The New Era of the Intercolonial

J. MILLER McCONNELL June 1 1909

The New Era of the Intercolonial

J. MILLER McCONNELL June 1 1909

SHORTLY after his appointment as Minister of Railways and Canals, in 1907, Hon. George P. Graham made an important declaration with respect to the Intercolonial Railway.

Speaking at his home town on a public occasion he made a statement which might be accepted as a confession of faith on his part, a statement of his belief in what could be done with that railway and of his determination to act on that belief.

To the credit of the Minister it may be said that since that time he has shown every indication of “making good” and living up to his avowal. His first important step was to appoint a board of government railway managers and the personnel of that board indicates that the Minister meant what he said, and what he said was this:

“If the Intercolonial is to be made to pay it must be run absolutely independent of political influence. The only way to keep the Intercolonial as a commercial enterprise is to treat it as a commercial institution.”

Previous to the appointment of the Hon. Mr. Graham to the portfolio of Railways and Canals, the position had been generally held by ministers identified more particularly with the interests, political and otherwise, of the Maritime Provinces, and men representing constituencies situated in those provinces. They naturally came more under the pressure of lower province opinion and sentiment than would a man from another part of the country, and in calling Mr. Graham to the post it is the general belief that Sir Wilfrid Laurier was convinced that a man who was less influenced by local conditions would be more likely to carry out successfully the ideas which he had been formulating for some time regarding the management of the road.

The important decision to appoint a board of management was not made before the public had had ample time to discuss the pros and cons of the situation to its heart’s content. The appointment of Mr. Graham was practically the signal for an outburst of discussion which has continued intermittently ever since. Amounting at times almost to a tempest, interest in the matter would fall off, only to be renewed again.

But now the tempest is stilled and the public awaits with great interest the outcome of the experiment; for after all it is only an experiment, and if it fails, some other scheme will have to be tried until the solution is reached.

About a year from now the public will probably be given an opportunity to judge of how the new arrangement works. It went into effect on the first of May and within a reasonable time after the same date next year the board of management ought to be able to give the minister a very fair idea of how the scheme is succeeding. Probably, if more time is required to prove the efficacy of the system, the period of probation may be extended for another year.

M. J. Butler, Deputy Minister of Railways and Canals, is the chairman of the board, and associated with him are David Pottinger, the general manager; E. Tiffin, traffic manager, and F. P. Brady, formerly a divisional superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

It is safe to assume that it would be a very simple matter for these gentlemen to take the Intercolonial Railway in hand and make the annual expenditure conform, in its proper ratio, to the income and the amount of capital invested in the enterprise. Any experienced railway man, if given a free hand, could do that without much trouble. In fact, it is being done right along in the railway world. Railways which have shown deficits for years have been taken in hand and have not only been made to pay expenses but to earn dividends as well.

Unfortunately, the Intercolonial Railway is not at all like any other railway on the North American continent, and the board of management has not only the customary obstacles to meet but it has also to consider a sort of “vested right” of the people of the Maritime Provinces. Although belonging to the people of Canada as a whole, the Maritime Provinces look upon the road as peculiarly their own, inasmuch as the line traverses their territory exclusively with the exception of a connecting section which lies in the Province of Quebec.

Political influence and “pull” have long been regarded as fatal to the successful financial management of the road. This is not a one-sided political statement. It is well known and admitted by every one who knows anything about the Intercolonial. The people down east know it from personal experience, and the people up west know it from having read about it in the newspapers. Members of Parliament know about it because it is discussed in the House of Commons every session, more or less.

When the Conservative party was in power one of the greatest election rallying cries of the Liberals was the mismanagement of the road and its use as an instrument for corruption in the winning of elections. When the Liberals got into power it was not long before the Conservative Opposition was hurling the selfsame charges at the Govenment. And there is very little doubt in the minds of fair-minded men that there was a large element of truth on both sides.

The Minister of Railways, his leader and the other ministers, know all about this feature of the situation and no men know it better than the board of management which Mr. Graham has set to the task of eliminating this harmful influence from the life of the road. They know what a difficult struggle is ahead of them, but they have set their hand to the work and it is to be hoped will not turn back. They will enter upon their arduous undertaking with the best wishes of every loyal Canadian who would like to see the Government Railway system a financial success. The opponents of Government ownership would probably not weep if, in the end, the attempt has to be given up, as the result would inevitably mean the absorption of the road or its partition among the other great railway systems of the Dominion. Their jaws have been extended hungrily for some time to gobble the succulent morsel.

