Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to be here today to speak to Bill S-2, an act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act.
I am also pleased to see that the Liberal government is willing to take good ideas from the previous Conservative government and implement them in a bipartisan manner. Bill S-2 bears a striking resemblance to Bill C-62, as was mentioned. Bill C-62, introduced by the then minister of transport, the hon. member for Milton, was a solid piece of legislation, designed to increase our safety standards.
Bill S-2 proposes to increase the involvement of the Minister of Transport in vehicle recalls to bring Canada in line with the recall standards of other countries around the world. The power of the Minister of Transport to issue recalls is a welcome addition. While this power is expected to be required only rarely due to the willingness of manufacturers to issue recalls quickly, it is an important deterrent to help avoid any issues going forward. The power of the minister to issue fines to manufacturers for up to $200,000 per day for non-compliance gives this legislation the horsepower it needs to be taken seriously as a legitimately enforceable piece of legislation.
An interesting idea in this legislation is to impose a non-monetary penalty on the company in lieu of, or in addition to, a monetary fine. Such a penalty could take the form of, for example, a requirement for additional research and development to be implemented. I doubt that these penalties would be imposed often, if at all, as the company would want to avoid any public embarrassment that such a fine would cause. That said, having this power would be very useful for the minister should any conflict over safety concerns arise.
This act would also codify into law what the market has set as the standard for recalls, ensuring that manufacturers are the liable party for the cost of replacing any recalled parts. Again, this is the current market standard, but ensuring that the standard is clearly expressed in law is a positive step for manufacturers, the dealerships, and the consumers. It is important to note that while it is, indeed, laudable to increase our safety standards, this bill is not a response to a significant issue within the industry.
Canada does not have an excess of dangerous vehicles on its roads that manufacturers are refusing to repair. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In 2015, manufacturers recalled over five million vehicles of their own accord for everything from bad hydraulics on a trunk to important engine repairs. Manufacturers voluntarily spent their time and money to ensure that their products were safe and that they met the standards that consumers expect.
With the advent of social media and 24-hour news, manufacturers cannot afford the bad publicity that comes with widespread complaints and potentially dangerous faults. That is why, in 2016, there were at least 318,000 recalls issued without a complaint having been filed with Transport Canada. Again, I believe vehicle manufacturers do not want to be put in the difficult situation of having the press catch wind of a defect before they know about it.
The reason I bring attention to this is due to the proposed changes to section 15 of the act. These proposed subsections give several notable new powers to Transport Canada inspectors. Some of these powers are worth noting due to how they change the current relationship between the manufacturer and Transport Canada.
Considering the extent of these powers, I will read from the bill itself, which states that the inspectors may enter on and pass through or over private property “without being liable for doing so and without any person having the right to object to that use of the property”, and can “examine any vehicle, equipment or component that is in the place”. Inspectors may “examine any document that is in the place, make copies of it or take extracts from it”. They may “use or cause to be used a computer or other device that is in the place to examine data that is contained in or available to a computer system or reproduce it or cause it to be reproduced”, and “remove any vehicle, equipment or component from the place for the purpose of examination or conducting tests.”
Furthermore, the bill states:
Any person who owns or has charge of a place entered by an inspector under subsection (1) and every person present there shall answer all of the inspector’s reasonable questions related to the inspection, provide access to all electronic data that the inspector may reasonably require...
Perhaps now it is clearer as to why I highlight the good record manufacturers have regarding the timely issuing of recalls.
These additional powers seem somewhat disproportionate to any issues we currently experience with safety recalls.
It is very reasonable, and indeed a requirement, for Transport Canada inspectors to have increased powers to go along with their increased responsibilities in the bill. However, I would suggest a measured response.
It simply is not the case that manufacturers are hiding serious defects from both the public and Transport Canada. Again, I call attention to the 318 recalls that manufacturers issued without any complaint made to Transport Canada.
As I mentioned the last time I spoke to the bill, the reality is that the last time a minister of transport criminally prosecuted a manufacturer was nearly 25 years ago, in 1993, when Transport Canada took Chrysler Canada to court over defective tire winch cables. The case was dismissed in 2000.
Those numbers show that vehicle manufacturers are working with the public in good faith and we ought to work with them in that same good faith.
That is why I proposed an amendment to Bill S-2 which would have ensured that the minister acts in good faith while exercising the additional power granted in the bill.
I will read from my amendment to give context to what I am saying. It states, “The Minister may, by order, require any company that applies a national safety mark to any vehicle or equipment, sells any vehicle or equipment to which a national safety mark has been applied or imports any vehicle or equipment of a class for which standards are prescribed to if the Minister has evidence to suggest that there is a defect or non-compliance in the vehicle or equipment.” To add clarity, the amendment I proposed would have required that the minister have a suspicion of defect or non-compliance prior to ordering tests or imposing on a manufacturer. This is as opposed to the original wording, which insinuates the ability of the minister to order tests to prove compliance. While this difference may seem subtle, it is paramount.
