Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the Senate bill, Bill S-2, an act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act to empower the government to force recalls of vehicles with safety problems. As we know, the role of the government is first and foremost to protect its people. We cannot protect everyone from everything, and as they say, “He who defends everything defends nothing.” However, we certainly should be protecting Canadians from predictable safety issues. All members of this chamber, and most in the other chamber as well, can agree on these principles. Protecting Canadians is the role of all parties and all parliamentarians.
That is why this proposed act has been introduced twice, in two different chambers by members of two parties. Bill S-2 closely resembles the bill tabled at the end of 2015 by the hon. member for Milton. Then, as the Minister of Transportation, she tabled Bill C-62 to provide recall powers to the minister and the Department of Transport, to impose fines where appropriate, and to ensure that Canadians have safer vehicles. Bill S-2 diligently reproduces that leading legislation, and we appreciate the work of the senator who did so, and the work of the members of the Senate transportation committee and all the witnesses who appeared before them to bring this legislation forward.
This bill would provide new powers that are not really that new. In fact, if we were to read stories about vehicle recalls in the press, it almost sounds as if the government has recall powers already. Surprisingly though, Canada's federal government lacks the power to order manufacturers to recall any vehicle with a defect. According to testimony before the Senate, Canada has the power to order recalls and changes to other vehicles like airplanes and ships, but not to any cars or trucks. What this bill would do is create those new recall powers, as well as penalties of up to $200,000 per day. It would make it the prerogative of the manufacturer, not the dealer, to make repairs.
From the testimony, we know that some of the issues arising when there is a recall will continue. These cannot be fixed by legislation. As any of us who have gone through a recall know, a recall may be ordered but the parts might not always be instantaneously available. I read an interesting article last week, the story of John Fawcett from Iqaluit and his recalled Jeep with a known defect that abruptly shifted the transmission into neutral while the vehicle was under way. As a new father, this created a major problem for him. His vehicle was unsafe for his family. After some research, Mr. Fawcett discovered that his Jeep was under manufacturer's recall for four different issues that were listed on Transport Canada's website. The issue of the abrupt shifting of gears was also listed on the website and described thus:
...an unexpected shift to neutral which could result in a loss of motive power, which in conjunction with traffic and road conditions, and the driver's reactions may increase the risk of a crash.”
Mr. Fawcett accepted that his car needed a bit of work and that Chrysler was responsible for doing it.
This bill would ensure that consumers like John are protected from the potentially catastrophic accidents that can result from manufacturers' defects, and would authorize the Minister of Transport to order a company to correct a defect or non-compliance in a vehicle or equipment if it is considered to be in the interest of public safety. In addition, there would be the power to order companies to pay the costs of correcting a defect or non-compliance in a vehicle or equipment.
These combined order powers are important for potential situations in which consumers would be expected to pay for the correction of a defect or non-compliance of a vehicle or equipment. Such a situation would place an unreasonable financial burden on Canadians and potentially place other Canadians at risk should their fellow citizens be unable to undertake the necessary repairs.
I will have to agree with my colleague from the Senate chamber and former City of Ottawa police chief, who summarized this bill as “legislation [that] will strengthen oversight of the recall process. It will be a big win for consumers and overall for the safety of Canadians.”
The purpose of Bill S-2 is to increase consumer protection and motor vehicle safety in Canada. This is why the previous government brought this bill forward in 2015, why it is before us today, and why I will support this bill.
I found it useful to look at some of the parts of the testimony provided by consumer protection groups, vehicle dealers, and manufacturers. The first thing I noticed was the interesting insert of the dealers' and manufacturers' arrangement. The dealer networks noted that some, not all, manufacturers were providing poor business support to their dealers. Dealers were left holding costs for vehicles under safety recalls that were not yet sold to a customer. It was left to the headquarters of the car manufacturers in other countries to determine if they would provide help or not. This seems like a poor arrangement and a bad relationship between two businesses.
I am not always confident that government can help fix a poor business relationship, and time will tell if this new arrangement to manage recalls between manufacturers and dealers is a good deal for the end-user. When the bill was tabled by the previous government, it was all about the protection of consumers. There were no clauses about fixing a lopsided business relationship.
The bill was about protecting people who use and operate vehicles daily. Specifically, the bill ensured that vehicle recall notices would be sent as soon as possible so that people would be aware of the potential risks; that manufacturers would be required to act on the recall quickly and at the convenience of the customer, not at the convenience of the product cycles; and that manufacturers would cover the costs associated with recalls. That puts families first and works at the heart of protecting our regulatory regime.
The president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Associated said:
In particular, we support Bill S-2 amendments that provide a clear, more rigorous and transparent process for exercising a number of Ministerial Powers to Order, recognition of the rapid pace of technological change through enhanced ability to provide exemptions to standards where new technologies [exist]....
We know for the most part the manufacturers agree in principle with many of these measures. Why would they agree? For American companies, this aligns for the most part with U.S. regulations and makes it easier for them to understand and comply. The bill would empower the Minister of Transport to impose fines on manufacturers who delay or postpone recalls or who do not comply with recall orders.
Ian Jack of the Canadian Automobile Association said:
The Canadian system is a veritable, if not literal, paper tiger. Bill S-2 will give the minister the authority to order a company to issue that recall to make companies repair a recalled vehicle at no cost to consumer and to prevent new vehicles from being sold in Canada until they are repaired. This matches similar legislation that exists in the U.S., finally levelling the playing field for Canadian consumers.
Bill S-2 brings Canadian consumers up to the level of other consumers around the world, at least on measures related to recall notices, and this measure aligns with the harmonization of regulatory issues across the U.S. and Canada. The legislation will bring forward the protection of consumers, ensure that Canadian dealer networks are treated fairly, and ensure that our roads and streets have safer vehicles on them.
I am always happy to see some bipartisan co-operation on issues that ensure that Canada is protecting its citizens, and I am always happy to provide support when the Liberals follow the leadership of the previous Conservative government.
I would like to thank the senator for bringing this legislation forward. Like many parliamentary processes, it ran longer than a single mandate or government. I look forward to working with him and all my colleagues in the House to advance this legislation.