Mr. Speaker, it is with a heavy heart I rise to continue debate, but that is what we need to do here in the House of Commons on bills that make a difference for Canadians. We will do that in the spirit of what has been taking place. Mr. Chan and his family can rest assured that this bill is in the spirit of getting the co-operation of all the members in the House.
It is an important one for public safety. Bill S-2, an act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act, is about providing safety that we do not currently have for Canadians.
For those not aware, an automotive recall is not even enforceable in Canada when, for example, child seats are defective. Even if the safety or reliability of brakes or other components in a vehicle, and their data, are being questioned, a recall cannot be forced in this country. That is different from the situation in the United States.
My speech will focus on a few of these things. This bill is an opportunity to protect Canadian consumers and provide the reciprocity that is necessary.
It is interesting to note that I have been on record on this issue for over a decade in the House. In the past, no transport minister from any political party, whether Conservative or Liberal, could force the auto companies to do what is necessary. Ironically, throughout these years a series of accidents, insurance increases, and public safety issues have been neglected. In addition, consumers have been put at the lower end of that.
Right now the most notorious issues are with respect to Volkswagen and the manipulation of emissions and Toyota's wilful attempts to mislead the public with respect to the Prius. In this case reciprocity was not provided to Canada to match the settlements in the United States. Last is the issue with Takata airbags, which are defective in Canada, and we are treated as secondary citizens with respect to this recall. Every Takata airbag has issues, yet it has the entire market with respect to airbags and safety, so just about everybody has defective material in their car, and Canada's recall program is subservient to that of the United States.
I want to touch on a few figures as to how we got to this place, but it is important to recognize where we have been with the industry. Therefore, I am going to focus on the following: our rights as individuals with respect to consumer issues; on trade, with respect to where the industry has gone; on what has happened to diminish our capabilities for a recall in this matter; and on the future with respect to where we can go with this legislation when it goes for testimony and what would take place.
It is important to note that the legislation in Bill S-2 was previously brought in by then Minister Baird, who at that time had promised to bring this in under the Conservative regime. He came close to getting some amendments and changes, but there was a lack of political will and a lack of exercise to get this across the goal line on the final day. Unfortunately, it was a missed opportunity, but the first of the strong debates that took place here in the House of Commons related to the Toyota file. That file is important because it highlights that we do not get reciprocity now. As Transport Canada at that time was applauding Toyota for issuing a recall notice, the United States was having hearings, and it actually had the company president come to the United States to apologize. Toyota did not even bother to step into Canada at that time.
There was a multi-million-dollar settlement, and consumers were protected much more extensively in the United States. On top of that, the U.S. was given investments in new research and technology. What did Canada get? Zero. We got absolutely nothing related to that.
That was at a time when, for the last three decades, the industry had been crying for reciprocity related to standards. Therefore, there has been a good movement toward this.
It has been frustrating to see issues such as the bumper issue, for example, between the two countries become a problem, or when the different components of their manufacturing are not aligned properly, which was a lobbying-intensive industry action.
However, when it came to consumer rights, it was a different story for Canadians. There were different expectations with respect to consumers. More importantly, there was a weak-kneed government that, to this day, has decided to let a foreign nation set the rules, the compensation level, and the accountability of automakers in the United States. There is a complete abdication of responsibility happening until this bill is passed, because currently the transport minister has no official powers. He or she is an empty vessel. It does not matter what political party he or she is affiliated with. They have known this for a long time, and we have seen it affect Canadians. There are a number of cases that have been out there in the past. Therefore, we are glad to see this bill come forward, and I will touch on some of the new powers that are very important.
There was a last-ditch effort by the previous Conservative administration to table a bill in its dying days of government to address this issue. It has only now resurfaced because the airbag situation with Takata has reached such heightened proportions that we can rest assured that Canadians are shaken, whether it be through the Volkswagen or Toyota scandals. We went through the election with the Volkswagen scandal and saw Canadians not only lose tens of thousands of dollars in vehicle investment, but at a time when we had been asked to take the actions necessary to combat global warming by reducing emissions and pollution, there was also an organized complicit attempt, which was successful for a short time, to market this to Canadians, Americans, and people across the world with dishonesty, which increased emissions and pollution, and Volkswagen benefited from this financially. That resulted in financial penalties in the United States. However, there was nothing for consumers in Canada. Therefore, a class action private lawsuit is necessary because the government could not be bothered and is too lazy.
We finally have this bill coming from the other place, from the Senate. It was not tabled in the House of Commons, as we would have expected, by the Minister of Transport, given the fact that the previous Conservative regime had assembled the bill, which has been available and ready for two years, sitting on a shelf. The Liberals just had to dust it off, bring it forward, get it going, and get it done. Instead, it took the other place to get it going. The Liberals supposedly do not have a caucus in the Senate. Therefore, it seems it took a private member's initiative to get it going. That is what it is at the end of the day.
I am grateful this is related to the work of the previous minister of transport and the Conservatives because there is some good work that was done in this bill. For instance, the minister has the power to order a company to publish a notice of non-compliance as stipulated in the minister's order. Right now companies do not have to comply with that, but the minister would be able to force a recall on a child seat, for example, that has been ordered for recall and is not listed. He or she would be able to order a correction, and the companies would have to do additional inspections and follow ministerial orders.
