Mr. Howard C. Green (Vancouver-Quadra):
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Transport (Mr. Chevrier) has reviewed the terms of this particular bill, and I do not think there is any need for me to go over the same ground. The members of the official opposition are glad to facilitate the placing of this bill, and the two other measures known as an act to amend the Canadian National-Canadian Pacific Act, 1933, and an act to amend the Maritime Freight Rates Act, before the special committee on railway legislation. Mind you, we would have preferred to have them go before the standing committee on railways, canals and telegraph lines, but we cannot always have our way on these things, and now we shall facilitate getting the bills before the special committee.
We recognize very clearly the importance of the Turgeon report on transportation in Canada. It must be obvious to every member of the house who has given the matter any thought that the transportation question is extremely complicated and requires the most careful study. I find myself in sympathy with the remarks of the minister about the way in which the special committee should carry on. I agree that if we hear any large number of briefs similar to those which were placed before the royal commission it will be impossible for the committee to do a job at the present session.
However, I hope that representations will be made by the railways, the provinces and any organizations that are interested. The history of proceedings during the last few years is that only seven of the provinces
have shown an interest in the question of freight rates. Thus far Ontario and Quebec have shown very little interest. Of course there is a reason for that attitude in that in Ontario and Quebec the railways face extensive competition from trucks and water transportation on the canals and the great lakes with the result that freight rates have been kept lower than in other parts of the country. The seven outlying provinces have been the ones which have had to keep on complaining. I understand that the new province of Newfoundland is in the same position. It has been compelled to join in the chorus of protests from the other seven provinces. Therefore I hope that an opportunity will be given for the provinces to make their representations before the committee. The men representing them have acquired a very thorough knowledge of the whole freight rate question, and I am sure they could help us a great deal in our deliberations.
While we are anxious to facilitate getting these bills before the committee, there will be speeches made by members of the official opposition in which they will try to place before the house and the country some suggestions and complaints about the proposals. Perhaps it would be better for me to use the word "doubts". They have some doubts as to just how the plan is going to work out. I believe that is particularly true of members from the maritime provinces. There seems to be a great uneasiness there about how this so-called equalization is going to affect them.
As I see it, the main principle of the bill is contained in the new section 332A which sets out a national freight rates policy for Canada in these words:
It is hereby declared to be the national freight rates policy that, subject to the exceptions specified in subsection 4-
In this policy, of course, the exceptions are very important.
-every railway company shall, so far as is reasonably possible, in respect of all freight traffic of the same description, and carried on or upon the like kind of cars or conveyances passing over all lines or routes of the company in Canada, charge tolls to all persons at the same rate, whether by weight, mileage or otherwise.
That policy may be described as an equalization policy, although I think it is hardly that because there are so many exceptions. Some have described it as a policy of uniform rate structures. The implementation of the policy is left to the board of transport commissioners. This bill merely lays down the broad approach for the board, and results, of course, will only follow depending upon the manner in which the board carries out that policy.
There are other important matters contained in the bill, but today I intend to refer only to one and that is the provision for the payment of a subsidy of $7 million for the maintenance of the transcontinental trackage through the wild country of northern Ontario. I do not know how long we shall be able to describe that country as wild. Every time I go through it there are new towns, and one of these days it may be an important producing part of the country. However, there will always be great expense in maintaining the tracks through that particular area, and I believe the minister will find general agreement with the proposal that there should be a subsidy paid for the maintenance of those tracks. The amount of $7 million was the amount recommended by the Turgeon commission. I do not know whether it will pay the whole cost of maintaining the tracks, but in any event it is a move in the right direction.
As I have said the implementation of the main national transportation policy is left to the board of transport commissioners. From what the minister has said in the different debates on this subject, I judge that the board will take a considerable time to implement this policy. The commissioners must first complete the general freight rate investigation. It is now over three years since they were instructed to undertake that investigation, and instructed in much the same terms as this national policy is outlined in the bill. Three years ago we were promised that action would be taken along that line right away but as yet there are very few results to be seen. If there is to be any long delay, I hope that there will be no more horizontal increases in freight rates in the meantime. Every time there is a horizontal increase it makes the discrimination across the country worse. Surely, a stop should be put to horizontal increases until the board has taken steps to implement the policy laid down in this bill.
I am afraid that the minister will have to do something about strengthening the board of transport commissioners. He has not made any reference to a step of that kind, but I believe that some of the trouble has been that the board is not sufficiently strong to handle the job.
Subtopic: IMPLEMENTING CERTAIN RECOMMENDATIONS OF ROYAL COMMISSION ON TRANSPORTATION