MASSE IN THE HOUSE: First Hour of Debate on Bill C-273, Right-to-Repair

Right to Repair – First Hour of Debate
March 6, 2009
Bill C-273. Second reading
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP) moved that Bill C-273, An Act to amend the Competition Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (right to repair), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak on Bill C-273, affectionately known as the right to repair and affectionately because it is a bill, I believe, that brings in a set of rules that would be very appropriate for this country to have. It deals with the aftermarket situation with regard to fixing automobiles and repairing them. It is an environmental issue, it is a consumer issue and it is also a safety issue.
The bill seeks to make some changes to the Competition Act and also the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and I do want to read into the record some elements that are very important.
However, before I do so, I do think it is important to outline that it has been a couple of years I am working on this bill. It is not a bill that has just come out of the blue. It is one that has been dealt with in terms of hearing from people across the country, ensuring that the issue was something that needed addressing, that there was going to be a required element of Parliament to move on the bill, and I hope all members will look at this bill, will look at the merit of it, and will endorse bringing it to committee for study and for further work, and I am pleased to do so.
When I think about this bill and one of the key elements of it, I want to thank Nancy Suranyi. I went to her garage in Namao, Alberta, and this is a facility that really showed another level to this It is not only just about making sure that consumers have the right to choose, but I found that the public safety element very significant, because in this facility, which requires this bill to move forward, there is everything, not only with regard to just vehicles for personal recreational use but also school buses and other types of public service vehicles where safety is required.
So what is the consumer's right to a repair bill? The vehicle manufacturers are restricting access to tools, training and software to the aftermarket industry due to the increased sophistication of today's vehicles. It is gradually becoming more difficult for independent repair facilities to access the information and develop the skills required to service vehicles. By resolving some of this information for dealership networks, vehicle manufacturers are putting the aftermarket industry at an unfair disadvantage. The aftermarket market has made significant efforts in recent years to negotiate with vehicle manufacturers in order to find a solution to this problem. Unfortunately, the majority of vehicle manufacturers in Canada are unwilling to negotiate an industry-led solution and have little impetus to do so. The AIA has exhausted industry-led solutions and is now the requesting the Government of Canada to intervene in order to restore the balance between the dealership network and the independent repair facilities.
It is important to note that the intent here, especially if we look at other parliamentary action we are taking, is to help the dealers, as well too. One of the things that we are requesting is to pursue a new vehicle purchasing and procurement policy as part of a stimulus package to get more automobiles on the road that are more modern and will actually help the dealers, as well, so this is very much done in balance.
So, what is the problem? Vehicle manufacturers are restricting access to the tools, training, and diagnostic and repair codes to independent installers, preventing them from repairing late-model vehicles. This effectively eliminates choice.
There are over 18 million vehicles on the road in Canada today. Approximately 59% of them are equipped with onboard diagnostic capabilities, referred to as OBD-II. The ratio will increase over time. The number of vehicle components monitored by the OBD-II will also continue to increase. The tools and the software required to access the computer control units on vehicles have become increasingly proprietary. Vehicle design processes are also more sophisticated. The use of exotic materials and the changes in welding and assembly technologies make it necessary for independent repair shops to access factory-specific training and tools. Consumer choice is evaporating and the impact of growing dealer monopoly is significant.
Fewer choices mean higher repair costs and many repairs will be delayed or ignored altogether, putting highway safety at risk and increasing the risk of poor quality emissions.
Also, fewer choices mean lower productivity. The existing dealer network does not have the capacity to repair all vehicles on the road today. This means longer waiting times and increased travel distances for consumers, especially in rural communities.
Fewer choices mean instability. Independent repair facilities are primarily small enterprises found across Canada and many are located in small towns and rural areas. If this problem is not solved, many small businesses may be forced out of business within the next five years.
Fewer choices mean that emission standards for vehicles will not be maintained, leading to more pollution and contributing to other environmental problems.
Fewer choices endanger public safety because the safety mechanisms and the functions on vehicle will be at risk of not being properly maintained, putting not only drivers and passengers at risk, but also pedestrians and property owners.
