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OPINION: Reformed or not, ICBC is still a monopoly. Why?

“It’s past time that politicians do the right thing: they need to end the ICBC monopoly”

Let there be no doubt that British Columbians pay a lot of money for auto insurance. In a province where cost of living is constantly on the mind of the average voter, it’s no surprise that politicians are looking for solutions.

Last week’s announcement by the B.C. government to move to a “no fault” system promises that drivers might see a 20 per cent rate reduction a year from now. While reductions are a positive move, a year is an eternity in politics, and we’ve heard similar promises before.

Further, B.C. drivers have been asking for more choices in auto insurance, not fewer. This week’s announcement to remove a driver’s ability to go to court because of pain and suffering caused by a vehicle crash will give drivers fewer choices.

It’s puzzling why Minister David Eby would tie injured B.C. drivers to ICBC-connected adjusters when just days before he stated: “I don’t think it’s a secret that many British Columbians simply don’t trust ICBC.”

Many British Columbians don’t trust ICBC, and that’s why freeing B.C. drivers from the forced ICBC monopoly is the only fair way forward.

“I think ICBC should be open to competition,” Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson recently told columnist Mike Smyth. “That’s the whole idea, so people have a choice.”

One can almost hear the fire truck rolling up to douse the dumpster fire.

B.C. drivers pay the highest auto insurance rates in Canada. We fork over about $1,832 per year to insure our cars and trucks. That’s about 42 per cent more than our neighbours pay in Alberta for the same vehicles and similar coverage. Even a potential 20 per cent reduction a year from now, still leaves British Columbians paying more.

A recent MNP report gave apples-to-apples comparisons of cars, drivers and coverage and the results aren’t good for B.C. drivers.

For example: A 35-year-old woman and her 34-year-old spouse who drive a 2014 Honda Civic to and from work in Vancouver pay about $1,967 per year. Their identical clone couple in Calgary would pay $1,500 per year. A difference of $467 for the same car and the same kind of coverage.

In another example, a 24-year-old woman with two years of driving experience in Kamloops pays $3,194 per year to drive her 2008 Honda Civic to school, while her twin in Medicine Hat pays $2,293; a difference of $801 per year. Drivers in Alberta can shop around for the auto insurance that they want, just as they do for their home insurance and life insurance.

In B.C., we can shop around and choose our life insurance, home insurance, travel insurance and content insurance, so why are we forced to deal solely with ICBC for auto insurance?

A recent B.C. Liberal Party opinion poll shows that 75 per cent of British Columbians are in favour of “ending the car insurance monopoly for ICBC and allowing customer choice in car insurance.”

British Columbia is a very expensive place to live. A study found the cost of living in Vancouver is one of the highest in the world, second only to Hong Kong. Other B.C. regions like Victoria aren’t far behind.

It’s government that is making things worse. Our gas prices are high because of pipeline restrictions and taxes while housing in Metro Vancouver costs more than in Manhattan partly because of onerous regulations. Forcing B.C. drivers to pay the highest auto insurance rates in Canada just adds insult to an already painful injury.

The government has the power to change this. It’s past time that politicians do the right thing: they need to end the ICBC monopoly and give B.C. drivers the ability to shop around and try to save some money.

Kris Sims is the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The CTF is Canada’s leading non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group fighting for lower taxes, less waste and accountable government. Founded in 1990, the CTF has more than 200,000 supporters and seven offices across Canada. The CTF is funded by free-will contributions which don’t get tax receipts.

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