As ICBC overhaul details head to legislature, Eby sells plan

Attorney General David Eby introduced legislation on Wednesday to carry through on previously announced changes to the 47-year-old Insurance Corporation of B.C., founded by B.C.’s first NDP government.

After tabling the bill, Eby took part in a teleconference call with reporters to promote it, saying changes will cut insurance rates, boost benefits for those injured in crashes, increase wage-loss payments and rein in legal costs.

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As promised, it will prevent the government from taking profits from ICBC and will, instead, leave that money within the corporation to go toward lower rates, he said. The NDP figures that rates will drop by about 20%, or $400 per year, for drivers once the change is in effect, starting in May 2021.

Restructuring also takes aim at legal costs and claim resolution by turning to B.C.’s civil resolution tribunal for decisions.

“This bill will eliminate the need for British Columbians to hire a lawyer to get the care they require to get back to living their lives as they did before their crash because ICBC will no longer be paying for a lawyer to fight against injured British Columbians in court.”

Brian Smith, former B.C. attorney general with the Social Credit government and former chairman of B.C. Hydro and CN Rail, echoed concerns of the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. about the role of the civil tribunal.

He said turning over assessment of damages to the tribunal is a “risky step” because it is not a court. “They are not going to be judges that have independence,” but they will be dependent on ICBC to get reappointed, he said.

A tribunal decision will not “often leave a sense in the public that justice has been done,” Smith said. He would have liked people to have the ability to opt out of a tribunal. “It would not have cost them a lot of money in their savings and it would have left a sense of fairness.”

Smith turned out Wednesday to hear ICBC chair Joy MacPhail outline the upcoming changes in a speech to Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce members.

ICBC, a public insurance company, dates back to the NDP government of Dave Barrett.

The agency has been plagued by financial problems. The current government points the finger at the previous Liberal government, saying it removed $1.2 billion in surpluses from ICBC between 2009 and 2016.

Restructuring the system will ensure that people who need care now and in the future will receive it for as long as necessary, Eby said. “The system is clearly broken. It does not pay out enough in benefits to give British Columbians peace of mind and it simply costs B.C. drivers too much,” he said.

The bill still has to be passed in the legislature. Consultation is underway with health care professionals and others, such as advocates for people injured in crashes, to assist in drafting regulations that set benefit levels and types of benefits available, Eby said.

Eby criticized the current system, saying it has some of the higher insurance rates in the country while not providing adequate benefits.

Many people don’t realize how little money is available to someone who in a single-vehicle crash and is catastrophically injured, he said. “It is not enough to cover your expenses and you will functionally live in poverty.” The new system will help address that, with maximum benefits rising to at least $7.5 million from $300,000.

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