Mr. Butler, the chairman, will continue to conduct the affairs of his department from Ottawa, but the other members of the board will be located at Moncton, N.B., where the headquarters of the Intercolonial are situated. The combination appears to be an exceptionally strong one. In the first place only one member of the board is a newcomer; all the others have had plenty of executive experience with the road. Mr. Pottinger has literally grown up with the system. He worked on a portion of it before it was developed into a trunk line and probably knows more about the road than any living man. He is the kind of man who is incapable of wittingly doing anyone an injustice and is respected and beloved by those who know him intimately. He is not a voluble man and from the paucity of his remarks at times, a listener might be deluded into the impression that he lacked interest in his work, or in that part of it at least about which the listener might be concerned. Those who know him well realize how far astray such an estimate is. Unobtrusive sympathy is a strong characteristic of his nature and no one person can reckon the numerous quiet ways in which he has developed it. He knows every inch of the road and probably most of the people who work on it, and whatever reforms the board may carry out it is safe to say that Mr. Pottinger will see that they are tempered with justice to the deserving ones. Times without number the general manager has been put on the shelf by Dame Rumor, but though governments have come and gone Mr. Pottinger has stayed on and is still there.

Once an effort was made in the direction of reform and the authority of Mr. Pottinger was divided with another official, but in a comparatively short time the latter passed out of the life of the road, thoroughly disgusted with his lack of success. It requires a man with Mr. Pottinger’s long experience and familiarity with existing conditions and with the temperament of the people with whom he had to deal, to stand steady at his post in fair weather and foul. He has had to suffer a lot of abuse and vituperation at times at the hands of overzealous partisan writers in the press, really meant more for the system than for himself personally, but he has taken it all smilingly and never lost his temper. His services as one of the board will be invaluable.

Mr. Butler is a good engineer and a good administrator. He and Mr. Pottinger, with their staff, have built up an excellent system and given the people of Eastern Canada a splendid train service. Mr. Tiffin is a traffic man and that he has made a success of his department is evidenced by the large increase in the business of the road since he took hold less than a decade ago. Mr. Brady is an operating man of experience and will doubtless give the board the benefit of sound judgment when he becomes better acquainted with the road and its requirements and weaknesses.

These men are now at work and the public will look for results. That will be the true test of the experiment, for after all, as it was pointed out before, this is the first time that a supreme and determined effort has been made to eliminate that bugbear of the road’s life—political influence.

It is generally admitted that the Intercolonial has been used by both political parties for their own advantage. To go into the details of this would require a small volume in itself. A commission of investigation would doubtless find an endless variety of evidence bearing upon the point. Suffice to say, that the so-called political corruption in connection with the road commenced before it was built, paradoxical as that may seem.

Before me lies a book published in 1860 on “The Confederation of British North America,” written by E. C. Volton and H. H. Webber, two Royal Artillery officers, who had been stationed in Canada and had carried home to England with them strong convictions against the federation of the Canadian Provinces, at that time a very lively question. They set out in this book to tell Englishmen what a great folly confederation would be and in the chapter devoted to the Intercolonial Railway they wrote in part :

“By those unacquainted with the details of colonial politics, the political value of railways in British North America can hardly be appreciated. The capital secured by a ministry from a successful working of the railway oracle is unlimited. In countries so sparsely settled as the North American provinces, no railway can be constructed without some measure of Government assistance. The power of granting this being vested in the minister of the day, the result can easily be imagined. Any politician in power wishing to secure the adherence of two or three counties hooks them with a railway fly, on which they are afterwards played by various succeeding administrations until the railway is completed.

“Time passes on the Minister secures his votes, until in the course of colonial politics he is turned out. The old Opposition then works the railway ‘oracle.’ They go a step further than their predecessors; they promise a railway to so and so. The old Government (now the Opposition) cry out against extravagance, declare the province on the verge of ruin, and perhaps, by the assistance of such a cry, return to power. Again in office, railway extension is the order of the day. Circumstances have changed since the late Government retired.

“The strong sense of the country rendering the construction of railways sooner or later essential, every politician is anxious to gain the retrospective credit of having triumphantly carried his measure through.”

The authors go on to assure their readers that the remarks quoted are founded on facts actually observed and say that Avard Longley, who was Commissioner of Railways and the author of the remark that ‘‘Rum and railways are the ruin of Nova Scotia,” was afterwards the member of a government exceeding all others in railway prodigality.

These remarks, while non-partisan, may be slightly prejudiced and extreme, but they are worth quoting as indicating the manner in which railway politics worked in the old days when roads were in the promissory stage. What, then, but a continuance of the same conditions might be expected when they were built.

