Politics

Car recall powers sought for transport minister in proposed law

The federal government will introduce legislation that would give the transport minister new powers to order manufacturers to recall vehicles, Lisa Raitt announced today.

Move follows recall of more than 1.5 million vehicles in Canada due to faulty airbags

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt put new legislation on notice late Monday to harmonize Canada's automotive recall legislation with measures already in place in the U.S. She said it's still possible it could pass before summer, if the opposition parties agree on its importance. 1:34

The federal government will introduce legislation that would give the transport minister new powers to order auto manufacturers to recall vehicles, Lisa Raitt announced Monday.

Unlike U.S. regulators that have the ability to mandate recalls, Transport Canada relies on voluntary actions from automakers. Vehicle manufacturers are responsible for carrying out recall campaigns, not parts suppliers or Transport Canada. 

But under the proposed legislation, the transport minister could order manufacturers to fix recalled vehicles and order manufacturers or importers to pay for repairs.

Raitt said the current system "does not serve the best interests of the public" and that the decision to recall "cannot rest exclusively in industry's hands."

Instead of prosecution, Raitt said, manufacturers could be subject to "hefty fines" for violations —  but didn't offer any detail as to how much the fines would be or how the process would work.

Raitt said she plans to align Canada's enforcement system with that of the U.S., where regulators have a "wide range" of measures they can use around safety issues and recalls.

The 2015 federal budget had stated that the government would introduce amendments to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, giving the minister of transport powers to order a recall.

Raitt said she believed it was possible to get all parties to consent to the bill and have it passed before the House rises for the summer.

Phil Edmonston, a consumer advocate and author of the Lemon-Aid car guide series, told CBC's Diana Swain that Canada is "playing catch-up" and that he would like to see the details of the legislation.

Edmonston said he thinks Canada needs strong legislation that does more than impose civil penalties, and that even major fines can be a "drop in the bucket" for a large auto company.

"What we need is public hearings, and at the same time we need criminal charges that can be laid that will really strike fear in the hearts of these companies that decide that well, profits are going to trump safety."

The government's announcement comes in the wake of the recall of more than 1.5 million vehicles in Canada in connection with Japanese car part manufacturer Takata. The company's airbag inflators can explode and send metal fragments into the passenger compartment.

Canadian auto recalls hit an all-time high last year, with more than eight million vehicles affected. Automakers issued nearly 600 recall notices on Canadian vehicles in 2014, according to data obtained from Transport Canada.

With files from Pete Evans, The Canadian Press

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