While this bill would not amend the Criminal Code, I still believe that the presumption of innocence ought to be the standard in any legislation that contains punitive enforcement options. Remember, the minister can issue fines of up to $200,000 per day. This is far from an insignificant amount of money.
In addition to the text above, my amendment also required that the minister consult with the manufacturer before ordering tests in order to determine if the company had conducted or had planned to conduct the tests he was considering ordering. This could have potentially saved the manufacturers the cost of conducting tests that had already been completed. I saw this as recognition of the effort that manufacturers were currently placing on safety testing, along with their strong safety track records.
The bill in its current wording seemingly assumes that there is widespread and intentional non-compliance. This is simply not backed up by statistics. Remember, there has never been a case where the manufacturer refused outright to repair a defect in a vehicle, especially one that would lead to a dangerous situation. In fact, there is evidence of the opposite. I would draw members attention again to the over 300 examples from 2016 of voluntary recalls, without any complaint having been received by Transport Canada. I see those examples and recognize the importance manufacturers are already placing on safety.
Again, this is not to state that we do not need a legislative framework to ensure these high standards are maintained. However, improvements could have been made on Bill S-2 to correct the issues I noted. Unfortunately, the Liberal members of the committee rejected my reasonable amendment. In fact, the Liberals rejected both of the Conservative amendments and all of the NDP amendments. For a government that likes to claim bipartisanship or collaboration on these kinds of bills, that is a remarkable statistic.
I would now like to take a moment to speak about the larger framework into which Bill S-2 will fit.
The Auditor General released a report in November 2016 titled “Oversight of Passenger Vehicle Safety—Transport Canada”. The report was less than glowing in its review of the current state of Transport Canada. In particular, the report noted that Transport Canada was slow in responding to new risks, which posed a significant problem for a bill meant to increase the speed and clarity of recalls for Canadians. It states:
We found that Transport Canada did not maintain an up-to-date regulatory framework for passenger vehicle safety. There were lengthy delays, sometimes of more than 10 years, from the time work began on an issue to the Department’s implementation of new standards or changes to existing ones.
The report stated that Transport Canada generally waited until the United States had updated its motor vehicle safety standards. What is the point of conducting research if the safety recommendations are not implemented until another jurisdiction leads the way? Canada has very different requirements than the United States. We expect more from our government agencies than simply waiting and mirroring the actions of our neighbour to the south.
Going forward, this will become an even more pressing concern as autonomous vehicles are introduced onto our roads, as has already been noted by previous speakers. We will need a nimble, legislative, and regulatory framework to ensure that consumers are protected, while recognizing that manufacturers do indeed have a strong track record of ensuring safety.
Furthermore, the Auditor General notes that there is a problem with inconsistent use of evidence and research in determining safety standards. It states:
We also found that it [Transport Canada] did not have complete collision and injury data to inform its decisions. 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.
These are significant issues facing Transport Canada. They should be resolved if the agency is going to be expected to take on additional responsibilities for a proactive review of vehicles.
The Auditor General report noted that Transport Canada possessed incomplete data on collisions and injuries in the national collision database because provinces were not providing the information.
In addition, the report noted that Transport Canada did not have access to data from insurance companies, hospitals, police, and others involved in vehicle safety matters. Therefore, it is missing information that could help inform future vehicle safety priorities.
Transport Canada will need to work toward addressing these issues as it prepares for the additional responsibilities entrusted to the agency in Bill S-2. It is important to note that the agency has indicated it is taking the recommendations of the Auditor General seriously and working to implement those changes. However, I question how much of a change it can make while dealing with reduced funding.
For example, the budget for crash-worthiness testing was cut by 59% for the 2016-17 fiscal year. At the same time, funding for six regional teams situated in engineering departments in universities and colleges that were charged to assist in outreach activities on vehicle safety also saw their funding cut. These regional teams will no longer be able to feed information into the regulatory decision-making process, which the auditor general had noted was not functioning as well as it could be.
Therefore, while the agency is dealing with a lower budget, Bill S-2 is seeking to increase its responsibilities. I question how it will be expected to fulfill these new responsibilities if it does not have the resources to fulfill the responsibilities it currently has.
Bill S-2 would advance vehicle safety standards and would be a positive step in ensuring safety. However, the bill is missing some key aspects that would make its enforcement much more effective and fair for both the manufacturers and the consumers. It was disappointing that members of the governing party did not work with the opposition to ensure that the proposed amendments by the opposition were added to the bill, which would have provided more transparency and increased clarity when it came to the powers of the minister.
All in all, Bill S-2 is important legislation and would result in increased road safety, which why I will support the bill at third reading.