Mr. Speaker, it is again a privilege to stand in the House after a good summer when Canadians were on the road travelling throughout Canada, appreciating our great country and celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary. It is nice to get back to Parliament and to represent the good folks of Battle River—Crowfoot.
I am pleased to participate in today's debate on Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Bill S-2 would give the Minister of Transport new vehicle recall powers. This bill is similar to legislation introduced by the previous Conservative government. Our Conservative Party is also concerned, and as a government was concerned, about passenger vehicle safety. We had legislative amendments in what was then called Bill C-62. It has been referenced today in the House a number of times, and I thank the Minister of Transport for his recognition of that bill as a good measure.
Bill S-2 would give the Minister of Transport the power to order companies to issue a recall notice. It would then compel manufacturers and importers to repair a recalled vehicle at no cost to the consumer. It is obvious that recalls are not only for safety on our roads and for our customers, but also to give Canadians confidence that the manufacturers of the vehicle models they have bought will comply when they realize there are questions about safety. The bill would give the Minister of Transport the power to order manufacturers and importers to repair new vehicles before they are sold. It would allow the Department of Transport to use monetary penalties or fines to increase safety compliance and to use the monetary penalties as a way to require manufacturers to take additional safety action. It would provide the department with flexibility to address ever-evolving vehicle safety technology and require companies to provide additional safety data and conduct additional testing to address safety concerns. Finally, the bill would increase Canada's vehicle inspection capability.
The importation of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment into Canada is governed by the safety standards established by the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
Before vehicles imported to Canada and equipment manufactured in Canada can be shipped to another province for sale, they must have a national safety mark confirming that they have been manufactured according to the act and the existing safety standards that are in place.
Currently under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, only manufacturers can order the recall of vehicles in Canada. The Minister of Transport can only order a manufacturer to notify Canadians that their vehicle is subject to this safety recall. Bill S-2 proposes to allow Transport Canada to issue monetary penalties against manufacturers. This new power is intended to ensure that manufacturers comply with Canada's Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The monetary penalty system would replace the time-consuming and very costly criminal prosecution of automobile manufacturers.
Bill S-2 would more closely align Canada's automobile recall process with the existing process in the United States. I asked the minister this morning how closely it would align with that in the United States. He was fairly clear that the intent of the measure was to reduce enforcement gaps between Canada and the United States, although I think he also insinuated that there were other safety precautions—I am not so sure if those are in Bill S-2, but in our safety standards—that go further than what the United States may have.
The previous Conservative government had already strengthened the Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 2014. Our previous government also passed into law provisions that brought the Motor Vehicle Safety Act very closely in line with American legislation. We know that we have an integrated industry. We know that there are vehicles manufactured in Canada and then sold in the United States, and vice versa.
It is an integrated market. Therefore, it is very important that we not put up red tape or barriers that limit the industry from having that equivalency between the two countries. For example, we were explicit in differentiating between an automobile defect compared to an automobile's non-compliance with Canada's Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
In 2014, our Conservative government gave Canada's former minister of transport the power to order an automobile company to inform Canadian consumers of safety defects. Bill S-2 is building on that effort by giving Canada's transportation minister the power not only to inform the public but also to recall those vehicles.
Canadians want and expect our vehicles to be safe and want defects to be identified as quickly as possible. The power to order vehicle recalls will help manage vehicle safety in Canada. Everyone knows that technological advances in motor vehicles are evolving so quickly that cars are becoming more and more technical and complex. We see it everywhere, with our cellphones, our videos, and anything dealing with electronics. We see it now in vehicles and vehicle safety. As the technology grows, the question is whether we are keeping up. I will talk a bit about that later on.
For us to be competitive we must facilitate these needs. Canada's regulatory regime needs to be more responsive to new and emerging technologies. We need to be responsive to new fuels as they come online, and also to safety advances. This bill will allow the department to require manufacturers to provide more safety information and do testing when needed, as well as increase their flexibility to address ever-changing safety technology.
