MASSE IN THE NEWS: Repair bill; NDPs want automakers to share all service information with shops

PUBLICATION: The Chronicle-Herald
DATE: 2009.08.15
SECTION: Front
PAGE: A1
BYLINE: Patricia Brooks Arenburg Staff Reporter
ILLUSTRATION: Midas shop foreman Kenny Pickles uses a scan tool on aToyota in the company's repair shop on Friday.; Ontario NDP MP Brian Masse speaks with Midas automotive technicians in the company's repair shop Friday in Halifax. Masse has introduced a bill that would force auto manufacturers to provide auto repair shops with all the information necessary to service vehicles. At Masse's left is Sackville-Eastern Shore MP Peter Stoffer and at right, Megan Leslie, NDP MP for Halifax. (Photos by Tim Krochak / Staff)
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Repair bill; NDPs want automakers to share all service information with shops

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AUTO SERVICE shop owner John Strickey wants to make sure the right-to-repair bill doesn't stall before it hits the road. "All we're looking for is a level playing field," he told reporters Friday.

The federal New Democrats held a news conference at Mr. Strickey's Midas Auto Service &Tires shop on Robie Street in Halifax in support of a bill proposed by the NDP industry and automotive critic, Ontario MP Brian Masse.

If approved at third reading, Bill C-273 will amend the Competition Act and the Environmental Protection Act to force every auto manufacturer selling in Canada to provide vehicle owners and repair shops with "unrestricted access to all the service and training information" and "all the diagnostic tools and capabilities necessary to diagnose, service and repair" those vehicles.

The information, which is already available to independent shops in the U.S., won't be free.

"We deserve the same information," said Mr. Masse, flanked by Nova Scotia MPs Megan Leslie and Peter Stoffer.

"We deserve an accountable process that's going to allow small and medium businesses to be able to compete openly and fairly. It shouldn't be done by basically restricting information that's an easy download."

Ken Pickles, a Midas auto service technician, showed reporters the electronic device that plugs into vehicles to help mechanics diagnose potential problems. "This scan tool itself is actually capable of doing what we need it to do," he said. "The problem's in the software; the information isn't put into the software to be able to do it."

More to the point, he said, "The trouble is the manufacturer hasn't given that information to the people that we buy the scan tools from, so it can't make it to us because it's not available to them." Repair shops are able to get this information by paying a subscription service fee or on a per-car basis, and only if the manufacturer agrees, Mr. Strickey said.

"I find we get more information from General Motors than any other ones," Mr. Pickles said. "Second to that would probably be Chrysler, and then the rest of them are pretty much the same from there on out - just very, very difficult."

Mr. Stoffer used the example of a car breaking down in a rural area without a dealership and only a small repair shop nearby.

"If (the mechanic) said, 'Look, I can't touch it,' what are you going to do then?" Mr. Stoffer asked.

Without this information, repair shops are restricted in their ability to provide service to customers, Mr. Strickey said. And it means less choice for consumers as even loyal customers will be forced to get work done at dealerships, which can be more expensive, he said.

The shop operator is also a member of AIA Canada, which represents the automotive aftermarket industry, including auto repair, and manufacturing and distribution of auto parts accessories, tools, chemicals and services. On its website, , it says the aftermarket industry employed about 225,000 people, including 90,000 automotive technicians, in 2004. Retail sales in the Canadian industry are worth over $16 billion, and almost all of the estimated 30,000 aftermarket automotive shops in the country are owned and operated by entrepreneurs, the website states.

Mr. Strickey employs eight people at his shop, which sits across from a Honda dealership and next to one for Mazda. No one could be reached for comment at either dealership.

Most car manufacturers are opposed to the bill, with the exception of General Motors, Mr. Masse said. But now some auto companies have offered to move to a voluntary system to avoid a change in the legislation, he told reporters.

But "they didn't want seat belts in vehicles and it had to be legislation that would actually move that issue forward," Masse said. "It's not up for us to have a voluntary agreement made . . . in some other boardroom. For me as a legislator, it's about . . . providing a set of rule-based systems in our Canadian law that are fair to everyone."

Bill C-273 passed second reading in May by a 248-17 margin and is up for third reading in the fall.