Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the second reading debate of Bill C-373, an act respecting a federal framework on distracted driving. On the whole, I fully support the federal, provincial, and territorial work that is already being done on the very pressing issue of distracted driving.
Before I discuss the proposals in Bill C-373 in detail, I would like to acknowledge the commendable objectives and hard work on this bill, and express my gratitude to the hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, who introduced this bill in the House. I am not just saying that because he is my bench neighbour. He has put in a lot of hard work and energy into this bill, and I commend him for it.
At the outset, I think it is important to recognize that distracted driving poses a serious concern and risk to road safety, and those concerns are indeed escalating. The rate of motor vehicle collisions resulting from distracted driving has accelerated over the past decade due in large part to the widespread use of smart phones and other electronic hand-held devices.
I will now discuss certain specific proposals of Bill C-373. This bill would require the Minister of Justice, in co-operation with the Minister of Transport and the provincial and territorial governments, to develop a federal framework for the implementation of measures to deter distracted driving involving the use of hand-held electronic devices.
The proposed federal framework must cover six key elements: the mandatory collection of information and statistics; the enforcement of laws; public education programs on the dangers of distracted driving; driver-assistance technologies; the sharing of best practices among the provinces; and recommendations regarding possible amendments to federal laws, policies, and programs.
Four of these six key elements involve the use of both federal and provincial resources. The sharing of best practices among the provinces would only involve the provinces. The bill would also require the preparation of a report setting out the federal framework. This report must be tabled within 18 months following the coming into force of the bill. Within three years of the tabling of the first report, a report resulting from a comprehensive review of the federal framework must be tabled in Parliament. This comprehensive review must be undertaken in consultation with the provinces, territories, and key stakeholders.
As I have said, the objectives of the bill are laudable, but the government is unable to support this legislative initiative for a number of reasons. First, it is the provinces and territories who are primarily responsible for measures that respond to distracted driving. Virtually all of the provinces and territories already have legislation or regulations concerning the use of electronic hand-held devices while driving. Nunavut's legislation will be coming into force later this year.
Second, the Criminal Code includes a criminal offence of dangerous driving under section 249. If a distracted driver operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public, police already have the authority to lay criminal charges of dangerous driving. I would also note that in April of 2017, the government introduced Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other acts. The bill is currently being considered by the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in the other place. It would reform the entire Criminal Code regime dealing with transportation offences by repealing all of the current provisions and replacing them with a modern, simplified, and coherent new part in the Criminal Code. It would also reform impaired driving laws to strengthen existing drug-impaired driving laws and create a regime that would be among the strongest in the world.
During federal, provincial, and territorial discussions leading to Bill C-46, the issue of distracted driving involving the use of an electronic hand-held device was raised. It was accepted that the current dangerous driving offence in the Criminal Code sufficiently covers distracted driving that rises to the level of creating a danger to the public and that should result in a criminal investigation and charge.
A third reason that the government is unable to support this legislative initiative is that the bill would duplicate the actions and efforts already being coordinated by the Minister of Transport and Transport Canada. The Minister of Transport presently co-leads a distracted driving working group under the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators. The imposition of a new federal federal framework on top of an existing initiative is very likely to conflict in some ways and overlap in others. Provinces are likely to see federal legislation on this matter as potentially intruding in the areas of their jurisdiction and as an implied criticism or expression of concern with regard to their efforts. This may undermine federal-provincial collaboration, which already exists and is going very well.
Over the past year, the Minister of Transport has advocated for nationally consistent enforcement measures and higher sanctions for drivers who violate provincial or territorial laws by using a hand-held device while driving. Provinces and territories have been encouraged to improve their data collection and create harmonized rules across all jurisdictions. Many of those jurisdictions have responded favourably to these suggestions and have agreed to continue to discuss these matters through the federal, provincial, and territorial council of ministers responsible for transportation and highway safety.
A fourth reason that the government is unfortunately unable to support Bill C-373 is that fully implementing the proposals in this private member's bill would have cost implications for both the federal government and the provinces and territories. It would not be surprising if provinces and territories looked to the federal government for assistance in funding some of the elements of the proposed federal framework.
The government strongly supports measures to address the serious problem of distracted driving. The work of the CCMTA, which is co-led by Transport Canada, is an important demonstration of the type of federal, provincial, and territorial co-operation that exists on this issue.
Developing a federal framework would not have a greater impact on deterring distracted driving beyond what is already being done at the federal, provincial, and territorial levels. It would not significantly improve existing co-operative efforts, and indeed could duplicate processes that are under way and potentially diffuse those initiatives. For all of these reasons, the government cannot support the proposals in Bill C-373. Of course, voting against the private member's bill will ensure that existing federal, provincial, and territorial discussions will remain intact, constructive, and productive. It will allow us to continue to focus on the exceptional work that is already being done to address distracted driving.
Notwithstanding all of these comments, I want to end where I began, by commending my hon. colleague for his efforts, his energy, and for the passion that he brings to this important subject.