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“The evidence and documents placed before us do not disclose any dissatisfaction on the part of the commercial community with the main features of the existing law and procedure; while evidence and statistics from official sources shew that there has been a large reduction in the amount of insolvency throughout the country since the present sys. tem came into force. The matters of complaint and suggestions for reform of the law which we have had to deal with have principally related to special incidents of the law and branches of its administration.”
MUNICIPALITIES AND HIGHWAYS.
The rapid advance in certain lines of development in Canada is sometimes strikingly illustrated by provincial anl Dominion statutes. Legislatures usually move slowly, but occasionally in seeking to fulfil their regulating powers hysterical efforts are made to keep pace with the advancing tide of progress or perhaps to satisfy clamorous constituents, by passing rather startling restrictive measures. A good example of this is seen in the amendment to the Ontario Motor Vehicles Act, whereby the owner or driver of a motor vehicle, simply by reason of his being on a highway with his motor, is by statute held guilty of wrongdoing in case of an accident until he proves his innocence. This, of course, is a subversion of all ideas of British justice, but no doubt the Legislature recognizing its helplessness to regulate properly the rapidly growing traffic, sought to pacify a section of the community by such an unfair piece of class legislation.
Ten years ago very few of the general public outside of the most skilled electricians and consequently very few members of Parliament would have dreamed of the very extensive development shortly to be made in the application and transmission of electrical energy, or the part that the great waterways of Canada were and are yet to play in the industrial development of the country. Consequently when in 1902, a syndicate composed of Mr. James Ross, of Montreal; Mr. William Mackenzie, Mr. Henry M. Pellatt, Mr. Frederick Nicholls, and Mr. S. G. Beatty, all of Toronto, made application to the Canadian Parliament for the incorporation of a company for the purposes among others to carry wires for electric power over any bridge across the Niagara river and connect with the wires of any similar company in the United States, and further to conduct electricity along or across any public highway as fully set forth in the act of incorporation, one can well understand the dazzling picture that the prospect of such a pioneer company in full operation would present. The act, it is true, contained many restrictive clauses of a more or less mild nature, sufficient, as it was no doubt thought, to regulate in the interest of the public the operations of a company so strikingly and manifestly philanthropic in its intentions. One side of the shield, however, seems not to have been turned, and while the country as a whole was undoubtedly to receive a great impetus from this private enterprise, the danger and inconvenience involved was so obscured as to call for the subsequent judicial comment that “the like safeguards (contained in other charters) are conspicuously omitted from the Act of 1902. It cannot be because the danger of electrical transmission is being lessened by efflux of time, but perhaps there was not sufficient vigilance exercised during the passage of this Act in the interests of public safety.” This comment is also the gist of the judgment of the Court of last resort in the same case, The Toronto and Niagara Power Company v. North Toronto. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council merely interpreted the text of the existing Dominion legislation as they found it. This legislation, like most legislation, was passed in an effort to meet two conflicting interests, the encouragement of private enterprise to result in a certain public benefit, on the one hand, and the protection of municipal rights in municipal property on the other. The growing list of decisions from the Privy Council adverse to municipalities where there rights come into conflict with the claims of private corporations, can be traced in almost every case to the tender regard entertained by Parliament for the incorporators of companies, or as above expressed “insufficient vigilance for public safety.” Various amendments and circuitous clauses are incorporated in many of these charters, which upon their face look sufficiently protective, only to be found on more exhaustive examination to be annulled or so modified by other sections as to lose entirely their apparent effect. Even skilled Judges and interpreters of the law are sometimes misled. For such a condition of things the only hope is in better legislation more clearly expressed. There can be no doubt that public sentiment as represented by members of Parliament will find a means of holding the scales fairly and evenly, so as not unduly to discourage private enterprise, and at the same time fully protect all existing rights.
