When politics become part of industry affairs
A few weeks ago, CADA had the opportunity to testify to the Standing Committee of Industry and Technology (INDU) regarding Bill C-244 titled An Act to Amend the Copyright Act.
Overall, this amendment would promote a cross-industry right-to-repair by ‘allowing the circumvention of a technological protection measure in a computer program if the circumvention is solely for the purpose of the diagnosis, maintenance or repair of a product in which the program is embedded’. In simpler words, it would give access to aftermarket actors to the information and tools required for full reparation or diagnosis.
Now, the objective today is not to bore the readers with all the minutia surrounding the legislative process in Ottawa. With that being said, this bill exemplifies perfectly how political interests and philosophy can, sometimes, be counterproductive to the efforts being made by the private sector and by the people most familiar with a specific industry.
Here is why.
The right-to-repair discussion has been ongoing for a long time between the public and the majority of manufacturing-dependent sectors, such as the automotive and household appliances industry. The right and ability to repair is key in fostering innovation, knowledge and environmental awareness within the people that are involved with the product, from the production stage, all the way to the aftermarket, and to the consumer.
The auto sector has been at the forefront of this process for more than a decade, and it initially started with the need to have a platform where repair and diagnosis information could be shared between OEMs and aftermarket businesses. What came out of that is the Canadian Automotive Service Information Standards, otherwise known as CASIS, which helped put in place the framework required for repair and maintenance info to be shared between manufacturers, dealers and the aftermarket.
Compared to others, the automobile industry has been extremely forward-thinking, flexible and collaborative in the right-to-repair file. Interestingly, the genesis of CASIS took place in Parliament with the works of elected members seeking more transparency and information-sharing from the OEMs. In that instance, political interests led to an agreement where the subjects, mainly manufacturers and aftermarket firms, are fully involved in the solution that was chosen to help expand access to repair info.
Solutions are never perfect, and that is especially true for the auto industry where thousands of people are involved and where technology is evolving by the day. Nonetheless, the facts point towards the CASIS agreement being a major driver of progress on the right-to-repair file, not the other way around.
The average age of vehicles on Canadian roads is at an all-time-record of 12.5 years old, while the scrappage rate is at a historical low of four per cent. Vehicles are lasting longer than ever and are indeed being repaired—this is partly thanks to the possibility, for consumers, to find the repair and maintenance services they need, whether it’s through a licensed dealer or an aftermarket player.
Per Statistics Canada, sales numbers also seem to partially invalidate the claim made by some aftermarket representatives that the transition to more connected and digitalized vehicles threatens their business models.
In fact, this transformation has been occurring simultaneously with the development of the CASIS framework and aftermarket sales have grown over 110 per cent over that period of time. The industry, as a whole, has grown over the last decade and there is no doubt that CASIS has played a huge role in nurturing the symbiotic environment that has been created between dealers, manufacturers and the aftermarkets in relation to information access.
Bill C-244, by the amendment it proposes, could very well undermine the entirety of the work and the relationships that have been built, through CASIS, over the years.
Deservingly so, the aftermarket is intrigued by the idea of having a complete access to vehicle information, but it is important to underline that it is also not the responsibility of these businesses to reflect on the security, cybersecurity, theft and environmental questions underlying this overarching right-to-repair legislation.
“Overarching” is the right word to describe Bill-C244—some would even employ “overreaching”. The crux of the right-to-repair societal debate has always been about programmed obsolescence and the inability for consumers to repair the items they use on an everyday basis such as a phone, microwave, dishwasher, toaster, etc.
The current Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry has even mentioned, in a letter to Minister Guilbeault, that Parliament should investigate the right-to-repair issue for appliances and electronic devices.
In the eyes of some Members of Parliament, the increased interest of Canadians to this issue was the ideal window of opportunity where political gains could possibly be had. The final outcome of this political spark is an impressive barrage of right-to-repair legislations that will be, or currently are, debated and studied in the House.
However, the recent public uproar on right-to-repair has never been about the automotive sector and that can be explained by the industry’s pro-activeness in making sure that repair services remain accessible, up-to-date and efficient.
The CASIS agreement has allowed and welcomed every industry player to have a seat at the table and be part of this process while also offering the necessary platform to engage on items such as cybersecurity and theft protection. The challenge for CASIS in the years to come is to find ways to attract these new manufacturers, most importantly the ones involved in EV technology, to the discussion.
Members of the automotive industry have proven again and again their ability to communicate and to find common ground on important issues. CASIS is the result of that ability and ultimately it should be promoted and encouraged, not undermined by policy makers. Most often than not, industry issues should be fixed by industry experts, and the right-to-repair file is a great example of how it can be done.