Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians Act

An Act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act

Status

In committee (House), as of Sept. 20, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill S-2.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Motor Vehicle Safety Act for the purpose of strengthening the enforcement and compliance regime to further protect the safety of Canadians and to provide additional flexibility to support advanced safety technologies and other vehicle innovations. It provides the Minister of Transport with the authority to order companies to correct a defect or non-compliance and establishes a tiered penalty structure for offences committed under the Act. The enactment also makes a consequential amendment to the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 10:30 a.m.
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NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his presentation and his speech here this morning.

In a few minutes, I will have an opportunity to respond to the presentation. Let me say right away that we will be supporting this bill at second reading because we look forward to studying it as soon as possible in committee, since the safety of all Canadians depends on it.

Although the bill does include some very worthwhile measures, my question pertains to the most recent Auditor General's report on the oversight of passenger vehicle safety. The report found, not necessarily deficiencies, but let us say some serious concerns within that department. For instance, when major cuts are made to crash tests, cuts that are common practice for this government and Transport Canada, does that not run counter to the very spirit of the bill introduced this morning, which is quite worthwhile?

My question is simple: how can the minister reconcile both the principles and spirit of the bill with the cuts that have been made in his own department over the past few years?

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

Through the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, which ensured follow-up, the Auditor General made some recommendations, and we are currently studying them. As members know, the safety of our roads is extremely important.

My colleague mentioned testing that shows what happens when collisions occur. I am very proud of our Blainville test facility. It tests not just motor vehicles but also infant car seats and tires.

In fact, we added $5.4 million in budget 2016 to continue upgrading the very important equipment used for testing, especially for vehicles in development. We need instrumentation on the outside of buildings because we are beginning to test vehicles that could actually explode now that they could possibly be powered by combustible hydrogen cells and other fuels. We must ensure safety.

We are continuing to enhance our visibility and testing of vehicles. The safety of vehicles on our roads will remain a priority for us.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

Mr. Speaker, I said this in my presentation. As the law stands now, it only obliges manufacturers to issue notices of defect, but does not oblige them to take any further steps. However, I am happy to say that in a great majority of cases manufacturers take that additional step of going through the recall process and repairing the defects at no cost to the owners, which is a good thing. However, they are not obliged to do it, and there are circumstances where they may decide to contest an assessment that has been done by Transport Canada that points to what we consider to be a safety defect.

This law is similar to the law in the United States. In cases where there may be a difference of opinion between the Government of Canada, Transport Canada, and the manufacturer on safety issues, it will provide those additional ministerial powers to compel manufacturers to take action, which includes issuing a recall and fixing it at no cost to the person who bought the vehicle. In certain cases where we do not have the capability to do all the analysis because of the proprietary technologies in the car, we can also order manufacturers to conduct certain tests to establish whether there is a safety defect while respecting the proprietary nature of the technology.

These powerful tools are required to ensure the safety of Canadians.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for updating us on this bill and for referencing the public accounts committee, which I chair. We have brought forward the two-sided recommendations. We look forward to the strategy and the timelines of the minister's department. I understood the minister to say that the government did not support the Senate amendment, which makes me wonder about the ability to work this through quickly, as he has said he wants to do.

Because the vehicle and transportation safety industry is integrated with the United States, how does the legislation relate to the legislation the United States is presently under? Does it advance it further or is it fairly equivalent to that in the United States?

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 10:40 a.m.
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Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is very close to what is in the United States. There are a few wrinkles that are a bit different, which we feel are important for Canada. However, it is largely the same as that in the United States.

With respect to the Senate amendment, its intentions were very good, and it pointed out that dealerships had certain preoccupations. However, Bill S-2 relates to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. It is focused on safety. It is not focused on the relationship between dealerships and manufacturers, many of which have confidential agreements between them on what to do in situations like this.

We are aware that dealerships have preoccupations. We believe they can be addressed. We will refer this issue to committee. Of course the committee, in its sovereignty, is free to decide how to do that. However, it is important to point out that the Motor Vehicle Safety Act is primarily focused on safety and not the financial relationships that exist between dealerships and manufacturers.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 10:40 a.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill S-2, an act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act.

