Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, colleagues.
I appreciate the opportunity to address Bill C-511. I apologize; for a moment, I'm trying to get my eyes adjusted to the fact that there's a lot of light coming from behind you. Honestly, I can't see anything.
Mr. Chairman, through you I thank all colleagues for the consideration that you've already given to Bill C-511. With your patience, I'll go over some of the basic details. I know you're familiar with the bill already and with the dynamics associated with it. If you'll forgive me, I shall repeat some of the findings. Some of the dynamics in the committee have changed somewhat since the bill was first presented.
You'll remember, colleagues, that it is now about 14 months ago that an issue of automobile safety surfaced overseas. That issue of automobile safety, pertinent to one specific company, then moved on to Europe and eventually ended up in the United States. In the United States, the issues associated with the consumer complaints and with product safety as distinct from product quality led to congressional hearings associated with our equivalent of Transport Canada, NHTSA in the United States, to bring the company president forward in what was essentially precedent-setting: that a major corporation, the biggest automobile manufacturer in the world at the time, would appear before a congressional committee in order to explain the reasons why the products that came from his company were giving so much difficulty to consumers—product users, automobile owners.
The main issues that surfaced as a result of that hearing was the responsibility of manufacturers to put product on the market that would still be safe for users and for people who shared roads with those users. At the same time, in Canada Transport Canada was conducting discussions, negotiations, investigations—all three—with that same company. Several ministers from our government gave indications that they were supportive at first of the consumer complaints and gradually shifted over to supporting the automobile manufacturer and then subsequently the industry itself.
This committee, you may recall, took it upon itself to bring to it the Canadian representatives of that automobile manufacturer. I have avoided mentioning the company up until this point, because I didn't want anybody to think that this was directed at a specific company. But as members know, that company was Toyota. Toyota came forward and presented a series of positions that were similar to those they had offered in the United States. Some of the positions were, as far as Toyota was concerned, that there really wasn't an issue of product safety; there were some questions about quality issues, there were some questions about issues that emanated from the original manufacturer producer, and there was always the issue of driver error.
Many colleagues will recall that we had some really vivid exchanges with the officials from Toyota. Some members wanted treatment for Canadians that was similar to the treatment that Americans had been able to negotiate, keeping in mind that it was very uncommon to have a congressional hearing bring before it officials from an overseas company, especially one that dominated the sector.
As a result of those hearings, several things surfaced.
Toyota paid, at the time, the biggest fine paid by a major corporation in order to placate the authorities. Toyota paid some $16 million in fines. They subsequently paid another $26 million, leading many to suspect that they were admitting guilt.
That wasn't what this committee wanted to do. What the committee wanted to do was to make sure that the products put on the road by that company, or indeed by any other company, would meet the standards and expectations of the purchasers and all those who share the roads with those purchasers.
Toyota continued to balk at giving us the same cooperation they had given the Americans, although the Americans went one step further and said, “In order for us to make what are balanced and fair decisions with respect to any company in a global marketplace, we need to have information that's derived globally. The cars may be adjusted from one market to another, but essentially they are the same car.” Toyota said that they might be identical, but they're not the same car.
I think where everybody agreed is that on an engineering, design and structural basis, the essential elements of the car were the same and that the design, engineering and structural decisions were made at home office. That was the position as well at the American congressional hearings, where they said, “We need to hold somebody responsible and accountable and in order for you to make those decisions, you're getting information from all around the world. We want the same. We ask for the same.”
The committee, with varying degrees of satisfaction, got information from Toyota. I say varying degrees because there were some members who were less satisfied than others. I might add that notwithstanding all the denials of the company, last week, I think, those who kept insisting that we needed to have information in order to make appropriate decisions were vindicated when the company recalled some 140,000 vehicles, give or take a few thousand, in Canada.
The committee received information from independent investigators from Transport Canada. There were several themes that surfaced in all cases.
First, safety-related defect was not clearly defined in the legislation, even though there were court decisions that had already established what a safety-related defect would be in an automobile.
Second, the minister, i.e., the department, did not have the authority to act, even though in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act there is a provision to pursue criminal charges if there is a cause to do so. That provision has never been used, in part because it's a little like a spiked baseball bat. There needed to be some other provision. The minister, i.e., the department, was not acting because it did not have the provisions in the act to do anything other than pursue criminal charges.
Third, there was no opportunity to make an objective, intelligent decision for lack of information that would be pertinent and that would be derived from around the world.
The final issue is because much of the discussion centred around whether there were defects in the vehicles themselves, i.e., the structural design, engineering component, or the electronics associated with it, perhaps an immediate remedy to a safety feature would have been a brake override in the event that cars were equipped with this electronic system.
I might remind colleagues around the table that the United States went even further than we did. They had NASA investigate whether the issue was the fault of electronics or whether it was an engineering design flaw. They determined that there were structural designs and that it was not the fault of electronics.
So those are the four issues. I know the chair wanted me to stop, but I just want, for a very brief moment, to review them, if you will allow.
Bill C-511 focuses on four items: the definition of a safety-related defect; authorizing the minister to make regulations to initiate a recall procedure; authorizing the minister to gather information from anywhere around the world, so that if a company is a global company, wherever it does business they have the right to get reports and to establish a reporting mechanism, typically every quarter; and finally, to compel the installation of a brake override system on vehicles that use electronic throttle control.
The whole issue for it is not that this is a partisan exercise but rather that public safety on the roads needed to be ensured by a regulator with the authority to enforce the equipment that would go on the road.
That's it. I thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and colleagues, for your patience.