AN ADDRESS BY SIR ALEXANDER GIBB, G.B.E., C.B.
14th September, 1931
PRESIDENT STAPELLS was in the chair. He introduced SIR ALEXANDER GIBB who said:-May I thank you most sincerely for the honour you have done me in this invitation to meet and address such a distinguished gathering of the citizens of your great city. This is not my first visit to Toronto but it is some years since I was last here, and there are few large cities where extensions and improvements have been so rapid, continuous and imposing. It is, accordingly, always a matter of great interest to me to come to Toronto, and I congratulate you on the steady progress you are making-progress due largely to a happy combination of imagination and caution.
I have chosen the subject of Transportation on which to say a few words, because it is one of the most urgent questions in Canada at the moment, for the extent and pace of your development depends on the proper administration of your transport, perhaps more than in any other country. Your Government has just appointed a Royal Commission to enquire principally into the question of Railway and Highway competition. Its attention will no doubt also be directed to other aspects of the transport problem. This is all to the good. You cannot afford to allow uneconomic developments to impair your strength and jeopardize your future.
You may be aware that I am investigating, for the Canadian Government, another vital transport question, namely your national ports. I would not attempt to anticipate the results of these enquiries. The subject is vast and the difficulties are great. But I may be able to offer some suggestions and advice born out of a fairly long experience of such matters, and based largely on the history of transport in Great Britain, where all the mistakes that ever could be made have been made at one time or another. (Laughter).
After the War, when our Coalition Government created a new Ministry of Transport intended to co-ordinate all methods of communication, I accepted, under the title of Director-General of Engineering, the task of organizing that side of the business; I devoted some years to questions of London traffic, railway amalgamations, railway electrification" improvement and control of navigable waters, the possibilities of our canals, the reconstruction of bridges to meet new conditions, the development of ports-and so on.
Under some pressure and in a weak moment I undertook to write, a few years ago, the article on Transport for the new edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. This was done with the burning of much midnight oil and the involved study of transportation problems from the time of Adam. I have never, however' regretted the labour. I believe, that difficult as is your task, it is light compared with the problems with which the old country was, and still is, faced, because of its many fixed traditions and its multiplicity of vested interests.
One of the outstanding features in all studies of Transportation" in fact it is an axiom, is that the various forms of transportation are, and should be, complementary and neither monopolistic nor inter-destructive. Once they are brought into artificial and exaggerated competition by unequal development, subsidizing or other means, then it can only be a matter of time before your commodities are no longer being carried in the most economical way. I think it unfortunate that the basis of rate charging for carriage of goods and passengers is the capacity of a commodity to pay, rather than the cost of carriage. For instance, to take an extreme case, although gold costs no more to carry than iron the rates charged are immensely greater. There seems to be no hope of altering this now, and there are, of course, arguments on the other side.
The civilized world has passed the early stages of transport development-the pack man, camel, mule and horse. There are now four main forms., namely, waterborne, railways, highways and air. Sea-borne traffic is considerably the cheapest; there are many cases in which the freight rate frown Europe to the American Continent is no more than the cost of local delivery. Canal-borne traffic is not in the same category. The great cost of modern canal building has to be taken into consideration.
After water-carriage, the most economical mode of transport for heavy goods carried for long distances, and in large quantities, is by railroad. There is a line of demarcation where, owing to the lighter and varied nature of the freight, it becomes more economical to carry it by motor transport. There is no doubt in my mind that, owing to the Government subsidies on highways, much traffic in Great Britain is carried by road which ought to be carried by railways. Carriage by air, although the most costly form of transport, will come more into use on account of its rapidity, and because of the fact, already referred to,, that the amount charged for the carriage is what the commodity can afford to pay.
You have, no doubt, made mistakes like the rest of us; they were largely the indiscretions of youth; you have done no more than young people will, for whom Providence has ordained that experience is to be bought, not inherited. The time comes, however, when you must consider whether youthful indiscretion may not be becoming bad habits. The price you pay for experience may be too high.
