Newfoundland National Convention, 10 January 1947, Debates on Confederation with Canada


January 10, 1947

Report of the Transportation and Communication Committee:[2] Committee of the Whole

Mr. Smallwood Mr. Chairman, yesterday afternoon we completed all of the report on roads and bridges up to but not including the section here given as an appendix,[3] on local roads, and I would suggest that the Secretary be asked to read the appendix on local roads before we have any discussion on it.
[The Secretary read from the report]
Mr. Harrington On page 2, where it says "Committees are entitled to grants....", is that grant made annually?....
Mr. Smallwood Well, Mr. Chairman, that is the amount they give. The experience that I have had with the local road committees leads me to think that, although $25 per mile, or 25 cents per head of the population, is what the government officially says it is prepared to grant to local road committees, actually they do grant quite a bit more than that. So far as I can learn, ... if the people of a locality show a genuine interest in their own local road problem, and in a way that the government likes, i.e., by setting up a local road board and showing a definite desire and intention to push ahead with local co-operation, then in that case, although $25 per mile or 25 cents per head is the rule, actually the government treats them much more generously. For example, if Mr. Harrington will look further down on the last page[1] it says that the total value of the repair program for local roads and bridges authorised to be performed during last year, 1945-46, was $179,000. Of this amount the Department of Public Works assumed liability for $ 109,000, the balance, that is $70,000, being put up by the people either in cash or with free labour. In other words $109,000 from the government and $70,000 from the people in cash or labour.
Now, at the beginning of the scheme, I understand the agreement was that the government would match the people's money or labour value dollar for dollar, but in actual fact they are doing much better than that. Then again of course, as Mr. Harrington will appreciate, if a local road committee is formed it is only because the condition of the local roads in a settlement has become so bad that the people in desperation get together, either led by one of themselves or an official, and form a local road committee. When you get a committee formed in that way you get a certain enthusiasm which results in much better value being gotten for the work done than if it were a straight out-and-out government project, with the government footing all the bills, hiring men and paying them wages. So that it's not quite as bad as it sounds.
Mr. Butt I might say $25 a mile is given each year provided the committee wants to carry that out. In other words if $25 is given this year, it means that $50 is spent on the road. If they spend the same amount next year they may do so, so that over a few years the amount spent on that mile of road is much more than $25. When those committees are formed, it is probably for a number of reasons, but one is that when a man sits in an office in St. John's, and a community applies for a grant, obviously that man cannot answer each individual in the community; but if there is a representative committee, then the man here knows he is dealing with a responsible group of people who have taken up the matter already with the magistrate or roads superintendent, or someone of that kind.
Mr. Jones How is that 25 cents per head basis applied to the town councils and their special grants? Is it on the same basis?
Mr. Smallwood I would like the answer to that question.... I am sure Mr. Butt could answer it.
Mr. Butt I drink that as far as town councils are concerned it is a matter of dollar for dollar. It may be $25 per mile, but it may be very much more. For instance, a small community has a small piece of road, which having $50 per mile per year spent on it would be kept in fairly decent shape, but if there is in that community a large bridge which requires special attention, then the government is prepared, as I remember it, to give very much more so that in some cases it may work out a little better than the town councils are getting. It depends on the situation. Is that an answer, Mr. Jones?
Mr. Jones Yes.
Mr. Smallwood When it comes to bridge building, or repairs of bridges or the provision of culverts, I think in that case the government provides the material to repair or build the bridge or culvert over and above this $25 per mile.
Mr. Northcott I think you are all wrong about that scheme, because it only just came into being. For 12 years we had no $25 per mile or anything at all; then the thing got so bad we got after the government, and it is only the pastcouple of years that we have been getting that. Since then committees have started up, and now we are getting the $25 per mile or 25 cents per head, Getting back to town councils, we have got to get dollar for dollar until we reach the $3,000 mark, then 238 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1947 we get 50 cents to the dollar, etc.
Mr. Vardy Mr. Smallwood referred to me being an authority on local roads, and I believe I can claim that honour somewhat, since I have been for many years connected with these schemes. I was chairman of the first road committee around Random.[1] I am chairman of that still and several others. Notwithstanding the fact that I have interested myself in roads, I am not dead or ready for a cemetery, notwithstanding the remarks made on the radio last night where they referred to a dead Convention and a dead country.
Regarding these local road committees, first there is a magistrate of the district, who is really the local government officer today, and very useful in that capacity. He has to interest himself first in some particular locality, go there, call together two or three people and ask them if they would interest themselves in forming a local roads committee. There must be three, two members and a chairman. They must submit certain facts regarding mileage, etc., to the magistrate. He turns that over to the officials in St. John's, who in turn send back the authority for that local road committee to go on with the work, and allocate a certain amount of money to it. The amount is really very much better than $25 per mile or 25 cents per person. I may say that although I have been most critical of the Commission of Government, I can hand it out to them there, they have done very good work, Never have I had a request turned down.... I cannot find words too hard to criticise them for their neglect of these outside places for ten or twelve years, but today I must be fair; if the people get together and show a spirit to help themselves, the Department of Public Works will definitely go the other half way and much farther to help them....
