Canadian Transport Sourcebook

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Canadian Transport Sourcebook > All works> 52 Questions on the Nationalization of Canadian Railways > Chapter 9

IX

But—
War Has Changed the Public?

In some things!

If in the exalted mood which war sustained in the Public there were still inefficient departments at Ottawa, still partisanship, still seekers after patronage—and there were—men need not hope for better in the inevitable reaction after the War. The exalted mood will not long remain to sustain us.

What then?

One form of Government, and one form only, can be efficient in executive matters: Bureaucracy because it boasts a suppressed and controlled public opinion. Democracy with its free public opinion is inevitably inefficient in executive matters. It has a loftier function, a higher goal, slow to attain, and not to be abandoned for the mere whim of the Nationalizers.

But the Government Will Place the Railways out of Politics!

That does not answer the prime objection just pointed out: the owner remains the same, the capricious, sensitive, imaginative public.

And "the top" is closed. No ambitious young officers will dream of becoming master of this road. It is everybody's road and therefore no one's!

But—
We Shall Appoint a Commission of Business Men!

What a naive confession of our faith in Private enterprise rather than Public enterprises to develop great executives!

Why has the Intercolonial Railway not one senior executive developed from within itself?

Why are critics always saying that "we should get business men into the Government?"

Why is the field for developing executives outside, not inside the executive departments of Government?

Why do most of the efficient men, once in the executive department of Government service, seem to dwindle at once into numb-faced Civil servants?

Because they have already run their course and spent the impetus of their youthful ambition in private service.

And because, if they have a spark of it left, they miss the old freedom! The thrill of creating for themselves with their own hands, uninterrupted so long as they obey the law.

"The top" is closed and the caprice of a democratic Public breaks—nine times out of ten—the spirit.

For the man coming in or the man coming up the most significant elements in the situation are these: First, a capricious master; a master whom one cannot hope, by any degree of patience and worth, to succeed; second, a closed "top."

The Case of the Rajah.

A rajah bought, let us say, incense for his temples from a mud-walled factory owned by a Jew and manned by diligent Chinese boys. The price of incense and the quality were both fixed by a special officer of the court.

On the advice of a fakir, who disapproved of the Jew's religion—and profit, the rajah bought out the business and made one of the noblest courtiers in the land its manager.

Yet within a year, though the boys were beaten and threatened, and coaxed and bribed—the quality of the incense fell away.

The old incentive was removed. The best boys, those who had dreamed of succeeding the Jew some day and of being known in the bazaar as Yo Shin the Maker of Incense, knew now there was no longer such a possibility. The "top" was closed. To be known even as Master of the Rajah's Incense Rooms was outside their scope. They were incense-makers, not politicians.

There is a second part to this parable:

The rajah finally dismissed the old noblemen and sent far and wide for the men highest in the incense trade.

One said: "I am getting tired of my own business. I have got all that I want. I would like some public honors." So he accepted.

Another said: "I would like to let my grandchildren remember me as an officer of the Rajah. My business will take care of itself." And he went.

A third said: "I'm getting old, and I've lost a lot of money on the camel races lately. I guess I'd better get in out of the cold." So he went.

But not one of them went with the enthusiasm once given his own little struggling business!

And in time, the First wearied of the Rajah's whims and resigned.

The Second was beheaded for grafting.

The Third "laid low." He needed the money!

Meanwhile the ablest of the Chinese boys vanished to start incense industries—oftheirown!

[Public Domain] Copyright/Licence: This work was first published in 1960 or earlier, and the author of the work was anonymous. To the best of my knowledge, the author of the work was unknown at the end of the year 50 years after the work was published, meaning that this work would be in the public domain in Canada, per section 6.2 of the Copyright Act. Note also this link. See disclaimers.