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MP chores « Douglas Fisher

Fisher

 

Reflections: MP Chores
Transcripts of interviews with Douglas

My approach to it when I was an MP was that I had to do my best for the preferences of my constituents, particularly, the ones that did not conflict with what the party’s (inaudible) might be. That really was not so hard. One of the things that the party was against – and what all the parties were pretty much against – was any shutting down of services that had been operating for a long time. These were things such as the package freight services used during the shipping season from the Lakehead down to Montreal.

There was also a changing of the passenger train services. Almost from the time I got down to Ottawa, the railways began to cut down their number of passenger trains. They each had two transcontinental trains a day going at the time. Every day, two trains left Montreal for Vancouver for both CN and Canadian Pacific. The CPR ran the Canadian and The Dominion, which were twelve-to-twenty-five car passenger trains that still had pretty good business. However, when the Trans-Canada Highway was finished, rail travel really began to drop. There were a couple of summers in the early sixties when it seemed that all the people of Canada were getting in their cars and driving across the country because the new roads were open. That did reduce the passenger numbers on the train.

More than that, it was the rapid growth of air travel that was really beginning to skim the big-money traffic. Things really got off the ground when Trans Canada Airlines got the Viscount, a quality airplane that kept to its schedules and was a reasonable price. The airline made a fair bit of money on it. For example, the Lakehead became a port-of-call. It had two flights a day in and out; connecting the small city with Toronto and Winnipeg. That usually took 150-200 people every day. That may not sound like much now, but it really was back then. Most of the passengers had been using the train. Also, for people who were really low on money, the Trans Canada Highway opened up the bus routes. That was the cheapest way to get across the country.

All of that stuff was part of my riding and region. We gradually dropped passenger railway traffic. First it was the trains being shortened. Then each railroad dropped one. When I came in after the 1957 election, the CPR was introducing their big, new Canadian. The CPR really made a big, big effort to get rail traffic and they did. But it was not enough and they had expected so much from those trains. So, transport is a good example of how the changes in technology affect the economy.

Following the Second World War, there had long been agreement that we needed a good Trans-Canada Highway. Unlike those on the Praries, we in northern Ontario never did get a road of the quality we would have liked. One of the problems there was that we had two traffic routes. The CN ran the northern route, which began parallel to the railways. The CPR ran south. So there were two highways that came together in Nipigon. The one from Kapuskasing and Geraldtown turned south at Nipigon and joined with the CPR. Then they both went south for 90 miles to the Lakehead and then they turned west and went up over the height of land at Rake (inaudible) and on through to Winnipeg.

One thing that I was happy to have not dealt with much was the condition of local roads. That was a provincial responsibility, but I heard so much about it. Some of the roads in that region were just terrible, like bush roads. Now I did have to do some work on it. I knew that to be an effective MP I had to deal with an awful lot of provincial matters. Whenever you are a new MP, you are a bit of a hero. If people want something, they go to their MP, even if their concerns were a provincial matter. I got an awful lot of education inquiries too. All those small towns had complaints about teaching, including the two communities with a French-English problem: Long Lac and Geraldtown. The French wanted schools in their own language, which the Catholic priests wanted too. Of course, their argument was that the only political party that understands them is the Liberals. ‘We are French-Canadians!

When one looks across the whole panorama of what the federal government does, MPs end up being very busy. One of the toughest things was the immigration and citizenship cases in my riding. The man in charge of endowing people with citizenship at the Lakehead was a judge who was a very persnickety guy. He was married to the older sister of a school chum of mine named Ty Pollack, who once said of his brother-in-law: “Doug, he is such a shit that I can smell him as soon as he gets to the door.


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