Mr. Vincent Mr. Chairman, debating in this Convention, whether termed sensible or silly by the observer, is fast becoming as real as the measles and twice as much fun. Yesterday Mr. Smallwood literally said, "Come on fellows wade in with a flying tackle and a body slam and give 'em all you've got." However, try as he might, the chairman of the Transportation Committee could work up no enthusiasm, and there was a marked reluctance on the part of the Convention to do any in-fighting with the bureau. crats or their subordinates in the Commission of Government. Even Mr. Hollett, who is generally in the thick of the battle, and who, when his stock of prose runs out, can always quote trenchant lines from Milton's poetic pen, was not in his usual fighting mood. Two months ago I said that with the facts at present at my command, if a plebiscite were held tomorrow, I would vote for a retention of the present form of government. Now, like my learned friend, Mr. Higgins, I too have to make an apology for a former statement made in this House, and I do apologise for saying that. It was my intention to reserve judgement until I had time to study other reports, but after a study of the Gander airport, tourist and railway sections of the report, I am fully satisfied in my own mind that the policies of the present administration not only do not make sense, but that they are made without any proper consideration for either the fisherman, the farmer or the labourer of this country.
I term Gander airport a liability. The refusal of the government to co-operate with the Tourist Board for the further development of that industry was unwise and poor business. I cannot talk with any degree of exactitude on the railway. My district is not even remotely connected with a railroad town, and to us, when en route to the capital with its paved roads and magnificent highways, the sight of the old train engine puffing down the grade from Glenwood into Gambo Station is as welcome as a rich uncle back from Australia, especially after we have beaten through 40 miles of country on what's usually a two day trip in winter by boat, dogs and horses. I wonder if the seriousness of the need for communications to the northern outports is apparent to this Convention. Mr. Newell touched on the fringe of that yesterday, and Mr. Roberts, speaking with the courage of his convictions, said in effect, forget that transinsular highway, and first concentrate on connecting up with civilisation some of our godforsaken outport communities. Since some of you did get, to quote my friend Mr. Newell, "district minded" yesterday, you will permit me to be sectional for a moment and acquaint you with the appalling situation as regards roads in Bonavista North. Let's assume that a fisherman from, say, Lumsden is told by our hospital doctor that his wife needs hospitalisation at St. John's. The first thing he January 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 239 does is to take the patient ten miles by boat to Newtown; there he connects with another small boat, and that hospital patient is then subjected to six hours at sea before reaching railhead at Gambo. There is no road in summer connecting Lumsden with Newtown, Wesleyville or Brookfield. If a patient is to be removed from any intermediate point between Hare Bay and Brookfield on the south side of the bay, or from Lumsden to Brookfield, the site of the cottage hospital, that patient must be taken to hospital by boat along what is perhaps the roughest coast in the island. I repeat that no road connects any of the above settlements to the Brookfield cottage hospital. True, the Wesleyville town council has built a road from there to Brookfield, and on to the adjoining settlement of Badger's Quay, but actually no roads exist from Musgrave Harbour to Hare Bay, and in that district live 15,000 people, all taxpayers.
I am not trying to avoid the acute angle when I say that the proposed estimates for road expenditures are more than just unfair, they are an insult to the hard-working, forgotten people of our outport districts. Let's get the picture clear; over $500,000 for the reconditioning and reconstruction of the St. John's-Topsail highroad — a distance of only a little over nine miles. The estimates call for another half million within the near future, and a proposed $6 million for a transinsular highroad from the capital to Port- aux-Basques. This indeed must be pleasant news for the thousands of fishermen and their families on the coastline What earthly benefit will this be to them? Yes, it's just about time that some of us had a change of mind, or it were better to have no minds at all.
Mr. Chairman, the roads section of your report is very informative, but I was somewhat amused to note, I believe it was on page 2,[1] highroads from Bonavista Peninsula west to Cape Freels, 480 miles. Now only last week I covered that section of my district, and if this is a statement of fact, it is the quickest piece of road construction ever done by the utilities department. Actually it must have been built since Christmas Day, for there is no road of any kind, highroads or low roads connecting Cape Freels with anywhere. Of course the department meant a district, and we must not assume that they plan some expenditure out there. The expenditure under all headings of roads is presently running around $2.5 million. This is not at all adequate to the need, but as someone suggested, there may be waste and unnecessary reconditioning. Maybe our good friends over the way (I refer to the Avalon Peninsula) would consent to drive a little slower, and thus allow a little trickle of that million to be channelled down to Bonavista or to Mr. Watton's district.
If any progress is to be made in this country we must have new industries, and we must first open up our communications. The magnitude of the task of road building in this country I appreciate, but am not convinced that a government that can spend $1 million on the St. John's-Conception Bay highroad, and forget altogether the outport districts, is working in the best interest of Newfoundland as a whole; and I go further and say that such a government has outlived its usefulness, and its policies should call for the censure of every patriotic Newfoundlander.
Mr. Chairman, if this Convention is to be more than a woman's story at a winter's fire, it must come out in the open and expose those perfidious wrongs — the Gander airport agreement, the refusal to co-operate with the Tourist Board, the supposedly fat concessions granted to the foreign corporations, the unfair expenditure and allocation of monies to construct and recondition roads, and a thousand other things that should and must be known. This is a new year, a year of hope, and to Newfoundlanders everywhere I say, let's all resolve that we will exercise our rights as native sons to have and to hold what is rightfully ours, and to demand now that these bureaucrats and their agents render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.
The people of Bonavista North, the people of Mr. Starkes' district, the people of Mr. Roberts' district, must have been amused yesterday to hear certain city delegates jump to the defence of the expenditure on roads on the Avalon. 1 would remind this House that the people of the outports are no servile race, and they have certain inalienable rights that will not be denied them. I once read that the whole economic stmcture of this island was controlled by a few families in the capital. This may or may not be true, yet I often wonder just how much of a stranglehold might be 240 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1947 exercised should certain powerful interests become the advisory body to the government of the day.