Bill S-2 has provisions that did not appear in Bill C-62, tabled by the previous parliament in June 2015. Consent agreements relating to safety improvements and non-compliant companies have been added. As well, the current government wants to impose initiatives to provide some early flexibility to address the challenges of rapidly changing vehicle technologies. This measure needs to be pursued carefully when Bill S-2 is studied in committee.
This is again time to express the important work that committees do. We need to allow our committees the ability to look at these measures, to look at the timeliness of how we can deliver change, of how we can adapt to the ever-changing world of technology, of how that equates back to vehicle safety, and whether all of the possibilities are being checked out.
Also, the current government needs to pursue this measure carefully. The purpose of Bill S-2 is to increase consumer protection and motor vehicle safety in Canada. That is why we moved on this in 2015. It obvious today that the official opposition wants to support Bill S-2 in principle. However, we want this bill to go to committee to have the proper work done there.
We should also recognize and thank the Senate for bringing this forward quickly. Again, I am not certain why the government did not bring this as a government bill, but the Senate did bring it forward with some amendments, which we will talk about later on as well.
I had the privilege of chairing the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts. I am pleased that the Auditor General's report, as well as the report of the public accounts committee, and the important work they have done, is part of the debate today in the House.
The 2016 fall reports of the Auditor General of Canada included a chapter on oversight of passenger vehicle safety and the performance of Transport Canada. The Auditor General's report, entitled “Oversight of Passenger Vehicle Safety—Transport Canada”, found a couple of things. It states that vehicle safety technology is evolving faster than Canadian regulations and standards can keep up, and that Transport Canada faces challenges in exercising its important role of keeping passenger vehicles safe.
The Auditor General noted a number of significant deficiencies in the regulatory framework, including a lack of timeliness, an absence of broad stakeholder consultation, and outdated regulations. The report states:
For example, Transport Canada’s regulations did not allow vehicles to be equipped with advanced headlights that are controlled by software...[and] unregulated semi-autonomous vehicles are being driven on Canadian roads.
Those are a couple of areas where Transport Canada was not keeping up with what is available out there for the general public in some cases. The report goes on to state:
...Transport Canada waited for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States to develop new or amended standards before proposing regulatory actions in Canada.
The Auditor General was concerned about that. However, I am pleased that we recognize the integrated nature of the industry and that we are not always making changes after the United States does. Rather, we are watching what it does so we can have access to its market. The report further states:
This reactive approach created significant delays in implementing new standards, and meant that some passenger vehicles were not equipped with the newest safety features available in other countries, such as the...advanced headlamps.
There were lengthy delays—sometimes of more than 10 years—from the time that Transport Canada started to work on an issue to the implementation of new or amended standards.
As has been mentioned, technology is advancing quickly. What is new today in much of our technology will be old news or old technology in six months. Therefore, Transport Canada needs to address ways in which it can keep up.
The report further states:
Prior to making proposed regulations public in the Canada Gazette, Transport Canada consulted with manufacturers but did not engage broadly with stakeholders such as consumer associations, medical associations, and [our] police [forces].
The audit found that the important standards were not working as intended or were outdated.
Furthermore, the Auditor General stated:
...Transport Canada was aware that child seat anchorages could fail under certain conditions, but it had not proposed a new regulation or issued an advisory by the audit completion date.
The response by Transport Canada to the Auditor General was that introducing a unique-to-Canada requirement for anchorage strength in passenger vehicles would be detrimental to trade, and for that reason there was a delay.
Most concerning, and a challenge for the current Liberal government, is that Transport Canada has not been focusing on planning or funding its research and regulatory activities for the longer term. The department could not prioritize resources and spending decisions. It sounds like there are some real administrative problems there. For example, between April 2012 and December 2015, the department purchased 98 passenger vehicles for research testing. However, as of December 2015, a number of them had still not been tested. The vehicles were sitting there but many of the tests had not taken place.
