Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today in support of Bill S-2, the strengthening motor vehicle safety for Canadians act.
I would like to begin by thanking my colleagues of the Standing Committee of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for their hard work in reviewing this bill. I would also like to thank the representative from Central Nova for bringing forward amendments clarifying dealer rights so that existing contractual mechanisms between dealers and manufacturers will not be impeded.
Based on debate on this bill in this chamber and in the other place and at committee, it is clear that every member supports stronger, better motor vehicle safety for Canadians. This bill would deliver exactly that.
Motor vehicle safety is something that touches each of us on a daily basis. Unfortunately, many of us have been personally affected through the death or serious injury of a loved one, friend, or colleague involved in a vehicle collision.
This is the highest of all the modes of transportation. To a large extent, these tragedies are preventable, and the safety of Canadians is paramount to Transport Canada and this government. This is why we are always looking for ways to improve safety through our policies, regulation, and legislation. This bill will address key, long-standing gaps in Canada's motor vehicle safety framework, providing new and better tools that will help improve safety for all Canadians.
In addition, the automated and connected vehicle revolution has arrived. The pace at which new innovative technologies are being introduced is unprecedented and it is accelerating. This bill would help ensure that Canadians could safely benefit from these new technologies by supporting industry in bringing these innovations to market through clear provisions under the act.
The changes proposed in the bill are some of the most significant to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act since it first came into effect in 1971.
In the discussions on this bill since it was introduced, comparisons with the United States have been made, with the overarching concern being that the Motor Vehicle Safety Act does not provide Canadians with the same level of consumer or safety protection as afforded to Americans for vehicles that are very similar, or even identical. The changes proposed in this bill would meet Canadians' expectations. Although some provisions are different from the American legislation, the legislation would ultimately have the same result of making Canadians safer. Our objective is to make Canadians safer than before, while having the flexibility to allow for creative technological innovations, such as new fuels or ways to increase motor vehicle safety.
I will highlight some of the new provisions that would strengthen the safety of Canadians.
One of the most significant proposed changes to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act is the new powers for the minister to order actions by companies. Currently under the act, there is no requirement that obligates companies to take corrective actions if a defect or a non-compliance is found.
We acknowledge that Canadian automotive companies have had a good track record in addressing defects in their vehicles. However, if a problem arose today and a Canadian company refused to do anything about it, there would be very little that the government could do quickly. All that Canadians would receive would be a notice of defect. This is not an acceptable situation for Canadians. Companies are responsible for the products they sell, which is why the ability to order a company to correct a defect or non-compliance, as well as the ability to order a company to pay the cost of corrections when it is in the interest of public safety, are some of the key proposed amendments in this bill.
These are key tools that would help protect Canadians in those rare situations where a company decides not to fulfill its responsibilities. It would also help to ensure a level playing field for all of Canada's automotive companies.
The proposed order powers would work in conjunction with the current power to order a company to issue a notice of defect or non-compliance and the proposed requirement that a company include as part of its notice the earliest date that parts and facilities would be available to correct the defect or non-compliance. Whether voluntary by the company, or by order from the minister, in the event of a safety defect with their vehicles, Canadians would receive, as a first step, a notice of defect that would contain information regarding a potential safety issue with their vehicle. The notice would also contain information on when parts and facilities would be available to correct the defect.
If such information is not available at the time of publication of the notice, the company would be required to issue a subsequent notice when it becomes available. The second step is the correction of the issue. Normally, companies do this as part of their general business practices. However, if a company did not correct safety defects or non-compliances voluntarily, the minister would, if in the interest of public safety, and following the process outlined in this bill, order a company to correct a defect and order the company to do so at no cost to the consumer. Companies would then need to correct the defect using the options outlined in the bill, that is, repair the vehicle, replace the vehicle, or reimburse the cost of repairs already undertaken or the sale price of the vehicle less depreciation.
If necessary, the minister may also order the prohibition of sale, more commonly known as a stop sale, of the vehicle before it is first sold.
