From Free Markets to Regulation and Back Again: Cycles in Transportation, Grain Marketing, and Economic Thought

In 1881, in Bonfield, Ontario, the first spike was driven in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Sir John A. Macdonald immediately predicted that “the CPR can go on its own way for its own interests, and in the long run, the interests of the CPR and those of the Dominion are identical.” CPR President William van Horne, however, expressed a different view when he defined the company’s interest for a U.S. Senate committee. The railway, he said, “was built for the purpose of making money for shareholders and for no other purpose under the sun.” Macdonald’s statement was clearly political. Van Horne’s might be classified as either a fond hope, a PR gambit, or something of a delusion. As historian Gerry Friesen observed: “The CPR was both a privately held, profit oriented corporation and a state enterprise … and when its board of directors, or the Canadian people, ignore the inconvenient half of the dualism, they merely open themselves to greater irritation” (Friesen, 177). Friesen’s comment applies to more than the CPR; most transportation enterprises are partly commercial and partly a public service, and this same dualism runs through the history of grain marketing. Moreover, although we do not recognise it so often, it also runs through economic thought and public policy about free enterprise in general. This paper will trace the way this dualism has manifested itself in both transportation and grain policy in Canada through a very long cycle from free markets to regulation and back, and how this cycle reflects parallel developments in economic theory, public opinion, and government policies, in both Canada and abroad. It ends with some reflections on what might be learned from these remarkable fluctuations in outlook.


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Media Info

  • Media Type: Web
  • Pagination: 1 PDF file, 78 KB, 15p.
  • Monograph Title: Canadian Transportation Research Forum 50th Annual Conference - Another 50 Years: Where to From Here?//Un autre 50 ans : qu'en est-il à partir de maintenant? Montreal, Quebec, May 24-26, 2015

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Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01605009
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: Transportation Association of Canada (TAC)
  • Files: ITRD, TAC
  • Created Date: Jul 26 2016 5:03PM