The department appears to adequately assess complaints by Canadians and identifies vehicle safety defects. However, the report states:
...the Department did not request information about critical safety issues that manufacturers were investigating. As well, manufacturers issued 318 recalls between 2010 and 2015 for safety-related issues that were not brought to the Department’s attention.
Therefore, we can see the communication, the passing of information, and the data that is there. Data in just about everything in government is problematic. Here was a case of the department not working closely enough with the industry for it to be aware of recalls implemented by manufacturers on their own.
The report continues:
Furthermore, the Department did not have the authority to assess whether manufacturers implemented effective processes for identifying and reporting safety defects. This limited the Department’s ability to investigate defects and better protect Canadians.
While Transport Canada adequately assessed vehicle manufacturers' efforts to complete safety recalls, it was left to the manufacturers to contact owners for some recalled passenger vehicles. Manufacturers had difficulty identifying and contacting owners, especially owners of older vehicles. We know that sometimes other related or unrelated issues in an older vehicle may compound the problem it is actually being recalled for. We almost have a double whammy with these old clunkers on the road, as another politician in the past said, so we need to be certain that we comply with this.
The good news is that Transport Canada has agreed with the seven recommendations made by the Auditor General and is pursuing a detailed action plan. Again, I am pleased to report that the public accounts committee has studied and reported on this. We are still involved in a follow-up process that will hold them to account and make Canadians feel even safer.
I am going to read some of the recommendations the Auditor General had. Recommendation 1:
Transport Canada needs to confirm in writing to the Committee that it provides regular public updates on the status of its regulatory plans.
The public needs to have confidence.
Transport Canada needs to provide the Committee with a report detailing the implementation of an expanded and standardized consultation process seeking comments in a timely manner from expert stakeholders on Motor Vehicle Safety’s regulatory initiatives.
Again, this goes back to stakeholders, including the industry and our emergency responders, police forces, and other stakeholders.
Transport Canada needs to provide the Committee with a report detailing how it has implemented its action plan to improve the quality of collision and injury data.
Again, that is part of the process of follow up that committees do.
Transport Canada needs to provide the Committee with a report detailing the progress of the updated regulatory process and how evidence and scientific research are used to inform the development and/or modification of Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
How is science and research helping?
Transport Canada needs to provide the Committee with a report outlining its long-term operational plan for the Motor Vehicle Safety Directorate.
Transport Canada needs to provide the Committee with a plan detailing how Bill S-2’s proposed new authorities will be implemented into the passenger vehicle safety regulatory regime.
Finally, Recommendation 7:
Transport Canada needs to provide the Committee with a report outlining its process to support a new authority in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act to request that major auto manufacturers provide information on their data sources and internal processes for identifying and reporting safety defects.
Those were the Auditor General's recommendations in the audit, but one of the things he concluded with was this:
Transport Canada did not maintain an up-to-date regulatory framework that responded to emerging safety risks and technological issues. As a result, the approach failed to ensure that Canadian-driven passenger vehicles had the highest possible safety features and technologies.
I see that I only have one minute left. I will quickly say that I believe that there are laudable measures being taken in Bill S-2 that should be supported. The current government faces some formidable challenges in addressing vehicle safety in Canada, but I think this is a step in the right direction. As he stated, it is adopting the Conservative bill, Bill C-62, and we commend him for that.
Beyond that, as always, the devil is in the details. Again, we will be watching to see how quickly this is implemented and how quickly a minister would actually step out and tell manufacturers that there should be a recall. It needs to be not only passed but complied with by a minister who is prepared to make those tough decisions.
There are numerous challenges in keeping Canadians safe in the vehicles on our roads. Our former government was aware of that, and that is why we acted in 2014 and again in 2015 with the tabling of Bill C-62.
I commend the Liberal government for moving on this issue as well for adopting a bill that, unfortunately, had to start in the Senate. I hope that the government will allow the committee to do its work and that we will see this legislation move through the committee in a timely fashion.