It is as true now as ever that one cannot continue to spend more than one's income without eventual impoverishment. You have two magnificent railway systems as great and important as any in the world. It is idle to argue, as some have, whether the one or the other has been the more assisted by public money. Whatever has been spent goes to increase the burden which your traffic must for ever bear. I have seen that immense undertaking the Welland Ship Canal; I have recently had under my consideration some aspects of the St. Lawrence Deep Waterway Scheme. These are great projects, worthy in size and imagination of your great country, magnificent conceptions that are likely to have a definite effect on the transportation question. But I would point out one fallacy that sometimes persists-though you charge no canal dues you are nevertheless quite as definitely paying for transport as you do on the railways.
This is also true of highways; you are projecting a national highway from sea to sea. In this Province you have already built an admirable network of roads. t am not fully acquainted with their locations, although I know some of them well; they are just what they should be-essentially pioneer roads to open up new territories. When they cease to be that, and become duplicate lines to the existing means of transportation then you will pile up a debt which you or your children may find it difficult to bear. I have found the same tendency in your ports. Local ambitions have led to the subsidization of rival harbours, with a result that, except in time of great prosperity, none can secure the amount of traffic that would allow the most efficient and the cheapest service. It is an evil that no country has avoided, and one from which Great Britain has greatly suffered. It is none the less a mistake that should be prevented or minimized.
You have, as I have said, wonderful means of communication; this has made possible the development and progress of the last generation" but it has cost a great deal. If you will forgive the criticism, you have to a certain extent overspent yourselves. At the present time your facilities are in advance of your means. I fully share your high hopes of the future. Almost anything is possible for you, but your first great expansion is past. It will require self-sacrifice, level-headedness, great determination and energy to ensure the same rapid increase of prosperity that characterized this country in the first thirty years of this century. The curve will, I am satisfied, be upward, but it will require increasing vigilance to maintain your progress. It will not be safe to rely on an exceptional growth of population to rectify the mistakes of optimism. Do not try to advance too quickly.
There is one other point I would like to touch on though I do not propose to give you my views regarding it; that is the vexed question of public or private ownership of public utilities. I will merely say this-that the only ultimate test of efficiency that I have found, is that of ordinary business, where efficiency means success, and inefficiency, extinction. I know of no Government-controlled commercial undertaking that has permanently solved the problem of maintenance of efficiency. I do not say that it is insoluble, but it has not yet been done.
I have been asked to say a few words about the Toronto Harbour. Well" gentlemen, I would like again to congratulate you; you have a most wonderful harbour here. What impresses me is that Providence has been exceedingly kind to you, and that you on your part have taken full advantage of what was there. It is a sheltered harbour, and it is large enough to allow room for expansion; one feels, when going around it, that it is well managed, and that even in these bad times there is an air of prosperity about it. Certainly in good times it must be a place worth coming to see. One of the points that strikes me is the hinterland. You have a marvelous hinterland, and that is one of the chief factors which a harbour must have, to be efficient. I venture to prophesy that Toronto will be a more important part of Canada than it is today. (Applause). I cannot say more than that, because I have to be very careful--(laughter)--newspaper reporters have a habit of putting down things that we do not say. (Laughter). I wish to express my conviction that many of the things I saw show that the engineering was excellent, and I should say that your work has been very cheaply and efficiently carried out. I was also impressed by the police boat, for dealing with casualties and life-saving, which passed us. It looked to me like a man-of-war boat, and appeared most efficient. Lifesaving is a most important factor in a place like this; I was asking about the results of that boat's work and they seemed to me highly satisfactory.
Before sitting down I would like to thank you very cordially indeed for asking me to come here today, and for giving me the great honour and great pleasure of meeting you. Toronto is a very well-known place on the other side, and any Britisher who is asked to address such a meeting as this ought to be exceedingly proud of himself. I hope no one will resent any criticism I have made. I speak from the fullness of my admiration and love for your country. I am particularly proud to be associated with your country in action as well as in thought, and I confidently wish you all success in your country's great undertakings. (Loud applause).
Mx. J. E. GANONG, Chairman of the Toronto Harbour Board, expressed the sincere thanks of the audience for the interesting address.