Mr. J. H. DICKEY (Halifax):
Mr. Speaker, in rising at this stage of a long and very fine debate I propose to make several brief observations on a question which is so vital to the maritime provinces generally and particularly to the constituency of Halifax. I propose to vote against the amendment moved by the leader of the C.C.F. party (Mr. Coldwell) and the amendment to the amendment of the leader of the official opposition (Mr. Bracken). I can summarize briefly my reasons for voting as I intend to do.
However, before I develop the one or two points with which I wish to deal I should like to refer briefly to the matter brought up earlier in the debate this afternoon by the hon. member for Dauphin (Mr. Zaplitny). He referred to a press report originating in Halifax relating to a situation in respect of which I had already received representations. I have been able to secure certain information relating to this matter which I should like to put on Hansard in order that the hon. member for Dauphin may realize the situation to which the newspaper report refers.
The hon. member made reference to two ships which have been diverted from Halifax. The first is the English Prince. This ship cleared from England under orders to proceed to Halifax or Montreal, depending on the opening of the St. Lawrence river. As a result of the opening of the St. Lawrence river this ship, while on the Atlantic has apparently decided to proceed to Montreal. This decision had absolutely no reference to the 21 per cent increase in freight rates. I would point out to the hon. member for Dauphin that it is specifically provided in the order of the board that the 21 per cent increase is not to apply to import-export rates through Canadian ports.
The other ship to which reference was made is the Martha Kleppe. This ship had a cargo consisting, in part, of some 2,200 tons of peanuts destined to a firm in Hamilton. I am advised that negotiations for re-routing this ship were in progress before the decision of the board of transport commissioners was handed down, and the decision to re-route this cargo through New York has no reference at all to the board's decision. As a matter of fact, not one ton of cargo in either of these ships was affected by the 21 per cent increase in the freight rates.
The decision of the board of transport commissioners has been to authorize a horizontal
increase in the rates of ordinary freight within Canada. This increase is contrary to the representations so forcefully made by counsel for the maritime provinces who appeared at the hearing. It is contrary also to what is conceived to be the spirit and the principle of the Maritime Freight Rates Act and, perhaps most important of all, it is contrary to what many conceive to be the essential interests of the development and the healthy continuance of the economic situation in the maritime provinces.
Protests against this horizontal increase have been widespread throughout the maritimes and in other parts of .Canada and these protests have resulted in the announcement of the premiers of seven provinces of an appeal from this decision. The Minister of Transport (Mr. Chevrier) has clearly stated that the government is prepared to hear this appeal and to deal with it when it is made. I should like, as simply and as briefly as I can, to sum up the situation as I see it in its application to the maritime provinces.
As a result of the Duncan commission of
1926, which was a wide and searching inquiry into the whole economic system of the maritime provinces, the Maritime Freight Rates Act was passed by the federal parliament in
1927. The purpose and basis of this act were to equalize existing discriminations against the economy of the area of the three maritime provinces and to do away with certain disabilities which had been imposed upon the economic development of those provinces.
Both before and after that commission and the enactment of the Maritime Freight Rates Act, the board of transport commissioners in various decisions has considered the powers which are given to it under the Railway Act to deal with the question of discrimination and inequalities. It has also, not less importantly, made decisions with respect to the matters and considerations of which, under the act, it is permitted to take cognizance in determining applications of this kind.
My own view is that the board of transport commissioners, in the past, has taken the position that it is not empowered to deal with the kind of discrimination and the inequalities against which we complain in the maritime provinces and, further, that it is not empowered under the act to give consideration to the problems of geography and of distance which we say are the very considerations to which, most importantly, regard should be had in dealing with 'the difficulties under which we operate in the maritime provinces.
This view which I have stated is not shared unanimously. The government, by the order
in council presented to the house by the Minister of Transport, has instructed the board of transport commissioners to institute a full and searching inquiry into the question of discrimination. The wording of the order in council is addressed to the board and instructs it to make an investigation with a view to establishing a fair and reasonable rate structure which will, under substantially similar circumstances and conditions, be equal in its application to all persons and localities in the various provinces and territories of'Canada.
This is in line with the suggestion made by my colleague the senior member for Halifax (Mr. Isnor) when speaking in this house on April 5. In stating to the house the basis on which the government had passed this order in council, the Minister of Transport, speaking earlier in the debate, clearly stated his opinion that the board has full powers to deal with all questions of discrimination and inequalities which may exist in the rate structure throughout the dominion, and in addition he has stated that the chairman of the board of transport commissioners has said to him that is also his view of the situation.
I submit that this must be understood as instructions from the government to the board, with respect to the investigation which they have authorized it to make, to exercise its full plenary powers, whatever powers it may have under the act, to carry out a full investigation and to reach a decision on the matter referred to it.
In my opinion this is exactly what is needed to settle the problem from the point of view of the maritime provinces. There is at present confusion as to the powers of the board and as to the division of responsibility for the freight rates structure as between the board of transport commissioners and the government.
When the board of transport commissioners has completed the investigation which it has now been instructed to undertake, and has rendered a decision, all the inequalities or discriminations which may exist should be out in the open and be a matter of record.
In rendering its decision, the board will have to do one of three things. It will have to deal with these discriminations and inequalities in a satisfactory manner; or, secondly, it will have to refuse to deal with them by reason of the fact that it finds it lacks the power to deal with them or that it is restricted, under the provisions of the Railway Act, in the considerations which it is permitted to explore and to take into account in dealing with these matters; or, thirdly, it will bring down a decision which will be found unsatisfactory to the interested provinces.
It is my hope that the board will deal with all the outstanding questions in a satisfactory manner. That would be the object of the inquiry. But if that is not the case, the
reason or reasons whereby it has been unable to deal with these matters satisfactorily will be clear to all. It will then be possible to refer any outstanding questions to the government in the sure knowledge that there can be no question in anybody's mind as to where the responsibility lies and on whose authority proper decisions must be arrived at.
I am therefore supporting the government and refusing to support the amendment and the amendment to the amendment for two reasons. One is the expressed and evident desire of the government to consider any appeal which it may be thought proper to make against the present order of the board. The second is that the decision of the government to refer to the board a full and complete inquiry is the quickest and the best method of settling the question of discrimination and inequalities, and of disposing, in the best and the quickest possible way, of any outstanding questions of divided responsibility and jurisdiction with respect to the question of freight rates, which, as has already been said, is one of the most important and serious questions we have to face at the present time.
Mr. W. CHESTER S. McLURE (Queens): Mr. Speaker, before beginning my remarks on this serious question of transportation and freight rates, may I be permitted to do something that will no doubt give rise to a smile on the face of the Minister of Transport (Mr. Chevrier). I should like to read a few items from a press report I have before me.
Topic: FREIGHT RATES-INCREASES ORDERED BY TRANSPORT BOARD-AMENDMENT, MR. COLDWELL- SUBAMENDMENT, MR. BRACKEN