The complaint from the time the Intercolonial Railway was built down to the present time is that politicians have secured positions of various kinds for their friends and supporters regardless of their fitness to fill them, and that contracts have gone to party friends, often without tender; that in election times the system has been used as a party auxiliary and so on. All this sort of thing is deep-seated and the new board of management will have to say to the politicians: “Hands off,” and see that the order is obeyed. If they are given the free hand that the public expect, they will be able to place men where they can give the best results and get rid of useless ones, of whom there are said to be quite a number on the payroll. This is better illustrated in a report laid before Parliament early in this year’s session in which a conciliation board, investigating the complaints about salaries paid to freight clerks came to this significant conclusion :

“The committee, after its investigation, is of opinion that in the matter of wages the system that obtains of appointing from time to time new men at higher pay over the heads of men long in the service, and probably more capable of doing the work, is injurious to the service and unjust to the men. The remedy for this lies in reorganization and the abolition of the existing system of appointment, influenced by the political patronage which, from the point of efficient working, we find ample evidence to condemn as applied to the Intercolonial Railway.”

The board also found that “the present staff is greater than is necessary, and the wages paid the men too low. It is recommended that the staff be reduced, and the amount so saved given as an increase, which would probably amount to from 15 to 20 per cent.”

This indicates one problem with which the board of management will have to grapple besides which there are the still more important matters of securing better traffic-working arrangements with other railways where possible and seeing that the road gets all the traffic that it should secure commensurate with its agreements and working arrangements with other systems.

The relations of the other great Canadian railway systems to the Intercolonial constitute an important chapter in its history, with respect to which interesting developments may be expected. In the controversy which preceded the appointment of the board of management the names of the Canadian Pacific, the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Pacific were all prominently discussed in connection with the probable future of the line.

The Canadian Pacific has its present Atlantic terminus at St. John. N.B., but would like to secure running rights through to Halifax. Negotiations along these lines have not yet reached a satisfactory solution. The Canadian Northern would like to link tip its western lines with its lower province roads by means of the Intercolonial, but has not yet succeeded in making a satisfactory arrangement. The Grand Trunk Pacific will use the road from its terminus at Moncton to Halifax and it has been suggested that the best solution of the whole problem would be to double track the route from St. John to Halifax and give all the lines equal privileges in the way of running rights to the seaboard at Halifax, the Government reserving to itself the control of the property in the interests of the people. The appointment of an independent commission was urged as one way of dealing with the road, but the plan to establish a board of management of railway experts prevailed.

Hon. Mr. Emmerson, the former Minister of Railways, was very strongly opposed to giving any other railway (i.e., private corporation) special rights or privileges on the Intercolonial. He took the ground that “It would enable such a company to at once secure, between daylight and dark, every feeder to the Intercolonial, and in securing these feeders that company would absolutely wrest from the Intercolonial the traffic which it enjoys today.” He furthermore strongly advocated that the Government should secure these branch lines for the Intercolonial. Since that time a commission has investigated the matter and reported favorably on the project, but so far no action has been taken on the report. The commission carefully examined the various branch lines or feeders before making the favorable report.

A great many people throughout Canada have never seen the Intercolonial Railway, much less have they ridden in one of its cars. They have formed their impressions from what they have read in the newspapers—extracts from discussions in the House of Commons, often denouncing the wasteful manner in which the road is run. They have been told that there is no good reason why they should be saddled with the expense of maintaining a road that does not pay and that they might as well do something to get rid of it. No doubt many people in parts far removed from the scene of its operations think the road is a poor old affair, dilapidated and decrepit, with rusty rails, broken down cars and all that sort of thing. Some of the controversy over the road has indeed encouraged that idea. What a rude surprise these people would receive if they came down to Montreal and took passage on one of the through trains which leave the western terminus every day for Halifax and St. John, and in the summer twice a day! They would find the service in every way equal to the best in the land. They would discover that their comfort was as well looked after as on any road of a private corporation. They would learn, indeed, that the officials of the road are as keen after business as those of any other line and that the attractions of the route are as well set forth to catch the eye of the traveler as on any other railroad.

Fine equipment and splendid road bed are as much an essential to the Intercolonial as to any other line, and officials are on hand to see that it is kept up to the highest modern standard. Travelers do not find stations along the line falling to pieces or showing signs of decay, but on the other hand, they see buildings maintained in good order. They learn that the Intercolonial is as particular about running its trains on schedule time as any other road and if there is any failure in that respect good reason has to be shown. The distant newspaper-reader thinking only of deficits and political mismanagement, might believe that the so-called politically-appointed officials sit in their offices and let the proper running of trains go to pieces, but such is by no means the case.