The bill was introduced in the Senate by the Leader of the Government in the Senate on May 11, 2016, referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications in October, and one month later the committee reported the bill back to the Senate with an amendment. The bill passed third reading in the Senate, as amended, on February 2. It has been in the queue for some time. I recall being on call every evening of the last week of the last session, prepared to debate the legislation.

This issue is important. Whether via public transit, personal vehicle, foot, or bike, nearly every Canadian relies on roads to get around and/or receive the goods and services they need on a daily basis. A trip to the grocery store may feel routine to the drivers and passengers, but millions of hours of work have gone into designing the technology and innovations that power the vehicles in which we travel.

As with anything, vehicles have thousands of moving parts and despite the best of intentions, occasionally systems do not work as they were designed to. That is why Canada needs a robust regulatory regime that ensures Canadians are informed of risks and that vehicles that are a safety hazard to the driver and passengers as well as other road users are repaired or taken off the road with haste.

I will discuss the content of the bill further in my remarks, but first it is important to note that beginning in November 2015, the Auditor General began a 10-month examination on the efficacy of the processes at the Transport Canada motor vehicle directorate. His report was published on November 29 and is worthy of further study. The overall message highlighted a number of issues, and I will quote from the introduction. It states:

Overall, we found that Transport Canada did not develop motor vehicle safety standards to respond to emerging risks and issues in a timely manner.... We could not always determine how the Department used evidence and research to develop or amend safety standards.

I will discuss the Auditor General's report in greater detail later in my remarks, but for now I will just note that the measures included in Bill S-2 would have no bearing on many of the structural problems uncovered by the AG in his fall report.

By and large, auto manufacturers voluntarily initiate recalls. In 2015, five million passenger vehicles were recalled in Canada. That is five million vehicles recalled out of just under 24 million licenced vehicles in Canada. Between 2010 and 2016, manufacturers issued at least 318 recalls for which Transport Canada had not received any complaints.

Most of the time when an issue is identified, whether by the manufacturer or Transport Canada, the manufacturer begins a recall. The manufacturer gets in contact with each impacted vehicle's owner and the vehicle is repaired at no cost to the owner. It is almost routine, but on occasion a difference of opinion exists between Transport Canada and a manufacturer.

Right now the Motor Vehicle Safety Act limits the role the Minister of Transport can play in issuing notices of safety defects and criminally prosecuting manufacturers when a potentially dangerous flaw is found. The reality is that the last time a minister of transport criminally prosecuted a manufacturer was nearly 25 years ago, in 1993, when Transport Canada took Chrysler Canada to court over defective tire winch cables. The case was dismissed in 2000.

Criminally prosecuting manufacturers has not proven to be an effective or efficient way to ensure compliance with the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Since that last prosecution 23 years ago, manufacturers have voluntarily issued thousands of different recalls.

What would this legislation do and how would it make our roads safer? Proposed sections 10.5 and 10.51 would amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act to provide the Minister of Transport with the authority to order a recall and order companies to correct the defect at no cost to consumers.

The intent is pretty straightforward here, but the process outlined certainly is not. The minister must, before issuing any order, make a preliminary determination on the basis of testing, analysis, inspection, examination, or research that the minister considers appropriate. Then he or she must notify the company in writing and publish a notice of preliminary determination and invite persons to make comments in writing. Here is where the ambiguous language shows up:

The Minister shall not make a final decision that an order is necessary unless the Minister has taken into account information that he or she considers relevant.

It raises this question: how else would a minister make a decision, other than taking into account information that he or she considers relevant? I find it surprising that the minister can make a decision based on information that he or she considers relevant, which may be anecdotal, rather than on repeatable testing and facts.

Once again, nearly five million vehicles were recalled last year in Canada, so it is not as though manufacturers are not generally being proactively cautious. This tool will not be used with any frequency, if ever.

Proposed sections 16.01 and 16.1 would give the Minister of Transport the power to impose financial penalties on companies up to a daily cap of $200,000, depending on the offence.

