Ontario – where you really don’t want to have a fender bender

Dermod Travis addresses the ICBC debacle

By Dermod Travis

Imagine a land where drivers pay 55 per cent more for auto insurance than other drivers in Canada, a land where an insurance company may not cover you because of the city you live in, a land where your automobile insurance premiums aren’t based on your driving record but your postal code.

It’s a land that allows British Columbians a peek into the future, if private auto insurance should come to pass in the province.

That land is Ontario.

A 2017 review for the Ontario government done by insurance expert David Marshall – Fair Benefits Fairly Delivered: A Review of the Auto Insurance System in Ontario – found that Ontario drivers paid 55 per cent more than the Canadian average for car insurance and the province had “one of Canada’s least effective auto insurance systems.”

In November, a former employee of Allstate Insurance Canada filed a lawsuit against her former employer for wrongful dismissal, after she pushed back against the company’s “discriminatory effort” to stop selling auto insurance to drivers who live in Brampton, Ontario.

Brampton residents pay on average “$1,000 a year more in auto insurance premiums each year than a driver in north Toronto,” according to NDP MPP Gurratan Singh, one of two members of Ontario’s legislature who tabled private members bills last October to end what they called “auto insurance postal code discrimination.”

This month Ontario premier Doug Ford announced plans to review that province’s “auto insurance system in order to lower rates for drivers.” Good luck with that.

The problems plaguing Ontario’s system may sound familiar to B.C. drivers.

Marshall’s review pegged the cost of insurance fraud at $1.3 billion annually.

He found “$1.4 billion annually – a third of all insurance premium benefits – goes to duelling lawyers and medical experts in court, instead of to treatment for crash victims” and complaints from auto insurers that “plaintiffs’ lawyers drive up costs by charging outrageously high contingency fees, which redirect money intended for the treatment of victims into the pockets of their lawyers.”

Venturing into the land of comparing auto insurance premiums by province is fraught with peril, as I have learned with my own grey hair count. It’s also a subject where everyone takes leave of their senses.

So perhaps it’s better to consider premiums in the context of the two auto insurance systems in Canada: public and private.

Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C. all have public auto insurance with varying degrees of optional private insurance. Three of the public insurers are profitable – B.C. is not.

According to an analysis by the Saskatchewan government – based on a composite index modelled after the index developed by the Consumers’ Association of Canada – Vancouver had the highest premiums of the four at $1,966 in 2018, followed by Montreal ($1,884), Regina ($1,199) and Winnipeg ($1,192).

Saskatchewan pegs premiums in Toronto at $4,669. The Insurance Bureau of Canada draws issue with that number, but all observers seem in agreement: among provinces with private insurance, Ontario has the highest premiums.

Last October, LowestRates.ca released updated annual increases which showed rates in Ontario jumped by 10.7 per cent (over 2017) and Alberta by 6.7 per cent.

The Insurance Corporation of B.C. recently applied for an interim 6.3 per cent rate increase.

One Toronto driver illustrated that province’s rate hike well: “Never had an accident in my life and my insurance increased last year from $219 to $280 per month” or $3,360 annually.

Opposition leader Andrew Wilkinson has said in a number of media interviews that it’s time “for a complete root-and-branch overhaul (of auto insurance): Let’s figure out how it’s done in the rest of the world, take the best practices and make it better for B.C.”

It’s going to be tough to square the circle between stakeholders, rising auto repair costs and Autoplan franchisees, as B.C. Attorney General David Eby is already learning.

There is one fundamental question that needs a clear answer from those advocating for a private model, though: if Ontario drivers are among the best in Canada and B.C. drivers not so, how will private auto insurance result in lower premiums for B.C. drivers than those in Ontario?

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but there really isn’t a pot of gold at the end of the private auto insurance rainbow. Private or public, this is going to hurt.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca

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