The Canadian Government Railway system comprises 1.715 miles of railway, of which the Intercolonial Division constitutes the greater proportion, 1.408 miles, the Prince Edward Island Division 267 miles (narrow gauge), the balance of 40 miles being leased lines. All these lines are looked after with scrupulous care and kept in a high state of efficiency. The capital invested in the system has increased during the past ten years from approximately fifty-five millions to over eighty millions of dollars. The car mileage has increased in the same period from forty-three millions to upwards of ninety-three millions, and the train mileage from over three millions to over seven millions. The service of locomotives, passenger and freight cars, etc., has correspondingly increased in a decade, so that the road has not suffered in equipment. Oftentimes political rumors are heard to the effect that the road is being allowed to run to rack and ruin, but these can be easily ascribed to a biased view of the situation.

When it is considered that the centenary of the first passenger railway is still sixteen years distant, it is wonderful to contemplate the progress which has been made in the railway world. Even looking over the past quarter of a century great has been the increase in comfort for railway travelers. Canada has been in the forefront of that development, and it was only seven years after the first railway was built in England that proposals were made to build a line of railway to connect the St. Lawrence with the Bay of Fundy. In reality this was the commencement of the agitation which resulted in the construction of the Intercolonial. That was in 1832. It was not till four years later that a bill of incorporation was passed authorizing the construction of the St. Andrew’s and Quebec Railway, but trouble over the Maine boundary intervened and knocked the project on the head. A few years later a line from Restigouche, in New Brunswick, to the St. Lawrence, was projected, but, like its predecessor, it failed to materialize. It was not until 1848 that the Quebec to Halifax line was surveyed and the cost of a road estimated at $35,000,000.

Repeated efforts were made to get the Imperial Government to lend financial assistance for such a road, but the British statesmen could not be convinced, and it was stated that the British public took very little interest in the matter. In the meantime the Lower Provinces commenced to build lines within their own provinces, with their own resources and these sections afterwards were linked up to form the Intercolonial. In 1852 the Grand Trunk was incorporated and by 1860 had its line from Sarnia to Trois Pistoles, on the lower St. Lawrence, opened. The part of the line from Levis to Trois Pistoles was afterwards purchased by the Government and made part of the Intercolonial.

New Brunswick had started to build a road and by 1860 had a line opened from Shediac, on Northumberland Strait, to St. John. Nova Scotia started building in 1854 and in 1858 had a line opened from Halifax to Truro. In 1863 Mr. now Sir) Sandford Fleming, at the request of the various governments interested, commenced a survey of the proposed line to connect the Upper and Lower Provinces. His estimate for a line through the interior of the country was an average of $46,000 per mile or $20,635,500 for the 458 miles it was proposed to construct. Shortly afterwards came Confederation with the pledge to build the road from River du Loup to Truro and the securing of the guarantee of a loan by the Imperial Government to help Canada finance the scheme.

In 1867, Mr. Fleming made another survey for the Government and the following year was fought out the battle of the routes through New Brunswick which resulted in the North Shore route being chosen, the same, practically, which was advocated by Imperial officers years before as being the safest route from a military point of view. The line as originally projected was opened for traffic on July 1st, 1876, so that on next Dominion Day the road will celebrate its thirty-third birthday. In later years branches were added and connecting lines acquired until it now extends from the head-waters of ocean navigation on the St. Lawrence to the port of Halifax, on the Atlantic, and is thus in a position to perform the function of an all-Canadian route to the sea in winter, a strategic position which it alone, among other Canadian lines, can boast.

The statement has been repeatedly made that the Intercolonial has been run at a financial loss in the interests of the people of the Lower Provinces; that it was built as a sort of bribe to induce them to join Confederation and is being operated at a loss as an additional bribe to keep them in the proper frame of mind towards the rest of the Dominion.

It is, of course, true that the construction of the Intercolonial Railway was one of the compacts of Confederation. Without it the Lower Provinces would have borne to Upper and Lower Canada something of the relation of Alaska to the United States. Forty-two years ago, when Confederation was effected, there was a wilderness between the Maritime Provinces and Lower Canada. The trade of the seaside provinces was along the coast with the New England States, and one of the ideas of Confederation was to change this and divert the trade to Canadian centres. How could this have been done without the railway? Union would have been a farce without the road, and it was of as much importance to the people of Upper Canada as to those of the eastern section. That a circuitous and expensive route was adopted was not the fault of the people of the Lower Provinces. That long and devious line of railway from Halifax to Levis first and Montreal later constitutes another story.