Additionally, this clause grants Transport Canada the authority to oppose non-monetary penalties on companies, referred to as compliance agreements, to promote acquiescence with the act. Furthermore, the clause gives the Governor in Council the discretion to prescribe by regulation the total maximum payable for a related series or class of violations.

Overall, clause 16 is straightforward. If monetary and non-monetary penalties are properly applied, they can have a positive impact in promoting compliance with the action.

Proposed section 10.4 of the bill increases the number of notices that a company must send to consumers once a recall process has been initiated. The issue that has been highlighted in the Senate about this clause is that parts or the technology to fix a defect are not always available, and a date for when a repair will be possible is not immediately known. Theoretically, companies would be required to send a new notice every time a new timeline for repairs has been established.

In the case of Takata airbags, where millions of cars were affected and the company had gone bankrupt, estimates on when new parts would become available were changing every day. A manufacturer would theoretically have had to send out an updated notice of recall on every update.

As consumers start getting multiple letters advising yet another day for when new parts or a new fix will be available, there is a real risk that these notices will begin to be ignored and the number of vehicles that are brought to a dealership for repairs could drop below the current 78%.

Proposed section 15 of the bill would give Transport Canada inspectors significant new powers. Some of these powers are quite surprising for what is considered technical legislation, so I will quote directly from the bill. For example:

...an inspector...may enter on and pass through or over private property...without being liable for doing so and without any person having the right to object to that use of the property.

...examine any vehicle, equipment or component that is in the place;

...examine any document that is in the place, make copies of it or take extracts from it;

...use or cause to be used a computer or other device that is in the place to examine data that is contained in or available to a computer system or reproduce it or cause it to be reproduced...

...remove any vehicle, equipment or component from the place for the purpose of examination or conducting tests.

To summarize, an inspector can enter into any private property, so long as it is not a private dwelling, without being liable for trespassing, inspect any vehicle or equipment, copy any data from a computer, and remove any equipment for further testing, all this to verify compliance with the act, rather than to verify non-compliance.

The difference is significant. Verifying noncompliance implies that the inspector is following up on a series of complaints from consumers or an investigation taken up by Transport Canada engineers. Verifying compliance implies that Transport Canada can conduct inspections without having to demonstrate cause for doing so. In our justice system in which the presumption of innocence is the foundation of all, the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not the one who denies.

The proposed act would also give the inspector strong authority to order testimony at manufacturing plants as follows:

Every person there shall answer all of the inspector's reasonable questions related to the inspection, provide access to all electronic data that the inspector may reasonably require.

This gives an inspector the power to interview not just managers and the owners of a facility, but the line workers without their union representatives present. Whether the information collected during these spot interviews could be used during the prosecution is not defined in the proposed act.

“Reasonable” is also a loose term that should be better defined. Beyond getting to a less ambiguous definition, if there is a disagreement between an employee and an inspector over what is reasonable, who will settle that dispute?

Proposed section 8.1 of the bill gives the minister the power to order a manufacturer to conduct specific tests on their products to verify compliance with the act. Transport Canada will never have the same resources and know how manufacturers have to test their own products, so this clause partially rectifies the asymmetry of information. The problem here is that people cannot ask for something if they do not know it exists, so while requesting a test is good, it is a lot like fishing. There are no guarantees.

Proposed section 13 gives the minister the power to suspend an existing regulation for a period of three years or less if it is in the interests of public safety to do so, or if this exemption will promote innovation that will make vehicles safer. I believe that lengthening the amount of time the minister can suspend a regulation from one to three years will give companies more time to experiment and test new processes. This is a good thing overall.

What is missing in this legislation? The bill does not cover important replacement parts like windshields, brake lines, brake fluids, or replacement airbags. These areas are covered in the United States, so I am surprised that they are not a part of the legislation we are discussing today.

Earlier in my remarks, I referenced the Auditor General's report on the motor vehicle safety directorate at Transport Canada, released in late November 2016. The report noted that Transport Canada gives disproportionate influence to manufacturers when writing up regulations or when looking to amend existing regulations. This is important because broad public consultations on safety-related issues do keep our roads safe.

