Auto makers have struck a non-binding deal granting Canada's independent garages access to the proprietary software and tools to fix newer-model cars - but the vehicle repair industry's largest trade association warns a voluntary accord will not work.
Access to auto makers' technical secrets will be an increasing necessity in the Canadian car repair market as manufacturers develop ever more complex hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery-powered vehicles.
Yesterday's voluntary agreement, which received the blessing of federal Industry Minister Tony Clement, has persuaded Ottawa to withdraw the threat of mandatory legislation that would enforce the "right to repair" in Canada.
In theory, the deal between the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association and several after-market repair groups should give unaffiliated mechanics a chance to grab a bigger share of Canada's $17.6-billion annual repair industry. It should also spur more competition in this sector.
But the Automotive Industries Association (AIA), which represents vehicle repair giants such as Canadian Tire and Midas Muffler, insisted that a voluntary agreement is insufficient and that legislation is needed to solve disputes that will arise.
"In the U.S., there's an arbitration process within the agreement so that if the parties - the after-market and the car companies - can't agree on an issue, it goes to arbitration and that arbitration is a third party," said Marc Brazeau, president of the AIA.
Car companies can opt out of the Canadian agreement, Mr. Brazeau said, noting that new companies entering the Canadian market could decide not to share their technology with companies that repair vehicles but do not make them.
"Canadian Tire might not be able to repair a Toyota if Toyota decides they're going to opt out," Mr. Brazeau said.
The two associations that represent auto makers in Canada said all major manufacturers have signed on to the voluntary deal, with 99.9 per cent of car companies selling vehicles here on side.
Yesterday's announcement came just before a popular private member's bill to enforce the "right to repair" - already midway through the House of Commons - was to be studied by a parliamentary committee.
About 80 per cent of MPs had voted for NDP industry critic Brian Masse's proposed bill on second reading, and it stood a reasonable chance of becoming law. The bill would have made the Competition Bureau, a federal watchdog, the arbiter of disputes.
But Mr. Clement said Mr. Masse's bill now "becomes redundant and unnecessary," meaning the Conservatives no longer see the need to support it. Mr. Clement described the voluntary deal, which takes full effect by May, 2010, as a compromise that safeguards auto makers' intellectual property rights yet gives outside garages the technology they need to fix the latest cars.
He defended letting the auto industry police itself. "It doesn't require more debate in the House of Commons, it doesn't require a whole legislative overlay when we've got the industry doing what consumers want them to do."