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On auto insurance, BC has spoken. Will the parties listen?

Maclean Kay
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An overwhelming majority of British Columbians want choice. The leaders who can deliver it just have to act.

Yesterday’s poll made it clear: British Columbians want choice in auto insurance.

“ICBC is a 45-year-old state-run monopoly that’s probably seen its day,” says BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson.

“The question is, what do we replace it with? We’re trying to put everything on the table, including converting ICBC to a co-op or introducing competition from other insurers.”

With the spring legislative session coming just next week, does that mean we can expect to see some reaction from the NDP government? According to BC Green leader Andrew Weaver, the NDP’s unwillingness to put “everything on the table” is perhaps the biggest obstacle:

“Mr. Eby described it as a dumpster fire – but he seems to have run up to that dumpster fire with a half-filled fire truck.”

“He took stuff off the table early on, saying ‘we’re not going to do this, we’re not going to do that,’” says Weaver, “But when you have a five-alarm dumpster fire – everything has to be on the table.”

Attorney General David Eby’s office did not respond for comment before press time – but in a recent response to complaints from the Trial Lawyers Association that he was partly blaming them for ICBC’s financial woes, he noted:

“There is now a new board at ICBC and a new CEO. We are doing the work to get costs at ICBC under control in a way that is fair to drivers, collision victims, and preserves as best as possible the best parts of our tort law system for those facing catastrophic injuries.”

Indeed, the NDP government has introduced changes – including significant increases for some drivers – to ICBC’s rate structure, reduced pay and bonuses for its executives, and bringing in new measures to reduce legal costs.

It’s a start, and nobody disputes more needs to be done – a lot more. But that doesn’t necessarily mean competition is around the corner. According to Wilkinson, ideology will get in the way:

“The NDP are died-in-the-wool state-run monopoly fans.”

“They think the more government runs, the better off we are. They’re continuously trying to grow government sector, even when the rest of the world has moved on.”

For his part, Weaver thinks the NDP misjudged the situation from day one.

“I think the NDP walked into this thinking they’d fix it, waving a magic wand. I think we’ve gone down that route an awful long way.”

Both the BC Liberal and Green leaders agree: this issue has become too important for the government to ignore.

“I could see public pressure becoming so overwhelming the NDP have no choice,” says Weaver.

“I think as consumers in BC start to see these whopping increases in ICBC rates, they’re going to get thoroughly fed up,” says Wilkinson.

After the NDP win in the Nanaimo byelection, an early election seems unlikely – and developing party election platforms isn’t as urgent as it might have been. But while neither Wilkinson nor Weaver will explicitly commit to including choice in auto insurance at this stage, there are strong indications both will feature prominently in both parties’ campaigns.

“We’re going to see how things develop over the next few months and see how things are through the eyes of consumers,” said Wilkinson, “because we’re very concerned the public are watching their cost of living rise, as ICBC rates go through the roof.

“It wasn’t [in our 2017 election platform], but if you look in Hansard, you’ll see we’re exploring the issue of competition,” said Weaver. (And some quick research into committee transcripts reveals he’s right.)

“We’ve had discussions, I think there’s a role for ICBC there, with some creative options,” Weaver said. “I’d suggest it would not be a big surprise to see competition in our platform.”

Whatever happens this spring – or in the Attorney General’s office – it’s going to be hard to ignore the 82% of British Columbians who want choice in auto insurance.

Much like eliminating the Medical Services Premium (MSP), it might become a question of which party promises to deliver fastest.

 

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca

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