While they would have it under lesser but quite significant powers, there is also the talk about designating enforcement officers with the power to enter into an administrative agreement for enforcing the act, enhanced powers for Transport Canada inspectors, and the power to exempt companies from the regulations under specifics. If they are going to be moving forward on new technology and new awareness, that would be important to it. I have some concerns about that, but there is some ministerial discretion in there; and it will be key whether there are going to be Transport Canada officials who are ready, trained, and available to do this work. I am very pleased that this is coming forward to do that.
There would also be monetary penalties and an appeal and tribunal element, which would bring more publicity to the files. That is important because having a government website for these is not sufficient or people finally bringing their car into the automotive repair shop and then finding out about a recall later on, are not the best ways to handle it. There would be enhanced powers for the inspectors and measures to support dealers.
One thing whose importance I want to make sure is noted is that it is unfortunate this country has moved and has not retained its automotive footprint. It is ironic right now, as I talk about these things, that we are currently in restructuring or re-discussions of a North America free trade agreement. When we signed with regard to NAFTA and free trade, we were at that time the number two automotive manufacturing country for assembly and production. That meant that a lot of the assembly and production took place, and the parts and other supporting manufacturing and innovation took place around it in clusters. The industry is known as clusters. Obviously for transportation and other matters, it is easier for it to be around the assembly component, and it is also better for resources to be drawn upon.
Things have changed to some degree with regard to materials. When we signed on to that agreement and even 10, 20, 30, and 40 years ago, steel was the main component of an automobile. It still is to this day, but now there are several compounds and elements that are used for different parts, including everything from plastic to some materials that are lighter and are also variations of different elements to make the vehicle lighter, stronger, more flexible, and so forth.
The big thing is that when we signed these trade agreements, we gave up the Auto Pact. The Auto Pact was about the production and manufacturing in Canada of vehicles that would then be shipped into the United States. It was a very positive trade agreement where we actually had access into the American market and did a lot of manufacturing and distributing into the United States. In fact, that is when we were at the height of the auto industry. When we signed on to free trade in NAFTA, that was later challenged by the Japanese to move their products into our areas, and we have since tumbled into eighth or ninth place. To see why that is important to this particular bill and this file, we look no further than the industry and the concentration of that industry on recalls. One example would be airbags—Takata recently filing for bankruptcy. Basically, in consolidating the entire industry under one manufacturer, there are increased vulnerabilities.
We have seen the concentration and we have seen Canada lose out. Good points are being made right now in terms of where we have lost a lot of jobs to Mexico and now to the southern United States through incentives and that, but the reality is that a lot of it is driven by lower wages. It is ironic that, in Mexico, the people who are assembling vehicles will never be able to afford them. It is not that these are luxury automobiles, and it is not that they are foreign to their country; it is just that their wages for making them and manufacturing them are no reflection of the vehicles' value.
What ends up happening is that they are shipped out and other societies will then purchase them. It has been a low-wage market that has also led to the conflict in the United States related to President Trump and the loss of automotive and other manufacturing there. The point in all of that is that we have lost control and lost significant input and footprint of the decision-makers and the industry itself.
When we now leave it to others to look at refinement of those vehicles in manufacturing, often it is done through their lens. I am proud to say that in my riding of Windsor West infant car seats were created in the past through AUTO21. The Liberals did not renew AUTO21, but they innovated when it was still going and created safer seats.
Now with the production and distribution moving from this area, if we do not fight for this industry, which we are not doing fully right now, we will lose more jobs, more control, and more innovation to others. Without this bill we will be solely dependent on the United States and others for protection of our vehicles and our standards.
It does affect other government policy. Let me point to a program the Conservatives brought in called the ecoAUTO rebate program. This is a blast from the past. This was a government initiative to bring lower-emission vehicles into Canada. I mentioned earlier the fact that Volkswagen ran basically a systematic scam that is now dominating the courts, and the only protection for Canadian consumers is the courts, unfortunately. In the United States there were hearings. In the ecoAUTO rebate program, the Conservatives thought it would be great if consumers purchased lower-emission vehicles. They put out $110 million, and if people's vehicle reached a certain qualification measure for emissions standards and the mileage, then they would get a Canadian taxpayer-funded incentive of $1,000 to $2,000 depending upon the vehicle.
What a wonderful idea it was, when companies decided to take airbags out of their cars to increase mileage by reducing weight. The Yaris, for example, made by Toyota, took the side airbags out, and the ecoAUTO rebate program applied to it. We also had secondary vehicles that could not pass European standards related to emissions sent into Canada and they then received the ecoAUTO rebate. All this was at a taxpayer subsidy, and foreign manufactured automobiles were subsidized by the government.
These are the challenges in why this legislation is so important. If we are going to look at this industry and the high tech that will be necessary in the future, we need to make sure that consumer rights are protected, public safety is paramount, and the minister has the authority through the bill to address some of those issues.
Autonomous vehicles were mentioned earlier. They are coming. In fact some municipalities have become testing zones for autonomous vehicles now. Autonomous trucks will actually be coming to the roadways of our country rather soon. We need to make sure that these laws and orders are in place, because the new technology will need oversight, and that is what the bill provides. We will make sure it provides enough, though.