Kris Sims: Other Canadian auto insurance providers are providing relief - and why not, as everybody's driving much less. Not ICBC - at least, not yet.
As British Columbians are bludgeoned by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government should do all it can to ease the financial burden caused by the virus and the ongoing economic lock down.
That includes lowering our mandatory ICBC auto insurance rates.
While other Canadian auto insurance companies are reducing rates for drivers and saving them about $600 million, the rates imposed by the government-forced ICBC monopoly in B.C. remain unchanged. They are still the highest rates in Canada with an average cost of $1,800 per year.
Other vehicle insurers in Canada, such as La Capitale in Quebec, are offering 20 per cent rebates and stretching their coverage to ensure their customers can start doing gig jobs with their cars, such as delivering food, at no extra cost.
Others are also looking for ways to provide flexibility.
“Intact [insurance] exists to help people do well in good times and be resilient in bad times,” said Charles Brindamour, CEO, Intact Financial Corporation. “Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is our number one priority. We are working around the clock to remain responsive. We are reviewing the impact of this crisis with our customers and brokers and taking a problem-solving approach as we work through these situations on a case by case basis.”
That means they are not going to jack up auto insurance rates or charge drivers fees if they suddenly need to use their Honda Civics to deliver stuff instead of commuting to their locked-down hair salon.
Meanwhile, back here in B.C., our ICBC monopoly is warning cash-strapped B.C. drivers that we will still need to fork over more dough if we start delivering pizza at night while trying to make rent.
“The cost depends on the type of car, how old it is and how many kilometres are on it, but it will definitely be an extra fee,” an ICBC insurance broker recently told CBC.
This is frustrating and wrong.
Even if we aren’t moonlighting to makes ends meet, our ICBC insurance rates are stuck in park while we wait for work to open up again.
Many of us are unable to go to work at all and so we are using our vehicles much less. Since there are far fewer cars on the road, it stands to reason that there are fewer accidents, so our collective insurance rates at ICBC should be going down. Right? Wrong.
While our vehicles sit in our driveways, they are racking up the same sky high ICBC insurance costs they did before COVID-19 hit our shores.
That isn’t fair.
Even if clever B.C. drivers decide to change their auto insurance from the more expensive “to and from work” designation over to “pleasure” in order to save some much-needed cash while we are stuck at home, ICBC is still dinging them with change and cancellation fees.
Right now, cancelling an ICBC policy comes with a $30 fee, plus $18 for new licence plates and another $15 if you pay monthly.
Why? Because ICBC is a monopoly, therefore it has no competition, so drivers can’t switch to another provider that’s actually responsive to our needs.
While many of us are either stuck at home or scrambling to find new work that meets the government’s essential designation – such as food delivery or transportation – our auto insurance providers should be reducing their costs and bending over backwards to change our vehicle coverage as our work realities change. Instead, our rates are the same and changes are either rigid or expensive or both.
David Eby, the minister responsible for ICBC, has made the right move in finally allowing B.C. drivers to change or renew our ICBC insurance online. Of course, other drivers in Canada have been able to do the same thing for a decade.
But we need more relief.
The B.C. government has said it will do all it can to help British Columbians make ends meet during the COVID-19 crisis. Many of those measures will require tough decisions. But this one is easy: Eby should tell ICBC to drop its rates and to cancel its cancellation fees.
Kris Sims is the B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation
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