Evidence of meeting #72 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was audit.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kim Benjamin  Director General, Road Safety and Motor Vehicle Regulation, Department of Transport
Michael Ferguson  Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General
Richard Domingue  Principal, Office of the Auditor General

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair (Hon. Judy A. Sgro (Humber River—Black Creek, Lib.)) Liberal Judy Sgro

I am calling to order meeting number 72 of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, in the 42nd Parliament, first session, pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, September 20, 2017, to study Bill S-2, an act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act.

We have with us today the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, and as witnesses from the Department of Transport, Donald Roussel, associate assistant deputy minister, and Kim Benjamin, director general.

To all of you, welcome. I would also like to welcome our newest member officially, Ben Lobb, and of course Michael Chong. We are happy to have Kelly Block back here on our team, as well as Mr. Aubin. The group on this side we all know very well.

Minister Garneau, I will turn the floor over to you.

3:30 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount Québec

Liberal

Marc Garneau LiberalMinister of Transport

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I apologize ahead of time if I begin to cough on occasion. I am nursing a cold at the moment. Hopefully, it won't happen.

Madam Chair, I'm pleased to be here again this time to speak about Bill S-2, the Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians Act.

This bill is a key component in support of the transportation safety theme set out in Transportation 2030. It fulfills the government's commitment to amending the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, making its regulatory framework more flexible, promoting innovation, and supporting the adoption of new technologies while protecting the safety of Canadians.

A key objective of this bill is to strengthen the recall order powers. In 2014, the act was modified to provide the necessary powers to order a company to issue a notice of defect. Since 2014, that power has been used three times to protect Canadians. However, there is a gap in the application of this power.

Although the government has the power to order a company to issue a notice of defect, there is little it could do today to protect Canadians if a company were to refuse to issue a recall and to pay for the defects to be corrected. This could mean that the repairs would not be carried out and the defective vehicles would still be on our roads. This new authority to order manufacturers to issue a recall and to correct defective or non-compliant vehicles at their expense would close that gap.

I recognize that the recall order powers are powerful tools, which is why this bill includes a recourse mechanism for companies that ensures transparency and accountability. Our goal is to keep our roads safe and protect Canadian consumers.

In addition, the proposal for a new power to order a company to undertake testing of its products, which is similar to the power available under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, would be invaluable for defect investigation, particularly where there are proprietary technologies involved. This would assist Transport Canada in carrying out its responsibilities.

Speaking of new technologies, the automated and connected vehicle revolution has arrived. The provisions proposed in this bill are key measures that will support the industry in bringing these innovative technologies to market. They will allow us to maintain the safety of the vehicles on the road where new technologies are being developed and tested, while protecting Canadians. A more efficient exemption process; an extension of the period for interim orders; and the new order power to suspend, modify or adapt a regulation will contribute to our objective of promoting innovation.

Improving our investigation and enforcement tools is also key to protecting Canadians. As such, the bill includes an administrative monetary penalty regime and the new consent project. In addition, the inspector powers have been modified from the previous version of the bill to specify the purpose of the inspector's entry into company property.

Finally, the other House put forward an amendment to the bill to address concerns raised by Canada's vehicle dealers. I am pleased to inform you that we have worked closely with the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association to better understand their views and to clarify how the bill would protect their members. As a result of these conversations, we will be coming forward with a proposed amendment to the current bill that addresses their concerns.

Madam Chair, Canadians have been waiting far too long for the improvements in this bill. It has been nearly two and a half years since the majority of these provisions were first proposed by the previous government. I hope that your committee will pass this bill swiftly so that all Canadians can benefit from increased safety that these provisions will bring, while we continue pursuing other ways to improve safety for Canadians.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Judy Sgro

Thank you very much, Minister Garneau.

On to our questioning. Mr. Lobb, for six minutes.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Thanks to the minister for appearing today despite being under the weather. I appreciate that for sure.

In your presentation you talk about interim orders for new technology extensions. Was there any discussion around how long those interim orders could last? Is it months, weeks, years, decades? How long are we talking about?

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

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

I guess the answer to that would be as long as they are necessary but no longer than necessary. As the title suggests, we want on an interim basis to have some flexibility, particularly with respect to the introduction of new technologies, whilst at the same time it being uppermost in our minds, of course, that safety is our main concern when new vehicles are introduced. We do feel that we need to provide some flexibility, hence these interim orders. However, it would only be for the time required to allow the necessary testing of these vehicles.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

We all know the names of those out there now who are using highly automated vehicles—Tesla, Volkswagen, and all the rest, on and on. Does Transport Canada currently have an idea on a daily basis how many of those vehicles are travelling Canadian highways and roads?

