steel rails in quantities sufficient to relay 900 miles of Intercolonial Railway, to relay an extent of the system which does not seem to be requisite, according to the figures that the hon. Minister of Railways and Canals has laid before parliament. The government is committed to the purchase for five years of a sufficient quantity of rails to relay 900 miles of the Intercolonial Railway, showing the most utter incapacity on the part of hon. gentlemen opposite from a business point of view. It is not necessary to say that a private individual would not conduct great business affairs in the manner in which this transaction has been carried out by the hon. Minister of Railways and Canals.
It is quite true that the resources of Canada are very great and that our country can bear heavy burdens, but it is not right that we should ask our country to bear such burdens. We have money in abundance and the people of Canada are ready to spend that money in abundance for every legitimate enterprise, but there are thousands of crying wants of this country which the government did not supply and cannot supply, simply because they have not the means. Great as has been their expenditure and many as are the wants they have supplied, they know there are thousands of cases in which the country is calling to them for an outlay which would in all probability bring in a return. Great and strong as Canada is financially, there is no excuse for the administration entering on a transaction of this kind which involves such a great loss of money to the country. So far as the secrecy of the transaction, the disregard of the interests of the people and the disregard of that courtesy due to parliament are concerned, it seems to me that no speaker on the government side has set up anything like an adequate defence for the course which the government in this respect has seen fit to follow.

Topic:   SUPPLY.
Subtopic:   APRI L 23, 1901
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