Edmonton Journal on Masse's Right To Repair Legislation

IDNUMBER 200808230033
PUBLICATION: Edmonton Journal
DATE: 2008.08.23
SECTION: Opinion
SOURCE: The Edmonton Journal


Is there a 'right to repair'?


Few private members' bills in parliament ever see the light of day -- and that isn't necessarily as lamentable as it might seem at first blush. But one that does deserve a serious look, at least in spirit, has been proposed by Windsor West MP Brian Masse.

The Ontario New Democrat's Bill C-425 -- dubbed the "Right to Repair" bill -- seeks to offer Canadian consumers the same degree of choice and competition in vehicle repair and maintenance enjoyed by our neighbours in the U.S.

Canadian travellers to the developing world are often amazed to witness hard-working mechanics, who seem to patch together cars and trucks by sheer force of will, found materials and sweat, working under the most trying outdoor circumstances imaginable. But in these parts, the neighbourhood garage is becoming a relic of a bygone era, for a variety of reasons. Since 1998, many vehicles sold in this country have been equipped with on-board diagnostic capabilities (OBD II). Nearly 60 per cent of the 18.4 million vehicles on the road this year in Canada have them. As our cars and trucks have become more sophisticated, these computer-control units have become important for proper maintenance, emissions control and safety.

The necessary software for repairs today is complex and getting more so, and much of the essential hardware is very expensive -- simply uneconomic for local "grease monkeys" of yore, however inventive and clever.

Of course, vehicle manufacturers rightly insist that only authorized dealerships should handle warranty work. But there are still hundreds of independent garages across the country that have made the required capital and human investments to perform quality, contemporary repairs and maintenance for cars and trucks not covered by warranty. And with the major exception of General Motors, Canadian automakers are denying them access to the software and tools they need. This is not the case in the U.S., where the industry licenses its software and other tools for a fee. Independents here are forced to use American addresses and credit cards to secure the appropriate programs, but they can experience difficulties without access to technical support.

Masse, who visited the Edmonton area last week to promote the bill, says his legislation contains provisions that protect automakers' proprietary information.

It's understandable that some car makers and dealers -- many suffering horrendous losses -- aren't keen on sharing their property with competitors. But things seem to have worked out in the U.S. with these agreements, and GM isn't hurting because it is licensing its software.

In fact, it's regrettable that matters have come to this point at all. If Canadian automakers simply followed the lead of their U.S. and foreign owners, there would be no need to correct this obvious lapse in consumer freedom.