Unfortunately, Bill S-2 does not enshrine a requirement to consult beyond the manufacturers. Considering that Bill S-2 spells out in incredible detail what steps the minister must take before ordering a recall, I am surprised that a similar process for setting new and amending existing regulations cannot be enshrined in law.

The Auditor General also found that despite years of research on the need for stronger booster seat anchors, as booster seats now weigh more, Transport Canada did not implement regulations that follow the findings of its research because it would in this case be detrimental to trade. There is no purpose in having Transport Canada conduct years of research on a safety matter if we will only implement it after the United States does. Bill S-2 will not address this problem.

Paragraph 4.42 of the Auditor General's report noted that Transport Canada possesses incomplete data on collisions and injuries in the national collision database because provinces are not providing the information.

Furthermore, paragraph 4.43 notes that Transport Canada does not have access to data from insurance companies, hospitals, police, and others involved in vehicle safety matters, so it is missing information that could help inform future vehicle safety priorities. Neither of the issues concerning data quality raised by the Auditor General's report will be fixed or even partially addressed by Bill S-2.

Finally, the Auditor General noted that the motor vehicle safety directorate's budget had been compressed in 2016 and that the directorate subsequently did not have a long-term operational plan for its activities. For example, the budget for crashworthiness testing was cut by 59% in fiscal year 2016-17. At the same time, funding for six regional teams situated in engineering departments in universities and colleges that were charged to assist in outreach activities on vehicle safety also saw their funding cut. These regional teams will no longer be able to feed information into the regulatory decision-making process, which the Auditor General had noted was not functioning as well as it could.

Despite these cuts, the department chose to announce the construction of a $5.4-million outdoor crash barrier at the motor vehicle testing centre in budget 2016. Try to square that circle. Given that the budget allocation for testing had been significantly reduced, the Auditor General questioned the rationale for proceeding with the project. Whether this item would have been included in budget 2016 if the Auditor General had not started his evaluation is unknown.

In conclusion, while Bill S-2 will help advance vehicle safety, I believe it contains clear omissions. I hope the government will be willing to consider amendments to improve this piece of legislation and motor vehicle safety in Canada. Finally, I do note that statistics from the U.S. indicate that less than 5% of all motor vehicle injuries and fatalities can be attributed to vehicle maintenance and safety-related defects. While the bill is a good start, more attention needs to be given to addressing the other 95%.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 10:55 a.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit surprised at how the Conservatives are approaching this bill. If we look at the principles we are debating today, we have a government that has recognized how important vehicle safety is in all communities throughout our country and a minister who has a taken a head-on approach in providing legislation that would protect consumers while at the same time making our streets and roads safer. Giving the minister more authority to do so is the principle of the legislation in good part.

Why do the Conservatives not understand the benefits of passing this legislation so that we could have safer roads, more accountability in our automobile industry, and a minister who has the authority to make necessary changes that consumers want, let alone making our streets safer for all?

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 11 a.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what the member took away from the remarks I made on Bill S-2. While the legislation in front of us is very similar to Bill C-62, there are some differences. It is not the same bill. There are new measures in this bill and the Senate is putting forward an amendment that Conservatives would like the opportunity to review. We will be reviewing it and I look forward to supporting this bill at second reading to get it to committee.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 11 a.m.
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NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I always pay close attention when my colleague, the transport critic, has something to say, because I recognize not only her ability, but also her careful way of studying every bill. However, I must admit I am a little surprised. I have been wondering about many of the same things she is raising this morning, and, of course, the committee review will allow us to get into the details and hopefully find some answers.

My fundamental question is, has there been a paradigm shift in the Conservative Party? I have always seen this party as the champion of self-regulation, yet it introduced Bill C-62, the precursor to Bill S-2, mere months before the 2015 election. How is it that the key provisions that we recognize as being deficiencies in Bill S-2 were not all covered in Bill C-62? In particular, why did the Conservatives table Bill C-62 so late, after so many years in government? It could have been passed far sooner to ensure the safety of the driving public in Canada.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 11 a.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I, too, appreciate the opportunity to work with the hon. member on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I do appreciate his comments.