The judgment in the case referred to is significant only in so far as it raises the presumption that there may be other companies in existence with similar sweeping powers, who will not hesitate to use them if challenged. There is also the feature which is sure to be realized at almost any moment, of the tremendous danger to life involved in the use of crowded thoroughfares for placing poles and wires for conveying heavy loads of electric power. That any private company, no matter how capable or how good its intentions, should be absolutely empowered without restraint of any sort in the conduct of works attended with such risks, apart altogether from the inconvenience occasioned to the highways, is hardly to be accepted by a public so watchful of its rights as the Canadian people usually are. It is safe to assume that the people of Canada, who are the final judges in cases depending on Dominion legislation, when dissatisfied with Privy Council decisions, will insist on their views being so clearly expressed on the statute books, that there will be no difficulty in interpretation. Parliament will, no doubt, in dealing with the matter, endeavour without hysteria, to find the proper remedy.
THE BALKAN QUESTION.
While negotiations are still in progress at the peace conference in London, it is unwise to comment on the result of the recent conflict in the Balkans, but undoubtedly the result will be that this question, so long the bug-bear of European diplomacy, will finally be set at rest, and that the Turk will ultimately be forced back into Asia Minor, where he will be more in accord with his environment. With this object in view the troublesome question of the balance of power is for the moment pushed into the background.
THE PANAMA CANAL.
Now that the excitement of the election contest is past, the United States will be in a position to take a normal view of mundane things, and no one doubts, least of all Great Britain, that the recent ebullition contained in President Taft's pre-election utterances on behalf of the Panama Canal, will be repudiated, for the American people are too just and fair-minded to stand idly by and allow their treaty obligations to be set at nought. The principle of neutralization of the Panama Canal, and sujecting it to the same regime as the Suez Canal, was the avowed object of the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, of 1901, and without doubt the new President of the United States and Congress will see that this object is duly carried out.
In a recent issue of the Law Times, a resumé of the judgment of the Privy Council was given in the case of The Toronto Niagara Power Company v. The Town of North Toronto, and in this issue will be found an article by Mr. T. A. Gibson, the solicitor for the town of North Toronto, who in conjunction with Sir Robert Finlay, appeared when the case was being argued.
BILLS IN PARLIAMENT.
As will be surmised, the great difficulty with bills of Parliament, both Dominion and Provincial, has hitherto been the lack of either skill or a sufficient consideration by the framers of these bills, previous to being brought before Parliament. In Great Britain the draughtsmen of parliamentary bills are chosen from the ablest lawyers in the country, men whose knowledge of parliamentary work and previous as well as impending legislation enables them to place before Parliament, bills, the object of which it is exceedingly difficult to defeat. Men of this calibre are remunerated in a manner commensurate with the importance of the work which they are employed to do, and there is no reason why men of equally high standing should not be employed in the performance of the same important work in Canada.
THE PROPOSED NAVAL CONTRIBUTION.
The announcement made by the Right Honourable R. L. Borden, Prime Minister of Canada, that the Government would make a direct grant of $35,000,000 to build and equip three modern dreadnoughts of the latest type, has been received on all sides with satisfaction, thus shewing not only to Great Britain, but to the world at large, the intention of Canada to assume her proper share in the defence of the Empire. Opinions may differ as to the proper method to be adopted by Canada in support of the navy, for although the grant proposed was called an emergency grant, as will be seen from the opinion expressed by the Glasgow Herald which is here quoted. No emergency exists, nor is the mother country unwilling to continue to bear the burden she has so long and so ably borne. The Glasgow Herald (Independent) says: “The Dominions are not, speaking correctly, coming to the assistance of a tired and exhausted motherland. “The motherland is not tired, and is very far from being exhausted. Great Britain, as every statesman from the overseas Dominions admits, is more full of energy and enthusiasm and of the industrial life and ability to maintain her place in the world than she ever has been. Her people are as willing and able as ever to bear the burdens necessary to keep her supreme at sea. There should be no mistake about the meaning of the contributions by the Dominions. No contribution from any of the Dominions, whether in the form originated by New Zealand and now adopted by the Malay States can relieve the mother country from the responsibility of maintaining an all-powerful navy.”