Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the hon. member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner.
Before I begin, I would like to mention that it has been almost two years since the passing of my friend's predecessor Jim Hillyer. This summer I had the absolute pleasure of having Jim's son, London Hillyer, as our intern. I want to let Jim know upstairs that his son London did a fantastic job and he would be very proud of him.
I am pleased to rise today to talk to Bill S-2, an act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Like many people in the House today we generally support the intent of the bill.
Presently, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act limits the power of the Minister of Transport to issuing notices of safety defects and criminally prosecuting manufacturers.
Transport Canada does not presently have the authority to order recalls, but rather to list active recalls on its website and issue press releases if it believes there is an issue with a type or model of a vehicle.
Bill S-2 would amend the act to provide the minister with the authority to order a vehicle recall and order the vehicle's manufacturer to correct the defect at no cost to the consumer. So far, so good.
An hon. Conservative senator from Newfoundland amended the legislation to ensure that vehicle manufacturers would be responsible for costs to protect car dealers from shouldering the costs of a vehicle recall. We have many car dealerships in Edmonton West. I have spoken to several of these dealers and they are 100% behind the amendment, of course, because it would save them money. I generally agree with parts of the amendment, but not where the amendment starts to set out compensation guidelines. That is best left to the market to decide.
I support legislation that will protect consumers from unnecessary and unfair financial burdens of defective products. It should not fall to a consumer, nor really the car dealer, to assume the cost of manufacturer defects, particularly with something like vehicles, which have potentially fatal consequences if something goes wrong. I also support legislation that is designed to keep consumers informed of any real or potential dangers with the equipment they choose to purchase.
The Auditor General report on Transport Canada, entitled “Oversight of Passenger Vehicle Safety”, lists two positive items on Bill S-2. One is a proposed new regulatory power to establish an information reporting requirement that would identify safety defects sooner. The Auditor General report also notes a positive part of Bill S-2 that would require companies operating in Canada to be more aware of foreign defects and issues of non-compliance for vehicles that would be similar to those sold in Canada.
That said, I have a few concerns with Bill S-2 as it is outlined and I will elaborate on them now.
The government's justification for the legislation is, to be charitable, a bit underwhelming. Per the words of the government's representative in the other place, it is because vehicles are complex and sophisticated, and much of the technology is proprietary.” No kidding.
Bill S-2 would give the minister new powers on ordering companies to conduct tests, analyses, or studies on vehicles or equipment at the minister's discretion; just at the minister's discretion, with no parameters, no guidelines.
I want to stop and take a look at what is going on with Boeing and Bombardier. The government is putting jobs at risk, investment at risk and has politicized the replacement of needed equipment for our men and women in uniform to protect its friends in Bombardier, and we want to give unfettered and undefined power to the minister? What is next? Are we going to interfere with the General Motors Cami strike going on right now because of concerns of moving the plant to Mexico or the US? Or using these powers to punish Toyota for not putting a plant in a friendly riding? It sounds inconceivable, but we have to stop and look at this through the lens of the Bombardier and Boeing mess, where the government has stepped in and interfered. We have to look at how the Liberal cabinet interfered with the purchase of the Navy's replenishment ship apparently at the orders of a rival firm.
It is important to ensure that motor vehicle inspectors at Transport Canada have the information they need to ensure companies are complying with the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. It is also important that we are not unnecessarily and excessively increasing the discretionary power of the minister at the expense of companies invested in Canada.
In 2015, as has been noted before, five million passenger vehicles were recalled in Canada. Dozens of vehicle types are recalled each year for which Transport Canada has not received any complaints. This means that vehicle companies that already have the incentive to ensure their vehicles are operating safely on our roads to the benefit of consumers are largely fulfilling their role in ensuring vehicle safety. I am therefore left wondering if we are increasing the discretionary power of the minister and the Department of Transport to fix a problem that does not really exist.
The government's argument is that the powers are anticipatory. Unfortunately, it is logically inconsistent to arbitrarily increase the power of a member of the executive unless there is a clear need to do so.
The new ministerial powers would also potentially be self-justifying their actions. The minister would be able to order a company to conduct tests on a product and provide evidence to the minister, which the government could then turn around and use to justify a recall against the same product.
The legislation would also give vehicle inspectors from Transport Canada new powers to enter any private property, other than a home dwelling, examine any documents, disassemble and remove any components, use any computers that would be on the location and copy data, as well as interrogate workers present to ensure compliance with the act. This power is quite exceptional and directly contradicts the very basic privacy protections afforded to individuals and businesses in Canada. Everyone must provide clear and objective standards under which the minister would invest inspectors with such extraordinary powers to prevent said abuses of power.
A reading from the Auditor General's report, and there are a couple of items here, 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 had to] waited for the United States to change its motor vehicle safety standards before modifying Canadian standards....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.
Nothing in this act would do anything to address these real concerns addressed in the Auditor General's report.
Earlier, the minister stated that Bill S-2 was well-intentioned. We do need something a bit more than well-intentioned.
The Auditor General provided rather uncomplimentary assessment overall on the state of operations at the Transport Canada motor vehicle safety directorate. His office was especially tough on the processes Transport Canada used to create and enforce new regulations, noting that, “We could not always determine how the Department used evidence and research to develop or amend safety standards.” The AG cannot determine how Transport Canada comes up with safety standards, but the government wants to give Transport Canada full power to order recalls and demand that companies conduct research on safety standards.
It is not clear how Transport Canada would obtain, utilize, and keep the vast new data it would be able to collect, and it is sure unclear whether it would be able to justify the decision to obtain the data in the first place.
The Auditor General criticized Transport Canada's national database for not including complete Canadian data and for not attaining relevant information on industry statistics.
It is troubling that a department criticized for its existing process should be granted new powers without clear mechanisms for oversight to protect the integrity of the process. Perhaps the minister should focus his energies on addressing the Auditor General's report first before moving on with Bill S-2.
I look forward to the minister addressing the processes at Transport Canada and to rectifying the issues noted by the Auditor General. I encourage the government to provide adequate justification to make the case to increase discretionary power.
It is unclear how the government plans on addressing differences in opinion between vehicle manufacturers and Transport Canada. While not opposed, auto and parts manufacturers are concerned about the outcome of a potential difference in opinion about the nature and gravity of a defect between them and Transport Canada.
It is incumbent upon the government, as I mentioned, to ensure that it is creating a system that is open and clear and can be objectively applied in each case, perhaps some system where it could make evidenced-based decisions of some kind.
I am concerned about the lack of detail surrounding the arbitrary increase in the powers accorded to the minister. I am further concerned about the lack of oversight of Transport Canada, which has been criticized by the Auditor General specifically for being opaque regarding its internal processes and decision-making frameworks. I hope we can get the legislation to committee for further study. I trust the committee will take a long, hard look at our concerns as well as the concerns of the Auditor General.