It is important to note that this is a situation unique to Canada. I live close to the border. If I walk down the front steps of my house and look to the left I can see Detroit, Michigan. It is literally two miles away. The river is two miles wide.
Ironically, I could get my car repaired at an independent garage in Detroit within a matter of minutes yet I could not do the same in Canada. With is also ironic is the fact that the repair technician working on my vehicle in the United States could have less training than a repair technician in Canada because Canada has some of the highest qualification requirements. Our technicians get their training in independent garages.
I want to thank Danielle Grech, Andre Chamberlain and Daniel Clement who attended the press conference here. These technicians had never done a public press conference before and despite that came to the nation's capital and took part in this public forum.
They talked about the fact that even though they were professionally trained, they found it difficult to service people's vehicles. They talked about the fact that they had gone to school and received the necessary training and met the necessary requirements, but because of technical problems related to an industry that could not find consensus, they were not able to compete in a fair and open process.
That is what is at stake here when thousands of people are affected by this industry. They know they are going to see diminished opportunities not because of competition or because of other issues, but because they do not have the ability to be in a market that allows them to do so.
That is the reason why Canada needs to change this. The U.S. environmental protection act provides a requirement for a manufacturer to provide this kind of information.
What is key here, and I want to make sure members in the House understand, is that I am not asking for something free. The legislation would require a fair payment system. We want to protect intellectual property. We want to make sure these things are going to be maintained. There is a clear effort from the groups supporting the bill to have a basic set of principles.
In the United States it is easy to download any of the actual required software with just a credit card purchase. In Canada, a vehicle in an independent shop would have to be towed to a dealership because we cannot simply download a program here.
Vehicles now have increased computerization that is going to require this type of atmosphere. Things like tire pressure could be affected in terms of whether a vehicle could be serviced at a particular facility or not.
The bill has been looked at through a lot of different lenses. I want to read some of names of the organizations that are supporting the bill: the Retail Council of Canada; Pollution Probe; the Canadian Association of Retired Persons; Corporation des carrossiers professionnels due Québec; the Canadian Independent Automotive Association; the Barrie Automotive Repair Association; the Grey-Bruce Independent Automotive Repair Association; Association des marchands de véhicule d'occasion du Québec; the Ontario Tire Dealers Association; Motorist Assurance Program; Automotive Oil Change Association; Atlantic Tire Dealers Association; Independent Garage Operators Association; the Western Canada Tire Dealers Association and the Windsor Professional Automotive Repair Association. The list also includes associations in Kawartha, Sudbury, and western Canada.
I would be remiss if I did not thank John Sowatsky and Dave Santing from my local riding who have been pushing this issue and have been doing some very good work in terms of public policy.
The bill is more about being fair to consumers, but it is also about public safety. Dave's garage in my riding repairs municipal vehicles and ambulances as well as regular vehicles. To keep his business going he specializes in certain vehicles as well as ordinary vehicles in order for him to make ends meet.
It is important to note that not all car companies are like this. Some are better than others.
I would note that General Motors is not opposing this bill and is one of the better companies that has provided information about this. There needs to be an effort to make sure that there is going to be a clear accountability system. People need to be able to access some of these programs, services and tools.
I spoke with Nancy Suranyi in Edmonton, Alberta. She had recently sent a team of employees to the United States to get the training, qualifications and equipment because it was not available here. There is a grey market aspect. Companies would love to be able to train Canadians on their own soil. It is really important to note that is part of what is necessary to make sure we have a modernized fleet and will continue to see the issues addressed.
One of the issues is emissions. In Ontario there are a number of different clean air and drive programs. There are others out there. We need to make sure that smaller and medium-sized businesses are certified as well so that greenhouse gas emissions are lowered. A lot of vehicles will stay on the road for many years and they need to be as functional, clean and efficient as possible. It is critical for smog, air and greenhouse gas emissions.
