In Debate: Importance of Vehicle Safety and Industry

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):  

     Madam Speaker, I would like to take a few moments and begin today by welcoming all the members of the House back to the Commons after the summer recess. I trust that we, on both sides of the House, have all had a good summer and are returning refreshed and invigorated, ready to continue the work bestowed upon us by our constituents.

     There is much work to do toward creating a Canada where no one is left behind; where full access to universal and affordable housing, medicare, pharmacare, child care, and education are a reality; where communities are able to reconcile with our indigenous people, and that reconciliation amounts to more than just empty promises; and where assurance that promises for the issues that matter to Canadians, such as true electoral reform and environmental justice, are not forgotten.

    The summer has been very productive for me in visiting with the people of London—Fanshawe. I had a chance to hear their concerns, communicate my renewed commitment to them, and celebrate our achievements as a community and as a country, while we were able to recognize that we still have much more to accomplish. I look forward to the session with renewed hope that we are able to work together to achieve progressive solutions for all. I am most eager to continue the work of New Democrats in the House for our goals of social justice, social democracy, fairness, and equity in all areas of life, which, quite logically, brings me to today's debate on Bill S-2. It is a bill that deals with motor vehicle safety.

    Bill S-2 touches on issues that, while seemingly complex in the legislative language we use on the Hill, affect the lives of my constituents in real and substantive ways. In southwestern Ontario, London in particular, because of the lack of adequate federal investment in public transit infrastructure, notably rail, we are dependent on motor vehicles whether we like it or not. The Highway 401 corridor can be a death trap, especially in the winter. Without alternative means of travel, Canadians are forced to take the road in order to conduct the business of living from day-to-day.

    It is distressing to me to note that motor vehicle safety is not mentioned in the mandate letter of the Minister of Transport. New Democrats see this as a real matter of concern, given that road accidents are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Canadians each year. The very least we can do at the federal level is enact binding legislation that protects the safety of our constituents as we transport ourselves and our loved ones to work, school, and play. This can be accomplished by reducing the risk of harm arising from motor vehicle manufacturing defects.

    In 2017, motor vehicles have become moving computerized islands with Wi-Fi access, Bluetooth connection for communication while driving, enhanced voice recognition, and options for entertainment and even shopping while on the road. They offer safety modifications and driver assistance options programmed into the vehicle to make our drives easier, safer, and more pleasant. These are all good things, but as the member for Trois-Rivières pointed out yesterday, this advanced technology leaves the individual car owner unable to diagnose problems that are bound to occur or make repairs on her or his own. As motor vehicle owners, we are reliant on the systems and experts who understand these systems to ensure that everything is in working order when we hit the road. Our lives are quite literally in their hands.

    While much of the automobile industry in Canada has been gutted by globalization and the absence of protection for the industry from this and preceding federal governments, southwestern Ontario remains the centre of automobile production in Canada. However, we do worry, because workers at CAMI Local 88 in Ingersoll, Ontario are facing and fighting that precise situation. More than 400 jobs were lost this past spring, because GM moved a product line, the Terrain, to Mexico, and not a word from the government. Now, 2,800 CAMI workers and their families are striking to keep the plant open with the production of the Equinox, and still nothing from the government.

    It is my sincere hope that we can enact federal incentives and protections to prevent more automobile manufacturing jobs from moving offshore, and even to restore the industry to the powerhouse it was and can be again.

    While the industry remains active in my region, I believe it is vital to enact legislation that protects consumers, retailers, and manufacturers from the financial, emotional, legal, and personal life costs we all pay for when safety regulations are inadequate.

    Among others, the legislation before us today grants ministerial power to order a recall and to require more information from automakers. The minister may order a vehicle manufacturer to carry out tests, analyses, or studies on materials in order to obtain information on the defects of a part or of a particular vehicle model. This provision could have avoided the situation with General Motors Corporation, where there was a time lag between the corporation's awareness of an ignition system defect in 2004 and the company's recall notice 10 years later in 2014. That was 10 deadly years. That kind of delay is completely unacceptable.