To address concerns raised by dealers, the government proposed, at the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, amendments to the bill. These amendments would replace the amendments made in the other place and provide clarification to clauses that already contain many of the benefits sought by the dealers, while preserving the original intent of the bill.
Notably, the government amendments would clarify that the corrective measures and the payment of costs detailed in the bill would apply to individuals and dealers alike. The amendments would also make it clear that there are existing mechanisms to address contractual issues between manufacturers and dealers that are not to be impeded by the bill and that the implementation of a correction does not limit a person or dealer from exercising any other right available by civil law.
The well-intentioned amendments proposed by the other chamber to attempt to protect dealers delved into the contractual relationships between dealers and manufacturers. For example, they included prescribing the rate at which dealers would be compensated for vehicles on their lots that were subject to a correction or a stop-sale order. However, the purpose of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act is to protect public safety, not to manage contractual financial matters or the dealer-manufacturer relationship.
I would like to thank all involved for their efforts to address concerns raised by dealers. The amendments in the other chamber enabled the government to work with the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association to clarify concerns and come up with the mutually acceptable language proposed in committee. This back and forth between our stakeholders and the chambers is a positive product of our legislative process, leading to better outcomes for Canadians.
Another order power that would contribute to the safety of Canadians is the authority for the minister to order a company to conduct tests, analysis, or studies on a vehicle or equipment in order to obtain information related to a defect or to verify compliance with the act. This is a similar power to one in the Canadian consumer protection act. It would help Transport Canada in instances where, as part of a defect investigation or to verify compliance, the department may not have had the tools or the capacity to undertake tests, analyses, or studies. The need to use this power could arise from, for example, components that require proprietary tools for which the departmental staff may not have access, or specialized knowledge or capacity.
While certainly useful in today’s context, I believe this study will become even more important in the years to come as already complex vehicles become more so as more new and innovative technologies are introduced.
On the subject of innovation, I am pleased to note this bill’s provisions that will help facilitate the introduction of new technologies in Canada, especially in the automotive sector.
These innovations hold great promise for Canadians in terms of economic development, environmental performance, and, of course, road safety.
The speed at which these technologies are being developed and introduced is unprecedented. Unfortunately, our regulations may not be able to keep up with them. This is why we are proposing to amend the exemption process and add a suspension order provision to the act.
While the act currently has an exemption process, we propose to make it more efficient. Currently, the act’s exemption authority authorizes the Governor in Council to grant an exemption due to economic hardship or the impediment of the development of new safety features, vehicles, or technologies.
The proposed changes would authorize the minister to order an exemption, making the process more efficient, and to modify the reasons for an exemption to support the development and safe introduction of new vehicle technologies. It must be noted that it would be up to the company requesting the exemption to demonstrate that the safety performance of the vehicle would not be compromised. All exemption orders would be published as soon as feasible on the Internet or by any other appropriate means.
This transparency is of critical importance to Canadians. Much like their right to know of potential safety defects with their vehicles, Canadians would have access to decisions on the granting of exemptions so that they are informed and aware of how the government is supporting innovation and maintaining their safety.
There are several other aspects of the bill that would also positively impact Canadians.
Enforcement is a key part of any safety oversight regime. An act can have a multitude of provisions to protect and benefit Canadians, but if there are only limited means to enforce them, then they really are not beneficial. The Motor Vehicle Safety Act in its present form has limited enforcement options to elicit compliance. In fact, criminal prosecution is currently the only option, but in some cases, may not be appropriate, depending on the severity of the particular violation. Bill S-2 would change that.
As parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport, I look forward to the passage of this bill to better protect Canadians so that my family, all our families, and all Canadians can benefit from its safety provisions.
As I noted at the beginning of my speech, Bill S-2 would dramatically improve the Motor Vehicle Safety Act by addressing long-standing gaps in its safety framework, facilitating innovation, and protecting Canadians.
The bill has been before Parliament for some time. If we include its predecessor, Bill C-62, it has been nearly three years since it was first introduced. That is much too long for Canadians to wait for amendments that would improve their safety.
I urge all my colleagues to pass this bill so that Canadians may start to benefit from it as soon as possible.