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

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

I'll turn to my officials in terms of numbers. The numbers are still very small at this point in time. Certainly, there are vehicles that have some degree of autonomy. As you know, there are five levels of autonomy, five being totally autonomous; you don't even need a driver. Some of these are quite advanced in terms of having features such as keeping in lanes and adaptive speed control, those kinds of things, and they're getting more sophisticated all the time. As you pointed out, many companies are introducing new models.

I don't have an exact count. I don't know if we have that information. I'll turn to my colleagues, but at this point in time it's still very, very small because as we move toward complete automation we need to put a lot of infrastructure in place outside of the vehicles. As well, we need to be in a situation where there are more vehicles on the roads that are communicating between each other.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

That's maybe one we'll have to look at as we go down the road, because I think they're having some significant issues in the United States with tests and tests gone wrong and exemptions there.

Probably the largest recall, the most serious recall likely outside of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, had to do with the Volkswagen diesel engines and the cheating on the tests, and so forth. Were there any discussions on that? Currently it would be through Environment where these would be flagged, I believe, but I don't believe Environment has the minister there, or you as minister, has the ability to recall those issues and force the company to do anything in Canada.

Can you comment on that?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

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

You're right, it's with Environment. This was a decision that was taken in 1999, I think, to separate environmental issues from safety issues. Yes, we've all followed the Volkswagen diesel saga, a very sad saga, but it is not a safety-related issue; it is certainly a serious environmental issue, but that is now the responsibility of the Department of Environment and Climate Change.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

I'm just wondering, at a time when we see a bill that is presented to the House of Commons through the Senate, the biggest feature in it is the theory or the idea of recall. It's probably the biggest issue in the last 10 years. There was no working collaboration with the other department, through you, to make sure that an issue.... It maybe isn't safety, but certainly the environment is at the forefront of everybody's mind. There's nothing here for Canadians on that.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

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

Yes, and again, it's because the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, as the name implies, is concerned with safety. We have to make sure that any new vehicle introduced on our roads is safe for people to drive. Other issues that are not safety related sometimes come under other departments.

I would say to you that there are big safety.... The Takata airbag is probably an issue that has grabbed a great deal of attention, and there are smaller issues with individual models.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Okay.

One final thought concerns the vacuum brake on the Ford F-150. That was an issue you dealt with earlier in the year, or in 2016. You're talking about transparency on these decisions, what Transport Canada's findings are versus what Ford's information is to counter it. I know that you guys came to an agreement.

At any rate, under the change, how much will the public as consumers be able to see that decision and how it comes to be?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

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

There's an example of where we decided that since the manufacturer was not ready to recall the vehicle, but we felt there were safety concerns and we didn't have the tools, i.e., we didn't have the tools of Bill S-2, we exerted pressure, as we could, in discussions with them. It certainly also received quite a bit of media coverage. Eventually Ford decided it was a good idea to proceed with the recall.

The new powers of Bill S-2 will allow us to solve those kinds of problems. I hasten to add that hopefully they won't be used very often. Most of the time, manufacturers not only announce a defect but also proceed with the other steps. Hopefully, most of the time there will not be a need to invoke the powers that Bill S-2 provides.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Judy Sgro

Thank you very much.

Mr. Fraser, you have six minutes.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Thank you to the minister for being here. I appreciate your presence to discuss this important piece of safety legislation.

When I was doing some review of Bill S-2 before, when it was last on the floor of the House of Commons, I came across an article indicating that as many as one in six cars on Canadian roads today might be subject to an outstanding recall. This blew me away, quite frankly. I don't think Canadians appreciate how many cars are actually subject to a current voluntary recall.

Right now there's not a power for you, or whoever the minister may be in the future, to order it or to prevent the sale from a dealer's lot to get on the roads. With such a low understanding of the number of recalls that are out there, when you use this power—I hope you don't, but should you have to—how are we going to ensure compliance? Can you perhaps point to how the administrative monetary penalty is going to lead to a high completion rate of repair when it comes to really making a difference for the safety of Canadians?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

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

You really touched on two sides of the equation. We want to make sure that manufacturers do issue recalls, which they do presently, but then also....or they issue a notice of defect. We want to make sure they also follow up with the recall and the repair. That's what Bill S-2 in part is meant to do. If they don't, there are different tools. At the moment, the only tool we have is to take them to court. We want to have a graduated capability with administrative monetary penalties or consent agreements that don't take us as far as pursuing, for many years, going to court. That's a new element in this bill.