I recognize that Bill C-62 was introduced in June 2015, just prior to an election being called. However, I can reassure the member that consumer safety is important not only to me but also to our Conservative caucus, as I am sure it is for everyone in this place. Without rehashing old battles, I suppose that if the opposition parties in the 41st Parliament had not obstructed the previous Conservative government so much, maybe we would have gotten to Bill C-62 a lot sooner than we did in June 2015.

Again, I do not think it does any of us any good to rehash what happened in the last Parliament. What we have before us is Bill S-2. I think I can speak for my colleagues in the Conservative caucus in saying that we look forward to being able to review this bill in committee, to ask the questions that we have, and to provide amendments that will strengthen it.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 11 a.m.
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Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly want to thank the member for her contribution to this debate. I have to say that I am quite concerned about the provisions dealing with compliance versus non-compliance, in that someone from government can basically walk into a workplace and have full access to look for compliance versus non-compliance—which, as the member pointed out, is a vast difference.

One is a big government response, where basically any workplace is open at any point, versus a targeted approach, in which government works to make sure that consumers are protected when concerns are raised. One uses resources and draws away from people's time, and the other one is targeted.

What further steps could the government take to address this concern?

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 11 a.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is one of the reasons I highlighted this part of the bill in my remarks on this piece of legislation.

Something the government could do to address our concerns is to be open to doing a genuine study of the bill, to taking a look at this part of the bill to ensure that the issues I highlighted in my speech are addressed, and to be open to amendments that we may come forward with.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, given that the member also recalls the 41st Parliament and the first introduction of this bill, I do not know if she has any insights into this, and it may be inappropriate to expect her to have an answer. However, I did not get a chance to put the question to the minister.

I am curious as to why a bill that is clearly a government bill, supported by the minister, comes to us by way of the Senate. It is based on what came forward initially as a government bill in the 41st Parliament. I am always curious when something begins its life in the Senate instead of here in the House.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would be speculating if I tried to answer the question as to why the government decided to introduce this bill through the Senate. However, given that the Senate did review the bill and has put forward a substantial amendment, it behooves us to give it the full review it deserves. I do hope that when this bill is referred to committee we are able to study it fully and look at the amendment the Senate put forward.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.
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NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, this session is certainly kicking off in high gear. That is an image that fits in nicely with the auto industry theme.

This being my first speech since Parliament resumed, I would like to start by saying how glad I am to be here. It is always an honour to recall the mandate I was given by the voters of Trois-Rivières. They entrusted me with a very important mission, namely to be an opposition MP, a parliamentarian who will hold the government responsible and accountable for its decisions and its legislation. As members of Parliament, we do not necessarily control the legislative agenda. However, we do everything in our power to make sure the bills tabled here are as good as possible at the end of the process and that we, as members, did what we could to improve them.

I would say that there are three types of bills that we debate. There are bills that garner the unanimous support of the House, something that happens all too infrequently. Bill S-2 probably falls into the second category of bills whose main objectives and principles enjoy a general consensus. In other words, we have to work on ironing out the details to get the best possible wording and best implementation possible. Bill S-2 does not fall into the third category of bills, but we will likely see one that does before the end of this session. It is the kind of bill that could not set the parties further apart. Sometimes, often even, when I take part in these jousting matches, I will attack the proposed ideas with guns blazing. Such is the nature of our work in the House. However, I never, ever attack people. It is not lost on me that the people who voted for me are no different than the people who voted for every member of the House, regardless of their political stripe. We have a duty to work together to find the best wording.

It is also appropriate, whenever the House rises, to thank all of the staff who make our work possible. This time, I would like to do it now, at the beginning of the session, because after six years of working in Parliament, I understand just how important the work these people do is and just how much we ask of them, given the nature of our work. They return at the beginning of the session with a big smile and the desire to once again serve Parliament and democracy. They deserve to be commended and thanked in advanced.

