Mr. T. L. CHURCH (North Toronto):
Mr. Speaker, a general freight rate reduction is necessary for the economic life of the country. From what we have heard to-day we might think that only the province of British Columbia is being discriminated against, but let me assure my hon. friends from the West that the provinces east of the Great Lakes are suffering greater discrimination than any other part of the Dominion.
The question of freight rates should not be made a political football of this party or that; indeed it is a question which should not be brought up in this House at all. The gist of the general Railway Act as to rates is equality of treatment. Consequently the regulation of freight rates is an economic and commercial question, and if we are going to attempt to fix freight rates by legislation and so tie the hands of the Railway Commission, that commission will not be able to function as it should in preserving equality of treatment throughout the Dominion in regard to freight rates.
Last session it was contended that the prairie provinces should have special rates to the head of the lakes for their basic commodities including flour and grain. To-day grain is paying the lowest rates, and this is necessary. But it is not necessary, in order to give preferential rates on those basic commodities, that the other provinces should be discriminated
against. We are reminded that when British Columbia came into confederation it was on the faith of an agreement which guaranteed her equal rates with the rest of Canada. Then the Maritime provinces have reminded us that under their agreement to enter confederation they were to have preferential rates in order to enable them to get their products to the centre of Canada. Thus we have the East and the West pressing for lower freight rates, but if parliament goes over the head of the Railway Commission and ignores the economic factor, then we might'as well abolish the commission.
In my opinion the fairest solution of the question is to put all the parties back where they were before the war-time legislation which increased freight rates. Let us go back and restore confidence in the Railway Commission, because if this commission to-day is not fulfilling the functions for which it was appointed, if it is not ensuring equality of treatment to all localities, then it is time to get a new Railway Commission. As I read the Railway Act the jurisdiction of the Railway Commission cannot be interfered with. It is clothed with paramount control of freight rates, which it should regulate strictly from the economic standpoint. Its powers' are largely similar to the powers of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and that commission is not interfered with by Congress or the Senate. It fixes rates in the United States according to operating costs. That is what should be done in Canada, and until it is done we are bound to have discrimination. To-day Canada has the highest average ton-mile rate in the world, '751 cents. The next is the United States '732 cents
Adequate and equitable rates depend very largely on the Railway Commission fulfilling its functions and powers and preventing unjust discrimination.
This question of the "mountain scale" was before the special committee last year. As the case was then pending before the Railway Commission it was urged that parliament should defer taking action until the commission had rendered judgment. Unfortunately, parliament interfered with the prairie rates, with the result that the Railway Commission has not seen fit to harmonize the mountain rate with the prairie rate. This unfortunate result prompts me to ask: Has not the time come for parliament to leave rate control to the Railway Commission? If the commission is no longer a competent body, then let u& appoint a new commission. Let us repeal the legislation of last session dealing with freight rates and put all the provinces back where
they were before the War Measures Act interfered with rates.
Let the Railway Commission go into this whole question as the Interstate Commerce Commission did in the United States. The Railway Commission of this country did not wait for parliament to tell them what to do in the matter of raising rates after the Chicago award and the McAdoo award; they made these increases of their own accord, but they are waiting for parliament to tell them what to do in the matter of lowering rates. I agree with the principle of this resolution, because this House laid down the principle last session that the prairie provinces should have special treatment in respect to their basic commodities. If they are to have special treatment, so should the farmers of British Columbia have special treatment, and the same applies to the Maritime provinces and the other older provinces of Canada for their basic products also. The people of the old provinces of Canada-Ontario and Quebec-have paid out their money in taxes for the building of railways to give the West the railway facilities that they have. Ontario has been discriminated against more than any other province in the matter of railway rates since confederation. I say, then, repeal the legislation of last session and put all the provinces on a parity so that the Railway Act can be carried out in its entirety. Equality of treatment should be the principle; no preference should be shown to any one province.