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Traffic on Highway 1 near Kensington Ave. during the afternoon rush hour in Burnaby, B.C., on June 2, 2014. B.C. drivers pay some of the highest auto-insurance premiums in the country.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The BC NDP government, which has vowed to focus on making life more affordable for British Columbians this year, has rejected a recommendation from an independent consultant that would reduce auto-insurance rates.

Briefing notes obtained through a Freedom of Information request show that the new government was told last summer of the option to give British Columbia drivers, who pay some of the highest auto-insurance premiums in the country, a break on rates by moving to a no-fault insurance model similar to the one used in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The Insurance Corporation of B.C. is hemorrhaging red ink and drivers face the prospect of higher rates, but Attorney-General David Eby said in a statement on Wednesday that the proposal is "off the table," although other changes are being studied to bring ICBC back to a state of financial sustainability and to make insurance rates fairer.

An independent report is due at the end of the month outlining options to bring down pressure on rates. The review by accounting and consulting firm PwC Canada was launched by the NDP to identify waste and opportunities for reform. It follows on an earlier report, presented to the previous Liberal government last summer, that warned significant rate hikes are looming without structural changes.

The earlier Ernst & Young study, left on the table when the NDP assumed power in July, outlines four options for government to tackle rates. The most dramatic change would reduce rates if ICBC moved away from the present litigation-heavy model to a comprehensive-care model.

The proposed change "would see British Columbians paying less for insurance in 2019 than they do today," the briefing notes prepared for cabinet state.

The report found that vehicle premiums could be reduced by more than 13 per cent if the government would switch to the no-fault system used in other provinces. The change would include "significantly enriched" accident benefits that focus on care and treatment for injured claimants, but it would end lump-sum payments for pain and suffering. As well, the right to sue would be reserved for cases involving criminal negligence.

This week, Premier John Horgan said affordability is his top priority for his six-month-old government, but said he is more interested in targeted rate relief than efforts to reduce rates across the board for ratepayers. He noted that the finances at both BC Hydro and ICBC are under pressure.

"I'm now more convinced than ever that the better course of action on affordability is not blanket reductions or freezes, but targeted relief to those that can best benefit," he told reporters on Tuesday.

British Columbia is unique in Canada with its full tort system, where those who are injured have the right to sue for all damages in court without any legislated cap on payments.

Saskatchewan allows motorists to opt out of the no-fault system if they choose to pay a premium. The authors of the Ernst & Young report note that the Saskatchewan model offers consumers a choice, but 98 per cent of auto owners prefer the less-expensive no-fault system.

Alberta has a cap of just under $5,000 for minor-injury cases, while in B.C., the average settlement for minor claims has climbed to $30,000 – up from an average of $8,000 in 2000.

Mr. Eby has previously said the NDP government is looking "very seriously" at caps on minor injuries, as well as court changes that would lead to quicker resolution and require fewer experts to be hired.

He announced last September that insurance costs for the average B.C. driver were going up by 8 per cent, or about $130, annually. But he noted that was an interim measure and more needs to be done.

In the province's most recent financial update, ICBC was projected to lose $364-million in the current fiscal year, up from the $139-million loss that was forecast in September.

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