Pollution Probe is supporting the bill and I want to read a statement that it provided to me so generously. It states:

Pollution Probe supports the “Right to Repair” Act presented by ... M.P., Windsor West. Minimizing emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases from vehicles into the environment is a responsibility shared by government, automakers and drivers. An important step that drivers can take to minimize emissions is to keep their vehicle in a state of good repair and ensure that their vehicle's emissions control system is functioning properly. It is important that drivers have effective access to required vehicle maintenance and service in this regard. To the extent that the “Right to Repair” Act facilitates this objective, Pollution Probe supports this action.
That was written by Mr. Bob Oliver, Executive Director.
That is important recognition as we move toward cleaner vehicles and there are more on the market. Hopefully we see some of the newer models. Some of the better vehicles are emerging but the fact of the matter is that many Canadians still will not be able to purchase new vehicles now. What do we do about that situation? Do we allow a slow strangulation of independent associations or do we provide a set of rules so they can compete? It is critical for consumers who have bought vehicles. They may have extended warranties or may decide to go to an independent facility later on to obtain that service.
It does not make any sense for our air quality that because we cannot download a simple program in one facility, we have to hire a tow truck to transport a vehicle across the city to a dealership. That does not make any sense. It is also a drag on productivity in Canada. We need to make sure the individuals working in facilities are going to be doing so in an efficient way and adding extra labour hours on top of a simple procedure like that is not helpful to anyone. It is not going to make Canada competitive, it is certainly going to cause more congestion and will lead to more problems. It does not make any sense.
Nobody understands our roads better than the CAA. The CAA has been a very active element in Canadian society. It has provided a statement that I would like to read as well. It states:
CAA represents over 5 million motorists across the country. Our main concern on the “Right to Repair” issue is to ensure that automobile owners have the opportunity to choose and get the best possible service at a fair price. This bill will benefit the consumer by allowing for increased competition and consumer choice.
I want to thank all the individuals who have put their support behind this bill and encouraged members. The bill is intended to make significant improvements in terms of our economy and create a fair playing field. Other countries have done so and I do not think Canada should be put at a disadvantage because other people cannot get their act together.
I have spoken about the automotive industry in the House for a number of years and tried to push for a greener, stronger automotive Canada. I can say the bill fits with that. That is why, hopefully, it will pass this stage and go to committee because I believe it is an improvement for Canadians.

Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the good questions.
First, there will be a purchase requirement through the actual element of this bill, so that one would have to pay for that service, that equipment or for that actual information. There would be money going back to the proprietor of that, so it is very important to protect that element.
Second, with regard to training and safety, that is a great point. Here is the thing. So many Canadians head down to the United States every single year, and if their car has a problem, they get it fixed in many of these different types of places by people who have fewer qualifications than Canadians. They come home and they can not even get the same services here by those same organizations, independent associations.
It does not make any sense. Over here on the Canadian side, we have better training, better scrutiny, and we also have a process that is blocked. However if one heads into the United States and has a problem, the vehicle can be fixed by someone who could be less qualified and then returned to Canadian roads.

Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the parliamentary secretary making that comment.
First of all, it is 1,200 workers that get laid off. I am sure that with their policies, they will make sure it is 1,500 in no time.
The reality is that we have to have a fair playing system out there, and I can tell the House that this will not hurt car sales. This will not provide some type of a downturn. In fact, what it hopefully will do is provide for a fair system there.
There are other government policies the member could bring in but chooses not to, to get better procurement out there. His former minister David Emerson promised an auto strategy in this House of Commons. He said that himself. He said that as a Liberal and he flip-flopped and crossed the floor to the Conservatives. He had that policy and never acted upon it, so we do not have a plan right now for our auto industry. If it is suffering right now, it is because we have no plan.
We have ministers wandering around Washington right now. What I would encourage the member to do, just like General Motors and ironically, Suzuki, is provide access to this information. All we are asking for is a fair set of rules for all of those out there, and that can be done in an accountable way.
That is all we are asking for, a fair set of rules. I believe the member's family has a dealership. They should think about this issue because General Motors has set an example, but the problem is that the rest of the automotive groups out there have not been able to form a consensus.
The hope of this bill is to bring forth a policy that is accountable, fair and people can compete in an open market.