The condition of roads in Newfoundland outports beggars description. In scores of northern settlements there are no roads to the schools, no roads to the churches, no roads to the cemeteries, yet with a callous indifference to the dire need of the people, the present government squanders what, to the country, is a fabulous amount on what is more or less a luxury road, a super-high- way. There are no Superlatives that I can think of at the moment that will convey the denunciation of such a policy, that I would here like to say that it shows the dictatorial power of the present government, and should make clear to every Newfoundlander residing in the outports at least, that it's high time to tell the Dominions Office that sailing time is here for their colonial administration.
Mr. Penney The subject of roads touches the hearts and minds of every settlement in the country. I do not know just how the late policy of the government affects the different settlements in the outports, but I do know how it affects the people of Carbonear and vicinity. Fourteen years ago the local roads in the town of Carbonear and outside were in good condition owing to the painstaking efforts, of our local road boards, with grants so small and limited that they really had to scratch for it. Today all these local roads are washed out and destroyed at a time when money is flush in government departments; so much so that if the people only could know the actual cost of the two to three mile section of the Tilton highway for the past four years, the surprise would be really greater proportionately than the revelation of the cost of the nine mile Topsail highway. In the town of Carbonear, the roads are not only destroyed, but the public sewer serving the court house building is in such a condition that it is now a menace to public health as well as being a dangerous trap for pedestrians. A town council is the answer, they say! For some of us who have been repairing local roads at our own cost for a decade, a town council could have been negotiated if our citizens had been helped in their endeavours.... Anyway, we are hoping for better results in the near future. Outside our town I know the people of the settlements will be bitter over the condition of their local roads. May I suggest that some of the wasted money be applied, under proper supervision, to local roads?
Mr. Fowler Mr. Chairman, before making a few comments I would like to compliment the members of the Transportation Committee on their very informative report, and their chairman on the very able manner in which he is piloting it through committee of the whole. The report may not contain all the facts we would like to see, but then we must bear in mind the limitations under which all committees function.
I listened yesterday with much interest, but the debate was not of a very high order; to me it flavoured too much of politics, and too little of its economic significance. It reminded me of the old political days, when the man who could talk the most about roads and make the most promises, had the edge on the other fellow. I feel it is our business to raise the discussion of this report from the mire of politics to the realm of our country's economy, and discuss it purely in that light. It is time for us to realise that unfortunately there is nothing we can do regarding the policy of the present government, but the facts contained in this report should be stressed insofar as they effect our economy, and will likely influence our final recommendations. I would state here, however, that I consider the allocation of public monies for roads altogether disproportionate.
At the opening of the Convention I sought information relative to the government's policy in respect to local roads. I am pleased to find that in the appendix to this report, their policy for local roads as introduced in 1943 is fully outlined, and I hope that the public will avail of the opportunity of becoming conversant with it, because I fear it is a scheme to which the labouring man very often finds it difficult to reconcile himself, with the result that we often find him antagonistic to the road committee which is working in the interest of the community, and without remuneration.
I contend that the Commission of Government have neglected the local roads and allocated far too little of the $2.5 million they have spent on roads for this upkeep, with the result that the majority of local roads today are almost impassable, a condition which is yearly becoming more expensive to remedy, and is a matter of much concern to a large number of people in the various January 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 241 towns and villages of this country.
Mr. Starkes ....I understand that I do not enjoy the ancient rights and privileges that I once did when I was an elected representative during responsible government. I know I can be sued for making statements contrary to the law of the land, but my first statement on roads in this country is this. It is my firm opinion that practically all roads built so far have been undertaken through pull with the government in power at the time. The report should make the head of every member of this Convention hang in shame, to see how such large sums collected from all over the country have been spent on such small territory as the Avalon Peninsula. I feel ashamed after reading this report, and seeing how and where the hard- earned revenue collected from the actual producers of this country has been spent; and in the same spirit I feel that the men sent here by other districts, including the men representing the districts that have received such great benefits, actually do feel ashamed, when they see how unfairly the majority of them has been treated I must refer to a statement made yesterday by Mr. Gordon Higgins.... His statement hit me hard, and I am compelled to take exception to it. He said, when talking on roads, "Avalon first and the rest of the country after. We bow the knee to nobody as far as that is concerned." I certainly give Mr. Higgins great credit for making that statement. Is there anything he could say that would make him more popular on the Avalon Peninsula? But are we, the representatives sent here by the actual producers, the actual salt of the earth (and we all know what that means) from the districts where roads are unknown, are we going to come here and still allow that thing to go on — "Avalon first and the rest of the country afterwards"? Gentlemen, if all were of my mind, we would see that it would be equal rights for all, and not special rights for the Avalon.