Let us move on to Bill S-2, which deals with motor safety. I am not the only one, but I believe that I am well placed to talk about this subject because I live just a few kilometres from Trois-Rivières, but the city's airport does not offer flights from Trois-Rivières to Ottawa. Trois-Rivières can be reached by bus, but even that requires transfers, and there is no passenger train service at all. The only realistic transportation option available to me is travelling by car.

That means that year after year, week after week, I have to drive between 800 and 1,000 km a week. I am sure others here travel even greater distances. I am not complaining. I am merely pointing out that, as I zoom along the highway or make my way through cities, always staying well within the posted speed limits of course, I unfortunately see quite a number of accidents. Some of these accidents are caused by driving errors, but others are caused by mechanical problems, and we are hoping to put an end to that type of accident.

There was a time when almost everyone could make minor repairs to their own vehicles because engines were rather simple. Those days are long gone. Even at the dealership, most cars must now be hooked up to a computer to identify the problem. Then the mechanics can do the necessary repairs or maintenance.

The automobile market has changed considerably. Let me go on a little rant here. I will restrain myself considering that we just got back. Once again, the government is introducing a bill that overuses the word harmonization. The Conservatives were known for doing the same. Bill S-2 seeks to harmonize motor vehicle safety practices between Canada and the United States. That is fine, but just to be clear, in Canada, every time we talk about harmonization it is understood that we are playing catch-up. When it comes to safety, our laws always fall short of U.S. legislation.

We could try to find a way to be leaders, but instead we play catch-up; Bill S-2 is a fine example of that. The bill has merit, as I said to the minister, and we will vote in favour of it at second reading so that it can be further reviewed in committee, where stakeholders will develop the best bill possible. However, it would be interesting to see how Canada might become a leader instead of always playing catch-up.

I already brought this up in the first question I was able to ask the minister, but I would like to start by comparing the bill's intentions, which are laudable, to the actual situation at Transport Canada as described in the Auditor General's last audit on oversight of passenger vehicle safety. I will quote the audit report because it articulates, far better than I ever could, a reality I am very concerned about:

Overall, we found that Transport Canada did not develop motor vehicle safety standards to respond to emerging risks and issues in a timely manner. It generally waited for the United States to change its motor vehicle safety standards before modifying Canadian standards. The Department often limited consultations to the automotive industry. We also found that it did not have complete collision and injury data to inform its decisions. We could not always determine how the Department used evidence and research to develop or amend safety standards. Transport Canada did not plan or fund its research and regulatory activities for the longer term.

No matter how wonderful the bill is, if Transport Canada does not have the means and tools necessary to ensure motor vehicle safety, we have a serious problem in Canada. Bill S-2 will not necessarily be the answer to solving this problem, but rather the administration of Transport Canada's budget, under the leadership of the minister himself.

What about all the new technology that cars now have? Is it not better that we be at the forefront, rather than lagging behind? I reread the Minister of Transport's mandate letter, and there is not a single word about vehicle safety. Fortunately, the minister went above and beyond his mandate to bring forward legislation in this area, but even so, it is troubling that such a huge issue was not included in his mandate letter.

When I mentioned budget cuts, I was referring to a decrease in funding for crash tests. That is probably one of the first things that comes to mind when we talk about motor vehicle safety.

I am sure everyone can picture what it looks like when cars smash into things at controlled speeds in accidents staged to see how the vehicle reacts, how well the safety features absorb the shock, and how well passengers are protected.

A number of studies have been done on the repercussions for passengers in the back seat, but they need follow-up. That is another thing I hope we can revisit in our committee work. Basically, we agree with many of the new powers set out in Bill S-2, but if those powers are not properly managed by the department, we will not necessarily solve any problems.

Let us talk about which of the new powers that Bill S-2 would give to the minister actually make sense. There is a whole chain of events. I am sure that we have all at some point received a recall notice. I got one recently, but I will not give the company free publicity. I got a recall notice informing me that I was the owner of such and such a vehicle manufactured in such and such a year, that there was a particular problem with my model, and that if I wanted to find out if my vehicle was affected, I should go to the company website with my serial number and check.

