Ontario’s Auto Insurance Charges: The fight for fair premiums, government honesty, and public scrutiny

Ontario’s Auto Insurance Charges

The Insurance Bureau of Canada has been found to have spurred the government into cutting the coverage of auto insurance, and for nearly the last three years, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario and Ontario’s Ministry of Finance have hidden the records proving it.

My attempts at recovering these records under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act were thwarted by the ministry labeling the IBC as a “consultant policy adviser” that demanded confidentiality, before the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario itself. Despite the ministry’s duty of regulating the members of the IBC, they claimed that the IBC’s records—pre-budget consultation submissions as well as lobbying records—should be kept private as they were “policy advice” and not public documents.

Another argument the ministry presented in a sworn affidavit was that since important IBC positions were often the topic of discussion at several Ontario cabinet meetings, then IBC records must be held under the same jurisdiction of cabinet confidence and shouldn’t be released to the public.

Back in May 2016, I appealed against the ministry’s withholding of the records by stating that a dangerous and risky precedent would be set if they included the IBC into the cabinet exemption of confidentiality.

This would set the path for a widespread infringement of the freedom of information legislation, with several meetings and submissions from lobbying groups allowed to become private, had the Financial Services Commission and Finance Ministry had their way.

Thankfully, these unlawful claims were thrown out of court, as per orders PO-3719 and PO-3720 in accordance with last April’s decisions by the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The records were released the following month, showing that from 2012 to 2014, the Financial Services Commission and the Finance Ministry were often contacted by the IBC in various briefings, meetings, and other forms of communications.

One example of the IBC’s alarming influence can be found from the records of November 2013, where the government was urged to stick to a $3,500 limit for claims of minor injury that the IBC believed could be “vulnerable to disputes”. The IBC sought to make it more difficult for disputes to occur through means of confining medical and mediation claims, preventing them from “being tested, attacked, expanded and dissected by numerous challenges.”

The IBC often sent suggested drafts of legislation and regulations to the government, while simultaneously pressing individual government officials into keeping the IBC in the loop on any upcoming developments. From a record in August 2014, it can be found that the IBC inquired “which recommended reforms contained in IBC’s submission of July 4 have been reviews and are ready for constructive discussions with a view of finalizing proposed regulatory and legislative language.”

Under the guise of “political uncertainty” during the pre-election atmosphere of a cabinet meeting in February 2014, the IBC requested inclusion on the meeting’s agenda that would deliberate the government holding firm to analyzing expensive towing methods, rehabilitation clinic licensing, and integrating improved resolution reform for disputes.

Ontario drivers are now forced to purchase added premiums for superior accident insurance, all because of the basic auto insurance cuts by the government. Despite the chorus of administrations that have promised cheaper premiums, nearly ten million car owners in Ontario must pay steep auto insurance prices while the market is controlled by multiple national insurance companies.

The auto insurance regulation system of Ontario is sorely lacking in transparency and self-sufficiency. Consumers are allowed to openly criticize and object to proposed rates during open hearings in other jurisdictions of North America, such as California, a system that is missing in Ontario. Stakeholders such as the IBC and the data that they surrender must be made public if we are to achieve a system that is truly independent. In other jurisdictions where these can be challenged, the established premiums and set rates are more consumer-friendly than those found in Ontario.

The chokehold caused by these clandestine industry-government partnerships must be put to a stop if we are ever to lead Ontario’s car-owning public out of the low benefits and shrinking coverage brought on by the lack of regulatory transparency when it comes to auto insurance.