I am surprised that the remarks of Mr. Higgins did not provoke some discussion.... Mr. Higgins said that the St. John's members were not hanging their heads in shame over the tremendous sums of money that had gone out to give St. John's and neighbourhood all these roads. I come from a district where there are more people with broken legs and arms, broken by falling over rocks and boulders, than any other district in the country.... What do we find when it comes to productive industries in this country? You find that the great bulk of these industries are in those parts of the country that have got practically no roads. It is not in St. John's that you find the bulk of our great fisheries. It's not in St. John's that you find the great bulk of our forests, or of our other productive industries. It's out around the country, where little or no government money is being spent on roads. Where would St. John's be and what roads would they have, if we took the fisheries away from them? If we took the great Buchans mine away from them? If we took the great Grand Falls industry away from them? If they didn't have the great Comer Brook and Humber Valley to depend on? These are the things that keep St. John's going. Suppose we divided Newfoundland into two separate countries — the Avalon Peninsula forming one country, and the rest of Newfoundland and Labrador forming another. Where would the Avalon Peninsula be then? Who would have most of the roads in that case? It wouldn't be the Avalon Peninsula. If you took a photograph of the Avalon from the air, what you'd get would be a big web with a spider in the middle of it — and the spider would be St. John's. I am not advocating that Newfoundland be separated into two countries. I am advocating that the rest of the country should get a good share of whatever money is going for roads and other public improvements.... Before they build more beautiful paved roads around Conception Bay they should first see that the people of the rest of the island get half-decent roads to travel over and transport their produce. I hope Mr. Higgins won't think that I am making an attack upon him or upon his St. John's colleagues, or upon the members who come here from Avalon Peninsula districts. All I am trying to do is to put in a claim for the rest of the island....
Mr. Higgins I think it would be rather discourteous to say the least of it, if I did not answer our friend across the way. I want to make my position quite clear in the matter. Yesterday the convenor of the Committee was a little worried about having no comment on his report. He has harped on the fact that the Avalon was getting so much money, and because of that suggestion, I suppose Mr. Starkes and our other good friend Mr. Vincent over there, have taken to heart the insinuation that this highroad was built for the people in 242 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1947 Topsail. I am not one of the Topsail nabobs, like some of my friends near me are! Apart from that, the district I represent does not get any money for roads whatever. By the grace of the municipal council we have the finest roads in the country, and we do not have to bother what government comes into power. I don't know, I am trusting my memory on this, but I believe the highroads policy was instituted in 1924. Is that right Mr. Chairman?
Mr. Chairman 1925. That policy was instituted by the people here, chiefly made up for the roads through the Avalon. I would not like to undertake any comment on that.
Mr. Higgins We can hardly blame Mr. Starkes, although I think he was one of the people who subscribed to that highroads policy; but certainly there are members in this House today who agree that that road was to be built not for the St. John's people, but for the whole peninsula. I do agree it is a pity that we can't have a series of roads through all the places, but that's going to be in the future. You have got to depend on your local roads committees for that. I am strong in my advocacy of a transinsular highroad. I don' t know if you can do that for $6 million, but if so it will be money well spent. In that event you can have Mr. Starkes come up from Nipper's Harbour and come in to St. John's by bus, if he lives long enough.... It will develop the country and pay for itself....
Mr. Fudge Mr. Chairman, much discussion has taken place since this report has been presented regarding the Railway, the amount of money that it is costing the country, and especially the loss which reaches the tidy sum of $1.5 million. Of course, the greatest concern to the Convention is to try and devise ways and means to reduce this, so that we may be able to recommend our find ings to the present or future form of government. I understand that in 1938 there were certain concessions granted to Bowater's Newfoundland Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd. by the present form of government, and this also, I take it, applies to the Anglo-Newfoundland Co. and Buchans Mining company. We are all aware of the tremendous rise in operating costs since 1938.... Due to rising costs, labour has agitated for and received increases in wages to offset conditions as much as possible. I think we will agree that where a company contributes an enormous amount of business to the Railway, it is human nature to expect some special consideration or concessions. In other words, it is a matter as I see it of wholesale and retail prices.... Now, Mr. Chairman, can you imagine that our government of today is applying concessions to those companies which might have been suitable in 1938, but are out of all proportion today. It does seem businesslike that in view of the high cost of operating the Railway, the government should have negotiated with the various companies for an adjustment upwards in the rates.... But I warn the powers that be that the general public will not accept further taxation while wealthy corporations are getting off with a mere trifle. The Railway cannot pay under such circumstances. The increases should rest on the shoulders of those who can afford to bear them.
With regard to roads, I am well aware that roads are a necessity, but they should be built in sections where they serve the greatest number of people, and not through a wilderness. The first necessity today is local roads, and roads linking up with the railway. It is all very well to talk of a highroad through the country, but we must cut our garment according to our cloth. I am sure that outport doctors will agree with me. Let me tell you of one instance that came to my notice last year. There is a settlement in Bay of Islands called Cox's Cove, which has no road connection with Corner Brook.... There was a shortage of food, such as sugar, milk and other necessities. It was impossible to get these items due to lack of road communication and the result it cost the businessman $15 additional freight on three sacks of sugar from Corner Brook to Cox's Cove, a distance of approximately 12 miles, which meant that those poor people had to pay in the neighbourhood of 20 cents per pound for sugar.... It is my firm conviction that people who are forced to live in remote places should be given first consideration and provided with a road connection with the railway at least. Mr. Chairman, we need men with full realisation of these facts, men of vision, not those who build castles in the air, but those who can turn their visions into reality....