When the Canadian Legislatures were trying to get Imperial aid for the building of the road, one of the most salient features of the argument in its favor was its military value. The people of the Lower Provinces did not worry about that point particularly, but the people of Upper and Lower Canada did. They were at that time greatly afraid and in real danger of invasion from the south. In the winter, when the St. Lawrence was frozen over, and troops would have to be landed at either Halifax or St. John, it was almost impossible to hope for the assistance of Imperial troops. The people of the western provinces wanted a line of railway as far removed from the Maine border as possible, and that is one reason why the Intercolonial was constructed up by the Raie de Chaleur and the St. Lawrence River.

The feeling prior to Confederation, as voiced in a speech made in Montreal in 1865 by D'Arcy McGee, who was a member of the coalition government of that day, shows that the people of Canada were more concerned about their own security in the construction of the Intercolonial than they were of the interests of the people of the Lower Provinces. Mr. McGee said on that occasion : “Will you unite, or will you give up your country to another Government and another people? Without union we cannot have the Intercolonial Railway, and without the road we cannot have direct intercourse with the Mother Country —and without both we are at the mercy of another government and another people.”

It will thus be seen that it is not fair to say that the road was built exclusively in the interests of the Maritime Provinces.

For a long time there was a fear on the part of eastern people that if the road passed out of the control of the Government, no matter what party might be in power, their interests would be at the mercy of some monopolistic corporation which would bleed them for all they were worth and overlook all the circumstances and conditions under which the road had been built. This feeling, it is safe to assume, has been of late reduced to a minimum in view of the fact that three companies are now anxious to use it, and that the Government bound to arrange that all can avail themselves of the route without favor, and that the interests of the people will be conserved in any arrangement that may be made to that end.

There is a tendency in some quarters to regard the people of the Lower Provinces as stubbornly resisting any plan looking to the placing of the people’s railway on purely commercial basis. They are thought to be unreasonable and petulant in desiring to perpetuate state of affairs which in the light of recent events appears to be intolerable and unjust to the taxpayers and the country as a whole. But if the accusation at one time possessed fair measure of justification it does so no longer as applied to the liberal-minded and better informed classes of the three provinces.

The claim of justification made on the part of the eastern people for the operation of the line on a non-commercial basis was principally due to the fact that the Maritime Provinces sacrificed more for the benefit of Confederation than any other section of the Dominion. The building and operation of the Intercolonial was regarded as a measure of compensation for the trade interests which had to be sacrificed in order that the great union should be a success. The trade of the Lower Provinces had to be lifted bodily out of old channels and redirected into new and more remote ones, and it was considered no more than fair that the whole country should lend assistance in successfully carrying out this difficult task.

The Intercolonial Railway was regarded as the chief instrument in accomplishing this object. When a railway is placed at a disadvantage with a competitor in respect to longer haulage or some other disability it claims the right to apply a “differential” tariff, and over this claim there have been many big fights in the past. The Lower Provinces were placed at a disadvantage by the terms of Confederation, and they felt that they were entitled to “differential” treatment through the medium of the Government-owned line. The general public has no desire that the road should be run at a loss through the disability of political patronage— that is a matter purely for the politicians to answer for—but they did want to see the road maintained as deficits.

Hon. Mr. Emmerson, when Minister of Railways, in 1907, made the assertion that the Intercolonial carried freight “not merely cheaper than any other railway in Canada, not merely cheaper than any other railway on the continent of America, but at a lower rate than any railway in the known world.” Mr. W. C. Milner, however, is the author of an elaborate comparison of rates of Canadian roads in which he states that “there is abundant evidence to prove that, taking into account local conditions of traffic, the rates on the Intercolonial are already quite as high as those of the Canadian Pacific.” He adds: “In view of these facts it cannot be alleged that the low rates are the cause of the deficits.”

Conditions have changed greatly in the last four years and the fears which once might have been highly justified concerning the fate of the road, are now practically dissipated. The present Board of Railway Commissioners is in itself a sufficient guarantee that the people of the Maritime Provinces will not be permitted to suffer any injustice at the hands of a railway, monopolistic or otherwise. It was hardly to be dreamed of up to a comparatively short time ago, that three great transcontinental systems would like to share the people’s railway. This fact should make it more than ever desirable that it be maintained as an independent road and all companies given equal privileges. This should be done on the same principle that actuated the Government when it decided to build the National Transcontinental from Winnipeg to Moncton as a public work in order that it might have the means of seeing that justice was done to the great west in the matter of rates.

The people of the Lower Provinces would be glad to see the Intercolonial placed on a paying basis, if for no other reason than to have removed the stigma which has attached to them in the manner already mentioned.

They will watch with an even deeper interest than other Canadians the working out of the new experiment and they will undoubtedly lend every assistance in their power to the commissioners in their task of placing the road where it belongs among the trunk lines of America.