On the other side of the coin, many drivers are notified that they have a defect by the manufacturer, but sometimes, regretfully, they decide, “Oh, my car is seven years old. I'm not going to bother.” There is not an educational component in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, but it is certainly important. We hope that with this new act, people will be more conscious of the fact that even though their car is older, should it have defects, especially if they are safety related.... But that also demands an initiative on the part of car owners.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Maybe this is outside the scope of the four corners of Bill S-2, but you mentioned public education. In addition to the inevitable media coverage that a piece of legislation gets when it goes through the legislative process, are there plans, as part of the transportation 2030 strategy, to engage in a public education and awareness piece? With the enforcement mechanism in there though, are you confident that the public won't need to be educated because it's going to happen, as between the government, dealers, and manufacturers?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

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

I think this bill will help quite a bit, but I don't rule out the possibility of taking other measures to really encourage drivers to be more conscientious about fixing cars for safety reasons. This becomes particularly important if they eventually want to sell their car. They don't want to sell a car with multiple defects.

September 26th, 2017 / 3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Of course.

On the issue of automated vehicles, we heard through a previous study on smart cities that this is coming in short order. In 10 or 15 years, they're going to be everywhere, we heard. This was a bit of an eye-opener for me, coming from rural Nova Scotia. To picture driverless vehicles on the roads is a long shot for most people to imagine. Knowing that we're on the precipice of this new technological development, how is the exemption power going to both ensure that we're on the cutting edge of technology, so the economic benefits come to our country, without jeopardizing the safety of Canadians, as new technology makes its way onto the roads?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

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

It's a very good question. It's a fine line because what we want to do...and by the way, it will be incremental. It's not as though, after a certain period of time, suddenly 100% of our vehicles will be automated vehicles. The manufacturers are developing vehicles that have more and more autonomy, but they are still driven by people.

In the meantime—and this is something we're encouraging; Ontario is out there already doing it—there are tests in specific places. For example, the town of Stratford, Ontario is actually accepting the development of driverless vehicle technology to be done on the test site of part of the town. Other countries are doing this, like the United States and in Europe. We hope other provinces will become involved.

We're very encouraged by the Active and Aurora programs, which are at the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia. As the vehicles are put out there in real life situations, we have to ensure that they remain safe and do not present a hazard, but we have to make some adjustments to the regulations because we're dealing with new technologies. It's very much something that is in front of us at the moment, but we wanted to give ourselves the flexibility in Bill S-2, so that we could do this and encourage the innovation and the development.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Judy Sgro

Thank you very much, Mr. Fraser.

Go ahead, Mr. Aubin.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Welcome, Minister Garneau.

You've visited two times in the three weeks since work resumed. I invite you to maintain this pace. I must say we're always pleased to be able to address questions directly to the Minister.

My first question is simple. We've often talked about a bill proposing an alignment with the American legislation. I have the impression—you can tell me whether I'm right or wrong—that the alignment basically consists of catch-up measures in relation to the American legislation.

Does any part of Bill S-2 place us ahead of the curve and help us spearhead an American amendment?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

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

The other day, I said that we're working hard to catch up when it comes to this technology, which is developing quickly. I didn't say that it was in relation to the Americans' technology. It's everywhere.

Of course, we must work with our American partners. We do so in all transportation areas, including cars, trains and airplanes. The Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council, the RCC, has brought together our two countries for a long time. The RCC's goal is to align our regulations so that they don't change when we cross the border by car.

Are we ahead in relation to the Americans? I must turn to my colleagues. They can answer the question. However, I can tell you that we're certainly aware of the importance of acting as quickly as possible.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you.

Paragraph 9(1)(b) of the bill gives you the power to exempt certain vehicles from applying the safety standards if the exemption promotes the development of technologies. Like many people, I concluded that the exemption would be applied if the technological innovation provided for a higher safety level than previously intended. I imagine this is the spirit of the act.

Can you illustrate this using a concrete example?

How do you justify this new exemption power when the verification shortcomings raised in the Auditor General's report haven't been corrected?

The Auditor General's note on the matter was very clear. I know that Bill S-2 is not necessarily a direct response to the Auditor General's audit, but I imagine that you're nonetheless using it to re-establish a certain number of facts.