Mr. Ashbourne Mr. Chairman, it may be thought that some of the statements made in this chamber are not relevant to the job we were sent here to do. Perhaps some of the debates on matters brought up are not exactly in order, but where January 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 243 else can the representatives of the people voice their statements except in this chamber? I would urge that people should not be too critical when we voice our opinions about these different matters. We know the roads are the arteries which carry the products of industry, and realise also we should have a good sound grant as regards our system of transportation. These roads help to open up the country and connect settlements with each other. The amount of money which this country can justifiably expend annually on roads and bridges is a matter for great consideration. I would like to have fixed in my mind what is the right percentage of our revenue that we can annually expend on roads and bridges.... It seems to me also that the transinsular road may be a good idea. Anyway, from Port-aux-Basques to Humber there should be a good road. I believe there are a large number of Americans and Canadians — monied men — who are prepared to come with their wives and families and spend some of that money in Newfoundland, and I think it would be a good idea to have that section so that these people can come in with their cars and use our roads down to the Humber where they can go fishing. Another section which should be completed is from Gander to Lewisporte. The Canadian government spent a large sum on that road, but it is not completed... Speaking of Lewisporte, I would like to take up the matter of placing Lewisporte on the main line of railway. Whoever heard of a terminal not on the main line? There are nine miles of railroad and there should be a spur line. I advocated that 20 years ago.... I feel very strongly on this Lewispone matter because this year I had to leave the express at Notre Dame Junction, and had to stay there overnight to go that nine miles. It would not be tolerated in a good many countries, and I hope the Commission of Government will consider the amount of traffic that goes through Lewisporte. It is a big terminus — the Imperial Oil Co. and the Shell Oil Co. have tanks there; there are a lot of boats; and now that the railway is to be converted from coal to oil, they would save money. They should make a detour and put Lewisporte on the main line....
I would like to know how many miles this money was spent on as regards local roads — how many miles of road were covered by this small expenditure of money?
Mr. Smallwood We have not got that information. We could easily get it. No doubt the returns are in the department.
Mr. Ashbourne That information would be helpful. I am a firm believer in town councils and self-help as regards local roads. People are interested in their own communities, and prepared to give free labour or pay an amount of taxes, and in the spring of the year when people are not so busily engaged they will put in a few hours of work on the roads....
Mr. Ballam I concur entirely with the remarks of Mr. Fudge, my colleague here. It is not necessary for me to go further into the details of the road conditions in the Humber district. We are well aware of them. and you have been told a good deal about them by Mr. Fudge, and I want to go on record as supporting him heartily.
Mr. Smallwood Yesterday it was Mr. Jackman, I think, who wanted to have some information as to the rates of pay of workers on highroads work.... The department tells me that their policy in employing men on the highroads for labour is to pay whatever rate of wages is prevailing in each area where any road work is done. They have a minimum of 40 cents an hour, but in St. John's they pay 55 cents an hour. Out on the west coast they pay 58 cents, because that is the prevailing rate out there. In the Grand Falls area, where I understand the prevailing rate for common labour is 70 cents an hour, I assume the rate paid common labour by the highroads division is the same....
Mr. Jackman The prevailing rate on Bell Island unless it has changed during the past six or eight weeks, is 68 cents an hour, and the prevailing rate for highroads employees is 40 cents an hour.... That rate has been paid for the past five years. The union rate has been between 58 cents and 60 cents, and the highroads rate has been 40 cents an hour up to September month anyway.
Mr. Ballam The rate of 58 cents an hour paid the highroads workers in the Humber area is not the rate in the paper mills where it is 72.5 cents per hour....
Mr. Smallwood It is 4.25 pm, and we appear not to have completed roads. I was hoping we could get on today to posts and telegraphs, and perhaps complete the report this week.... I don't know if it is the pleasure of the House to do that.
If I were a newspaper reporter, expected today 244 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1947 to write an account for the papers tomorrow, or if I were a radio commentator expected to go on the air tonight and describe this debate, I think that, with my knowledge of this country, I would be deeply impressed by the debate of yesterday and today. To hear 40-odd men, elected from 37 districts, come in and bear out a united and unanimous story of neglect of roads that once existed and have disappeared, that have been washed away by the floods and storms, and have had practically no money spent on them for a dozen years, I think I would be deeply impressed by the fact that here is an island which, except for a few highroads, is practically without roads, and I would not feel in the least like ridiculing the elected representatives from those districts. I would know enough about the conditions of this country to know that these members were speaking the views of the 318,000 men, women and children of Newfoundland.
Now, this appendix prepared for us by the Department of Public Utilities describes the new system which the government has brought into existence in the past couple of years for dealing with local roads. I am not disposed to ridicule the scheme the government has worked out. It seems to me that behind this plan of working up these local road boards, of which we now have about 400 involving, I suppose, between 400 and 500 settlements, there is something more than merely forming committees to handle local roads. Behind it is a plan to get the people of Newfoundland to take a more active part and interest in the public affairs of their country. It may turn out, when all ... the reports have been considered by this small batch of Newfoundlanders, that we will recommend some form of elected government, or it may turn out that we will recommend that we go right on under Commission government, we don't know yet. Let us say that we recommend some form of elected government. What gentleman in this chamber today, or out of it, would be willing to be a member of that government of the future, knowing that there were 1,300 settlements with, at the present time, 3,000 miles of local road (that's only a guess) which have to be taken care of? What member would wish to be a member of a government, if that government had to find every dollar to keep up those 3,000 miles of local roads? I feel that no one would want to do that.
For that reason I am delighted to see an effort made to work up these local road committees, not merely for the sake of getting the people interested in their own local affairs with regard to roads and bridges, but also for getting these same people more actively interested in public affairs generally. One of the weaknesses of this country in the past has been the fact that we had in Newfoundland only one government, namely the central government in the city of St. John's. They tell me that you cannot get more than 60 miles from the salt water anywhere in Newfoundland. But from St. John's to some parts of this country it might as well be 2-3,000 miles. This means that St. John's and the government here know practically nothing of what goes on in the country. If you are going to have democracy and efficient government, you have got to enlist the people of the country in it, and to do that they have at least made a beginning in the formation of these road committees. I know it is pitiful to think of $109,000 voted by the government to assist these local road committees. It only scratches the surface of the problem, but it is a beginning. I hope that people in the settlements where they still have no local road committees, as they listen in to these broadcasts, many of them finding out, maybe for the first time, that there is a way in which they can get a few dollars from the government, I hope that they also will get awake and active and form their road committees. Who knows but that these local road committees may some day develop into a first class form of local government.
