Where, Then, Does the Movement Begin?
First: in a feeling of dislike for "the railroads."
The early history of the roads is heroic, but not, I think, morally beautiful. Perhaps it could not have been much different. In my experience your man of even-handed justice and unswerving loyalty to the highest code of ethics never has, never does, never can, without altering his nature, blast out new paths of enterprise. Railroads were one of the earliest manifestations of organized Capital. Capital like any other great force or power—like rivers, tides, steam, electricity, opiates, young horses, kings, children, or organized labor—has to be tamed!
The railroads had their fling, but they are nearer under sound control in Canada than is any other department of Capital. And meantime, to my way of thinking, their former excesses have not one single thing to do with Nationalization!
Foolish charters? Monopolies such as that of the Toronto Street Railway? Privileges such as the railroads had before they were brought under the Dominion Railway Commission? Unregulated services? Unregulated rates? These iniquities must disappear from all departments of business enterprise as they have disappeared from the Canadian railroads. But on the railways these things have been settled: and prudent citizens do not confuse the old dead issues with the new.
Consider it this way: A certain village languished because the dams thrown across the river at that point were again and again swept away by floods and the millers ruined. The villages sought a man who would build a dam strong enough to hold the river, and a substantial mill that would bring traffic through the village for all time to come.
But the qualities which made him successful in building the proper sort of dam—his cunning, his determination, his tenacity of purpose applied equally to his activities among the people. In their first eagerness to obtain the benefits of his qualities they allowed him to obtain the position of an overlord and oppressor.
Long after he had been tamed and was indeed dead, those whom he had injured or offended remembered his iniquities against his son. The son was a law-abiding man, and confined himself to making the mill a success. But seeing the wealth which the miller had amassed from the mill they felt suddenly that the village should take back the site on the shore of the river which had been donated to encourage the old miller in the first place.
"No," said others, "that would be confiscation, and it would soon apply to everybody's business. Let us buy out the mill and get rid of the son."
They bought the mills and in time were ruined—not because Public Ownership of a mill must necessarily fail, but because the whole basis of their action had been spite! Resentment and malice had led them where business judgment should have shown a better way.
Nationalization of Canadian Railways is in danger of being decided as unwisely.
What About Land Grants?
The history of Canada includes some very unpleasant records of public lands and public moneys thrown away. The whole of the public lands of Prince Edward Island were given away in one day. The famous estates of some of the best known Ontario families were based on land grants obtained by "pull."
Let us assume there was no justification for railway land grants. Take the most hostile view of the matter.
Let the Dominion of Canada enter action to recover such lands if it feels that course to be right.
But keep the two issues clear!
The newspaper or public speaker who drags these matters into the discussion of the railways of Canada and their proposed Nationalization is guilty of an attempt to take the public mind away from the real issue, and of using foul means, even unpatriotic means, to move his constituency to endorse him and his policy.
the Existence of Great Corporations Menaces the Purity of Our Legislators!
Corruption is possible so long as Governments are corruptible.
The corruption of legislatures by railways is much less likely to occur and much easier detected and punished than that corruption of both Parliament and the railways, which, if our Governments cannot be trusted, must very rapidly follow Nationalization.
The policeman corrupt enough to bargain with a burglar is surely not to be given a cash box!
Fear of the "influence" of the wealthy corporations at Ottawa is not the least of the primary motives of the "Nationalizers." But surely no more pathetic reason for wishing Nationalization has yet been advanced for placing in the hands of corruptible men—if they remain corruptible—such temptation as more Nationalized railways.