Of course I was glad to get the letter, but I have to say that getting that kind of letter automatically worries people. I went to the website right away to find out if I was affected by the recall and if my vehicle was still safe to operate. That is what happens when a company issues a recall. It is pretty much the end point of a whole process. By then, the company has received complaints, done its reviews, analyses, tests, and studies, and found that there is indeed a problem it needs to address. Often in the past, years have gone by before a company acknowledges that there is actually a problem.

One example is the problem General Motors had with its ignition system that led to a recall. It was not until many years after the company started getting complaints and concerns that owners got their recall notice, almost 10 years. In the meantime, while the company was doing its tests to find out if there actually was a cause and effect relationship, accidents happened, and sometimes people were injured. There were even some deaths.

We certainly cannot be opposed to giving the minister the authority to expedite the process and to request that a recall be issued. We must also ensure that with the funding for Transport Canada the minister will be equipped to do these analyses and to come up with conclusive findings in a relatively short time. That is the difference between good intentions and good management. I share a good number of the concerns expressed by my Conservative colleague who spoke just before me about cuts to a certain number of areas. We were told earlier that $5 million was added to the budget for collision testing. We would all be inclined to applaud, because that is another $5 million. However, we would be forgetting that the budget had previously been cut by 59%. Basically, they cut the budget by 59% and then proudly announce that they are putting back $5 million. It seems to me that there is a difference between rhetoric and reality and that we should be examining the whole problem overall.

It goes without saying that the government should be given the power to order a company to correct defects or non-compliances. It is the logical next step to the power to order recalls. In general, auto manufacturers and importers are ordered to assume the cost of parts and repairs. There may be a few exceptions, but usually the industry does not argue when a manufacturing defect is found, since it wants to protect its reputation. It also goes without saying that the government should have the power to require that these repairs be made before the parts or vehicles are are sold to consumers. That seems like the minimum that should be required.

As an aside, I would like to talk about the amendment proposed in the Senate that many car dealership owners came to talk to me about. In theory, if the government harmonizes the Canadian legislation with that of the United States, it must also provide economic support for car dealers since, for now, most of them have to maintain an inventory of vehicles that have already been purchased from the manufacturer but that cannot be sold because they have been recalled.

In some cases, for example with the Takata airbags, which were manufactured for many auto companies, the dealers are aware that there is a problem, but they cannot necessarily repair all the vehicles overnight. That means that all of those cars are just sitting on the lot and the dealers cannot sell them to get the money back on their investment. We therefore have to give this issue some serious thought.

I understand the proposal made by the minister, who said that this is not a straightforward security issue. However, if the bill truly seeks to harmonize the Canadian legislation with that of the United States, we might need to consider this issue because the Canadian and American auto markets are highly integrated.

As for the power to require more information from manufacturers, we are not against it, but when I hear the ministers tell me that all reasonable questions from inspectors should be answered, I think we are having it both ways. Once again, we have legislation stacked with good intentions, but the meaning of the word “reasonable” remains unclear. Whether in French or in English, the word is open to interpretation. What can we do, then, but insist legislatively or legally on the meaning of the word “reasonable”? What seems reasonable to one person is not necessarily reasonable to me.

Therefore, it seems to me that there should be a way for us to collectively agree on a wording that would say “obligation to answer all reasonable questions that directly affect motor vehicle safety”. There is a way to establish guidelines that would clarify that. It is exactly the same kind of vague vocabulary that is found in other bills, such as those on employment insurance, that speak of “suitable” employment. I think that we ought to do away with the doublespeak that distracts us from the purpose of the bill.

There are a number of things I would have still liked to say, but I will have the opportunity to come back to them when I answer questions or when the bill goes to committee. I repeat that the NDP will support this bill at second reading, in the hope that we can help to improve it substantially. We will meet again for the vote at third reading. I would also like to ensure that all stakeholders involved in motor vehicle safety will be heard and that their comments, not just those from companies, will be taken into account.

Of course, companies are major players, but we should also be able to hear from consumer associations and police associations. I will stop there because the axe has just fallen. I am available to answer questions.