I will say that this Convention is supposed to consider not only roads, but everything else, in the light of one great question: will the future government of Newfoundland, whether it be Commission or anything else, be able to balance its budget? If it can't, we are up against it. In trying to decide whether or not the future government can balance its budget we must, whether we like it or not, we must find out as far as we can what the future expenditure of the government has got to be. Now, so far as the Transportation and Communications Committee is concerned, that is exactly what we have been trying to do. In our report on Gander we have told you that so far as we can see, the country is saddled with a loss of $1 million a year; that as far as the Railway is concerned, a loss of $1.5 million a year. So far as January 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 245 roads are concerned, we must spend at least $1 million a year in future, no matter what government we have. If that is wasting time, then I don't know what I am here in this Convention for. Is it wasting time to try and get a picture of what these activities will cost us? If it is wasting time, will some radio commentator tell me just what this Convention is for? Will some of the critics tell me just what is the function of the National Convention?
We are not great statesmen, we have not had the advantage of having been trained in the Fiji Islands, or to be the products of the Colonial service: we are just ordinary Newfoundlanders sent in here to examine the various departments of government — what they have spent in the past, and what they are liable to spend in the future. That is what we are trying to do.
Mr. Ashbourne I am of the opinion, that possibly only within the last few days, since this debate has gone over the air, that in certain isolated parts of Newfoundland has it been known that the government has this plan as regards local roads. If that is not so, how can we explain the small expenditure which has been made up to the present time?....
Mr. Harrington Mr. Chairman, before this section of the Transportation and Communications Committee's report — the Railway section — is left by the Convention, I'd like to make one or two comments on it that appear not to have been considered by the Committee. Perhaps they did not feel it came within their province — perhaps they did not think of it — I shouldn't wonder at that, considering the vast amount of data they gathered and had to try and assimilate. The point I mention arises from a statement of the General Manager of the Railway contained on page 6: "The General Manager states that the main line needs retailing, that seven new locomotives, and some new rolling stock must soon be purchased. These expenditures, which cannot it seems, long be delayed, will run up into millions of dollars."
The Newfoundland Railway in recent years has come in for a great deal of criticism, some of it deserved, a lot of it unthinking, a great deal of it unjustifiable. To my mind, the history of railroading in this country, the story of the railway is on the whole an epic of great triumph. The building, maintenance and operation of our cross- country line has been put by some observers on a par with similar trans-continental operations in the United States and Canada. This criticism is not, however, without reason. For the fact remains that it still takes an express train over a day to cover 546 miles from eastern to western terminus. A person who flies from New York or Montreal to Gander in a few hours, takes perhaps 12 to 16 hours to reach St. John's by rail, and so on. I know that trains will never be able to travel as fast as aeroplanes, but they can travel as fast as automobiles, at least they do in other countries. I am quite aware too, that in other countries, there are trains a lot slower and a lot worse-appointed than our trains — but again I am not making comparisons. I am merely saying these few things as a lead-up to a question that has always bothered me whenever the Newfoundland Railway is on the carpet, namely this business of the narrow gauge. For that, it appears to me, is the chief drawback of our railway system.
In previous debates on other matters, some delegates have asked in jocose mood or otherwise, why we persist in believing that we are right and the rest of the world is wrong on certain questions. I make the same observation on the matter of our railway and its narrow gauge. In debating this report yesterday, almost every delegate made the observation that he was not a railroad man, as though to apologise for his remarks if they should prove to be stupid, irrelevant or anything else. I make no apology in referring to the narrow gauge road that traverses this country, since it is the greatest drawback not only to the efficient, but also to the profitable operation of this vital public utility. The standard gauge railroad, 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches, is in use in the United States, Canada, Mexico, England, the continent of Europe, and Australia, amongst other countries. In Europe, it is true, as well as in other countries, there are considerable mileages of smaller gauge, especially in mountainous districts, such as Switzerland and parts of Germany. But the main trunk lines, if not exactly 4 feet 8 1/2 inches, are so close to that gauge as to permit the through running of locomotives and rolling stock. Thus by means of train ferry steamers, which carry locomotives and rolling stock on their decks, it is possible for British rolling stock to cross the continent on the Harwich to Zeebrugge train feny, traverse all central Europe, and by means of similar steamers, reach Scan 246 NATIONAL CONVENTION January 1947 dinavia, and even cross to Sicily from the Italian mainland. Similarly, continental rolling stock can arrive in England if it is not too large for the smaller British loading gauge.
Consider the possibilities if such a position obtained in this country, if we adopted the standard gauge. Just before the Convention adjourned for the Christmas recess, we were debating another section of the report of the Transportation and Communications Committee, namely the tourist trade. Consider what a boost such an innovation in our railway system would mean to the growth of a great tourist trade. People from the Gulf of Mexico not having to leave their railway cars until they reached their destination in whatever part of Newfoundland they desired to reach. Apart from that big consideration, there would be the added advantages of speed in transportation, so necessary in the world today. Travel time across the island could be cut to half the time, and less, for the trains could travel at twice their highest speed (40 mph) and more, without the danger of running off the rails. Bigger trains could haul heavier loads, and so on.
