Design & DIY

Quebec introduces new bill that would force manufacturers to make products easier to repair

Right to Repair Photo by Shutterstock/adriaticfoto

Whether it’s dealing with a fridge on the fritz or an obsolete oven, cottagers are a resourceful bunch—quick to crack open a toolbox and poke around with a screwdriver. DIY repairs are a core component of cottage culture. But with advancements in software, repairing a broken appliance has become more complicated. Newer appliances can’t always be fixed by the turn of a screw. Smart fridges, laptops, phones, and even cars, now require a diagnostic analysis to pinpoint the problem. Often, it’s easier to throw the product away and buy a new one.

That’s why the Quebec government is stepping in. On June 1, the province introduced Bill 29, a prospective piece of legislation that would make it easier and more affordable for consumers within Quebec to repair their everyday items. The bill is part of the right-to-repair movement, a growing reaction to manufacturers making their products harder for individuals to fix.

“So many of the products we have now have software built into them,” says Natasha Tusikov, a criminology professor at York University. “Smart vehicles, fridges, video game consoles, or cell phones are pretty much all software. What this means for manufacturers is they have more control over the goods. They decide not only how their coffee maker functions, but they can control the parts that people can use.”

Through the development of software, companies have tightened their grip on consumers. Tusikov points to John Deere tractors as an example. If your tractor breaks down, John Deere has proprietary software that can identify the problem, software that independent repair shops don’t have access to. This requires consumers to use only the manufacturer’s service centres. And in many cases, the parts required to fix the product are difficult to find. Laptops and phones are good examples. Often, it’s less expensive to buy a new phone or laptop than it is to order the required part.

Quebec’s proposed bill would ban products intended to have a short life span and require manufacturers to ensure replacement parts and repair services are available at a reasonable price within the province. Manufacturers would also have to ensure that their products could be repaired using ordinary tools—no proprietary screwdrivers or patented bolts—without causing irreversible damage.

“Environmentally, people really want a solution,” Tusikov says. “But also, a lot of people are facing some pretty tight budgets, and it’s not in their budget to get a whole new appliance. They want to repair the thing they already have.”

If the bill is passed, it would mean those living in Quebec’s cottage country wouldn’t have to drive into a manufacturer’s service centre in the city to have their product repaired. Instead, they could bring it to a local repair shop, saving them time and money, while financially stimulating the local economy.

Bill 29 would also introduce a “warranty of good working order”. This warranty would apply to all products, requiring manufacturers to shoulder any repair costs within a certain timeframe after purchase. The length of the warranty would be dependent on the product and it has yet to be determined by the Quebec government.

Cars would also fall under Bill 29. Car manufacturers would be required to design their vehicles in a way that any repair shop could fix them, not just the affiliated dealerships. Manufacturers would also be required to provide car owners and long-term lessors—or their mechanics—with the data necessary to diagnose issues.

The bill will still have to go through a series of amendments and votes before it is passed, but it would make Quebec the first province in Canada with right-to-repair laws. “What we might see—because Quebec is a pretty big province—is if manufacturers have to change their rules and make parts available, this could benefit the rest of Canada,” says Tusikov.

In its 2023 budget, the federal government did pledge to implement right-to-repair laws by 2024. This would require all Canadian manufacturers to make their products more easily repaired. Tusikov points out that a federal law might also cover a gap in the Quebec law: medical devices.

“If someone’s wheelchair breaks, they might have to ship it off for six or eight weeks. For several months they could be without their wheelchair because it has to go back to the original equipment manufacturer instead of, say, your local hospital or your local medical repair shop,” she says. “We’re talking about people’s lives being really curtailed, really affected, because they are tied to having to deal with the original manufacturer.”

But the feds have yet to make any noticeable moves on these laws. Instead, they’ve introduced a new amendment that might complicate future right-to-repair laws. In March, the feds amended Bill C-244, a bill that was intended to allow independent shops to repair manufacturers’ devices without worrying about being sued under software copyright laws. This new amendment, however, exempts any device with embedded sound recordings from the bill. This means phones, laptops, and even washing machines that play a few musical notes at the end of the wash can theoretically only be repaired by the manufacturer.

There’s been little explanation behind the reason for the amendment, but Tusikov says it’s opened a loophole for manufacturers to avoid future right-to-repair laws.

“I don’t think consumers or even policymakers have really grasped how fundamental this change is,” she says. “It’s not something that just copyright lawyers argue about, or academics write papers about. This fundamentally changes what we can do with things, who gets to repair them, and how long these things last.”

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