Justice Minister David Eby releases report on ICBC finances in Vancouver July 24, 2017. (Katya Selpian/Black Press)

No easy answers in ICBC mess

David Eby blames problems that have already been fixed

Politics is all too often an exercise in assigning blame, at the expense of analysis and tough choices that lead to solutions.

We’re seeing that with the Insurance Corporation of B.C., that great icon of the province’s first NDP government. Like the other signature achievement of the Dave Barrett years, the Agricultural Land Reserve, ICBC has been a mixed blessing.

So let’s get the blame out of the way first. In July, incoming Justice Minister David Eby released the previous government’s independent review of ICBC. Ernst & Young calculated the current trend points to a 30-per-cent basic insurance rate increase in the next two years.

Eby reverted to the well-worn lines of his party’s 16 years in opposition, giving the media the sound bite they expected.

“The B.C. Liberals have been using ICBC as a bank machine, bringing money out of the corporation to claim better finances than are the case,” Eby said.

Yes, just as previous NDP and Social Credit governments did. There’s just one problem. The B.C. Liberals put an end to the practice starting in 2016, a pre-election repentance that was little noticed, mostly unreported and didn’t help them with voters.

That doesn’t excuse the B.C. Liberals. The point is that’s not what is pushing the huge rate hike that lies ahead today. That would be rising accident rates, even with ever-safer cars and roads, and soaring claim costs for minor injuries. The latter is rising in lockstep with legal costs as more people turn those minor injuries into money.

Eby also charged that the B.C. Liberals “failed to take the actions necessary” to deal with soaring claim costs. He then ruled out going to no-fault insurance with injury payouts based on a schedule, which would leave Eby’s fellow lawyers out in the cold.

The B.C. Liberals didn’t fix that and it appears the NDP aren’t going to either.

The NDP’s action up to this writing has consisted of sacking and replacing board members. To start, lawyer and former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Barry Penner was replaced as board chair by ex-NDP cabinet minister Joy MacPhail.

When I spoke with Penner shortly after he was fired, he described the kind of tactic that ICBC is facing these days. Injury claimants have two years to file their claims after an accident, and one scenario is accumulating a medical file for two years and then dropping it on ICBC at the deadline.

The patient keeps going back to the doctor every couple of weeks – thanks to that good old “free” Canadian health care – and then the whole thing is revealed in a claim for pain and suffering. ICBC now says it’s settling almost all of the steadily rising number of claims out of court.

After being steady for several years, the number of crashes went up 23 per cent in just two years, 2015 and 2016. Injury claims rose 16 per cent in that time. Vehicle damage claims were up almost the same, and it continues.

Compared to 2009, the cost of injury claims in 2016 was up 80 per cent to $2.7 billion. Why? Alcohol impairment has been down, thanks to steep fines and the threat of roadside vehicle seizures. Distracted driving fines and enforcement have been increased.

Management bloat at ICBC was pared back, technology upgraded, and insurance fraud investigations increased. ICBC has increased the size of rate hikes for at-fault drivers in accidents.

This last one is the only actual solution I’ve heard Eby propose, and it’s already being done.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

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