This may sound a trifle ambitious to some of you, but it doesn't to me. It is certainly a matter for consideration in relation to the future, and it's to the future that we are looking. No matter how many roads we build, including a cross-country highway, we are still going to need a railroad, at least for another 50 to 100 years, unless the atomic energy commission can work out a speedy method whereby the nations can dish out tablets or capsules which we can pop in our mouths and be whisked away to the bounds of the earth. In other countries the roads did not supplant the railways, and there's no reason to suppose it will happen here.
Therefore, when I see and note that it is in the minds and plans of the Railway management to re-rail the main line, and purchase new locomotives and rolling-stock, I cannot refrain from asking the question that has always bothered me in relation to the railway, "What about the standard-gauge?" Has the Railway management given serious thought to the matter of introducing the standard gauge in this country? I have no doubt it has been thought about a lot, but has it been given serious thought? Have the whys and wherefores been thoroughly gone into the pros andcons exhaustively discussed? The time has come when this matter must be considered if we are to make the progress we desire to make. It is not enough for someone, even someone in this Convention to get up and say the whole thing is impossible, prohibitive, and to raise a number of apparently insuperable obstacles. This is not meant to be critical of governments, past or present, or of the Railway, or even of the Committee which produced this Comprehensive report. It is simply an opinion I have, which is shared by many others. I make therefore no apology for these few comments, for our deliberations concern the future; they concern the costs of government in the future; they concern the costs of public utilities like the Railway, and whenever the costs are discussed, we should make every effort to see if the country is getting, and is going to get the maximum results from them.
I can understand that neither Mr. Smallwood nor his Committee may be in a position to answer this question, nor prepared to discuss it; but I feel that the Convention should take note of it. If we are to spend some millions of dollars in the next few years to re-rail our main railway line, surely to goodness we might just as well go a little farther and adopt the standard gauge.... I am hoping that my remarks may be termed a constructive suggestion that may serve to bring this important matter more into the public gaze, where they can attempt to appraise the situation and express their views on the matter also....
Mr. Smallwood Contrary to Mr. Harrington's guess, the Committee did go into that very matter. When we met in the office of the General Manager of the Railway, that very question of narrow gauge versus standard gauge was discussed. The difficulty is bridges; there are many between St. John's and Port-aux-Basques, which were made to accommodate narrow gauge and would not now accommodate standard gauge. Not only would you have to replace the rolling stock, but the bridges. Consider what is involved in the replacing of rolling stock.... All that would have to go as well as nearly all the existing bridges along the main line.
The main advantage would be in connection with the tourist trade. I, too, would like to see the Gulf crossed regularly by train ferry service. A boat leaving North Sydney would take the trains aboard and bring them over, and set them on the rails at Port-aux-Basques. Has Mr. Harrington January 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 247 considered the cost of such a ferry? The new one which has just been launched to serve Prince Edward Island is costing $5 million. To accommodate that boat they have got to spend $6 million to enlarge the terminal facilities at each end of the run.... At a rough guess, to get the new equipment and the ferry on the Gulf, it will run up to $50 million. That, I am afraid, is a little too rich for our blood. I appreciate Mr. Harrington's interest, but I wish to assure him that that is a matter which the Transportation Committee did investigate.
Mr. Ashbourne I would like to correct what I said regarding the express train at Lewisporte, that this year passengers had to leave the express. That should have been last year, not 1947, because at the present time the train from Lewisporte does meet all the expresses that come through. But last spring, (1946) and early in the summer, the train from Lewisporte only met certain expresses.
There is another point, and it is that when the railway was built out there, Norris Ann was supposed to be the water point, so to speak, and that's why the railroad was brought out to Norris Arm, but had people had the vision at that time to see the great port of Lewisporte as it is today, I think these men would have put the main line right out to Lewisporte, and I believe it could have been done at very little cost, and it would be a great convenience to the travelling people.... I feel very strongly in advocating that the Railway management seriously consider the matter of putting Lewisporte on the main line.
Mr. Bailey I have been handicapped the past few days with a cold, and have not been able to take part in the discussion, but I have been listening attentively when I could. I have heard the description of conditions throughout the island, and would like to have something to say about the way things have been handled in general. I don't think anybody has been treated worse than the people who belong to the district (Trinity South) which I come from. When you have had things and had them taken away from you, it hurts a lot more.
I am glad that Mr. Vincent has seen his way to make that speech about the Commission of Government. When he made his earlier speech, I don't think there was anybody I felt like shaking more than Mr. Vincent. Ever since I came back to this country I have been like the Irishman, "agin it", and as time goes on lam more against it. I don't believe that we have got a fair representation. We had a royal commission come out here[1], I was not in the country at that time, and it harked back to our old responsible government, but that government gave us, where I come from, a wharf at New Chelsea that must have cost $8,000; a wharf at Hant's Harbour, and you have got to take a mark to find where that was today; at Winterton there was a wharf, and at New Perlican; and at Heart's Content we had a wharf that cost $80,000, and a 12,000 ton ship could load at it. From Heart's Content to Whitbourne we had a railroad that cost the country, the old "irresponsible" political parties, $1 million, and it gave good service. It got to a situation where they could not find $200,000 to ballast the track and put it back again. I was one of the committee that was fighting the government to hold the railroad to Heart's Content. They said they had to put the rails somewhere else in the country, but I found out that $350,000 was spent to build sheds in St. John's. Now we work with committees, and find out that it cost $500,000 dollars to put a road where there was a good road, between St. John's and Woodstock. When you consider the money that responsible government spent and the money that Commission of Government is spending, you begin to wonder what it is all about. I am sure that one of the other ideas of the home government, was that they would relieve the depression in Newfoundland by building railroads. They quit building roads, at a cost of 15 or 20 cents an hour, because the cost was prohibitive; surely they don't expect us to build roads now when the British government would notbuild them in 1938 because they were too costly.