    General Motors has admitted responsibility for 29 deaths linked to these defects, and claims are still outstanding for 150 others. General Motors started its initial investigation of the problem in 2004 and conducted several tests, analyses, and investigations, but Transport Canada was only informed of this problem on February 10, 2014, a full 10 years and far too many lives later. One life lost as a result of manufacturing defects is too many, particularly when the company knows about the defect.

    Despite the efforts of Bill S-2 to enhance motor vehicle safety for Canadians, the Auditor General of Canada's most recent report drew attention to several cases of dysfunction in the division of Transport Canada responsible for motor vehicle safety oversight. The Auditor General concluded that the funding cutbacks to the department were harmful and degraded the quality of the information that informs the directorate's planning and regulatory decisions.

    He also indicated that the department had ignored essential partners like consumers' associations, motor vehicle safety advocates, and police forces in the process to review motor vehicle safety regulations. Consequently, it is possible that motor vehicle manufacturers exercised a disproportionate influence on Transport Canada decisions.

    The Auditor General also pointed out that the department had not used its own research on rear seat occupants to develop a standard to increase safety. Rear seat passengers have a greater probability of sustaining injuries in an accident. Many of them are children. Despite 15 years of investment in research, Transport Canada has still not identified new safety measures for rear seat occupants.

     New Democrats are of course in favour of granting ministerial powers that serve to avoid the kind of tragedy we saw in the case of the GM ignition system recall, and we will be supporting the bill at second reading. We do, however, have concerns about the ability of the ministry to enforce such powers when the fact of the matter is the department's operating budget for crashworthiness testing has been slashed by 59% for 2016-17, dropping from $1.2 million to $492,000. It makes it difficult for me to applaud the Liberals, who have allowed a budget that should have been enhanced to be so drastically diminished. This leaves a deficit of over $700,000 in a budget that should be enhanced to ensure public safety.

    New Democrats call upon the minister to cancel the budget cuts to his department in order to make sure that these new powers granted in the legislation will be backed up by adequate resources. In addition, we are calling for a limit on the minister's discretionary power to enter into agreements with companies in violation of the act. We want to see the minister properly consult all partners when proceeding with a regulatory amendment that affects the safety of Canadians, and we want the minister to effectively use the data produced by his own department in order to adopt standards that will protect the safety of Canadians.

    I hope that when the bill goes to committee it will be improved so that our constituents are safe.

 

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.):  

    Madam Speaker, it is important to recognize that Bill S-2 is all about making our roads and communities safer. This is a very important issue. Within two years, we were able to get this substantial legislation, which has been modified quite significantly from the Conservative legislation brought forward. When we look at that, it also protects the consumers. When someone walks into a car showroom and buys a vehicle, there is a certain expectation that the person is buying a safe vehicle. It provides even greater assurances to those consumers on those recall products.

     Could my colleague share her thoughts about the importance of the data bank within Transport Canada? Most Canadians might not even be aware of it. People can go to the data bank at Transport Canada, type in their vehicle details, and get recall information. People might be surprised about how many vehicles have been recalled for one thing or another. It is estimated that as high as 50% or more of vehicles on the road today have some item under recall.

Could my colleague provide some thoughts on this great data bank, for those who might be participating in or following the debate? We should do what we can do promote that data bank.

 

Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

     Madam Speaker, of course it is important to have the kinds of tools that will support consumers in their decisions and ability to access information. However, I would also suggest that the Liberal government needs to put its money where its mouth is. The budget has been reduced to Transport Canada for the kind of work all of us have been talking about.

     Why on earth would we be happy with a government that does not see fit to ensure that the very ministry in charge of automobile safety has the kind of resources and funding it needs to ensure that we, the consumers, are protected?

 

Mr. John Brassard (Barrie—Innisfil, CPC):  

    Madam Speaker, the hon. member is talking about priority spending in an era where spending on pet projects seems to be the priority for the Liberal government. I know the hon. member spoke about the reduction to Transport Canada.

    Could the hon. member comment on how important the safety of consumers is with respect to her ranking of spending as a priority of the government?

 

Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Madam Speaker, with respect to the priorities of this Parliament, our constituents and consumers should be number one. People in Canada are depending on their government to make good decisions and wise decisions. That element of trust cannot be abused. I would much prefer to see the needs of the people in my community and every community in Canada be recognized and met rather than, as my colleague described them, “pet projects”.