When the cost of living came up here today I could not help admiring Mr. Fudge when he spoke. I am sure Mr. Figary was right there on the spot with the railroad men, but I did not see anybody get up and say anything about John the fisherman. I don't know what is expected of the men today who catch fish. You hear talk about the cost of living, but I know men who went on the Labrador last summer and after they paid their company account (the lowest was about $270 and the highest $360) they had to live out of that.
They are home now working their souls out to get a bit of wood for the winter. Altogether, their income for the year will be anywhere between $550 and $750 a year. I can assure the people in this House that if there is no fish caught next year there will not be any money spent on the roads, either on Avalon Peninsula or transinsular roads, although I believe in them. We have got to get the fishermen of this country on a paying standard. I am going to take this up later when the Fishery Report comes in. We must see that the fishermen can earn the money so that the politicians will be able to go ahead and do those things. That's where I stand. I concur, to use Professor Wheare's word, with Mr. Higgins, and I am sure that nobody in this world was treated worse than we were.
We had a large amount of money, about $6,000, spent in 1938 on the roads from Victoria Village[1] down. Last year a Plymouth truck tried to get over those roads and could not. On the $223,000 road from Heart's Content to Whitbourne, cars could not get through. When you get to Winterton hill you get some men to take a rope, put your car off the road and attach the rope, and pull the car through the trees, and finally get it on the road again. You might have it stuck for a week or two on that road. When you had responsible government that was a good road. That's what we have been up against.
We have in St. John's 63,000 people, which in comparison with the mral population is out of all proportion. The population of Trinity South has dropped two-thirds in the past few years, and a lot of them are in here. In the spring when the boats came in to load, most everybody got a few days work, and when there was a good harbour and a good wharfit was all right. This is the thing we have been up against — but I don't understand it. That's still the position we are faced with. Today you have got to go 49 or 50 miles before you can connect with anything at all. I think that the quicker we can change this the better for the country. I believe it would cost $150,000 to put the branch railroad back in its place. We pleaded with Sir Wilfred Woods, put up every argument possible, but in spite of that the railroad was taken away from us. I believe the quicker we can get clear of this form of government the better. One thing we want to do is put our house in order, so that the people who produce the wealth of this country, the fishermen, can make a living. Let us get them earning. If you don't you will be in the same place four years from today as you were six years ago.
Mr. Northcott I strongly support Mr. Ashboume's remarks. There is one bright spot, you know — Lewisporte. The branch line this year brought in a credit balance of $58,000. Then they took the line away and we had to walk! I think that main line should be swung on to Lewisporte and Norris Arm to save all that unnecessary expense. Lewisporte, though small, is a very progressive little town, second to none as far as taxes and revenue are concerned. It has 1,000 people and we have gone over the $200,000 mark in revenue alone. When we come to roads we have a trail. Thanks to the local government we have started now; and I hope in the near future it will be more than 25 cents per mile. I therefore go on record that there should be a main line to Lewisporte.
Mr. Smallwood I would like to remind Mr. Northcott that it is not quite the case that the Lewisporte branch was the only one that showed a surplus. The Argentia line and the Lewisporte line both show an operating profit, and they are the only ones that do.
I was much interested in what Mr. Bailey said. It is only fair to say this: the government is spending $2.5 million a year on roads, but if you go back to just before the war and look at what the government spent then on roads and bridges, you will find that in 1938, on the construction of new roads, they spent only $12,000.... The total amount they spent was only $480,000, as against $2.5 million today. The point is that up to 1938 or 1939 we were not paying our way as a country. There was a deficit every year. After that we began to have a surplus, and we have had one every year, and it is only since they have had a surplus, money from the taxpayers, that they spent any real money on roads; but when they were not getting it from us they were only spending $500,000 dollars on roads each year.
We must get this right. You have people in this country saying, "You would get no roads if you had any other kind of government", but the answer to that is, "We have got no roads and we still have Commission of Government." What January 1947 NATIONAL CONVENTION 249 made the difference between spending and not Spending money on roads? When we were not giving them enough money, then they did not spend money on roads, but when we began to pour the money in to them, they began to spend it; but it's our money all the same. It's only fair to say that. We must give credit where it is due, but not where it is not due. Roads will be built in future and maintained and repaired only if we give them the money to do it, whether it is Commission or some other government....
[The committee rose and reported progress and the Convention adjourned]


Newfoundland. The Newfoundland National Convention, 1946-1948 Vol 1: Debates. Edited by J.K. Hiller and M.F. Harrington Montreal: Memorial University of Newfoundland by McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995).



Selection of input documents and completion of metadata: Gordon Lyall.


  • [2] Volume II:75. [Volume II is not in The Confederation Debates Collection]
  • Volume II:91. [Volume II is not in The Confederation Debates Collection]
  • [1] Volume II:93. [Volume II is not in The Confederation Debates Collection]
  • [1] On Random Island, Trinity Bay.
  • [1] Volume II:85. [Volume II is not in The Confederation Debates Collection]
  • Newfoundland Royal Commission 1933, Report (Cmd. 4480, 1933).
  • [1] Near Carbonear, Conception Bay.

Participating Individuals: