Ontario drivers will pay millions in extra insurance premiums because of delays in rewriting regulations that were supposed to bring relief from soaring rates that have made the province the most expensive place in Canada to operate a car.
Industry insiders say the delays are due to the provincial election called by Premier Ernie Eves for Oct. 2 and could introduce yet another wild card to a political race in which the rising cost of auto insurance has become an issue.
Just five days before he called the election, Mr. Eves announced the second part of an auto-insurance overhaul that promised rate cuts of up to 15 per cent. But yesterday, insurance industry officials learned that the provincial rules covering the changes won't be written until the election is over.
"It's an unfortunate situation, but there's nothing we can do about it," said George Cooke, president and chief executive officer of the Dominion of Canada General Insurance Co., which insures nearly half a million Ontario drivers. "There were supposed to be savings to the consumer, but we don't have the rules yet, so there's nothing to be passed on. It's going to cost people a lot of money."
Regulators have ordered Ontario insurance companies to file for new rates by Sept. 30, to reflect the provincial measures, which are designed to reduce their costs by up to $600-million a year.
But after learning that many of the rules won't be written until after the election, Mr. Cooke said, companies have no choice but to base their rates on the old rules.
"I can't really tell you who's to blame," he said. "All I can tell you is what the bottom line will be."
According to a report that will be released today by the Consumers Association of Canada, Ontario now has the highest car-insurance rates in the country. High rates have turned auto insurance into a volatile political issue that threatened to topple the Conservative governments of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia earlier this year.
Hoping to avoid the kind of consumer revolt that fuelled those near-upsets in Atlantic Canada, Mr. Eves announced two auto-insurance packages this summer. The measures include increased deductibles on payments to accident victims and rules aimed at curbing aggressive tactics used by lawyers and paralegals to extract large cash settlements from insurers.
Mr. Cooke estimated that the delay in implementing the new rules will add at least 7 per cent to the insurance bills of affected drivers. Although the rules covering the first set of changes are now in place, provincial officials announced yesterday that under the law, they can't write the rules covering the more recent changes until after the election. Spokesmen with Mr. Eves office could not comment on the situation last night.
Mr. Cooke estimated that 75 per cent of the savings that will be realized from Mr. Eves's measures will come from the second set, which were announced in August.
Many insurance officials first learned of the delays yesterday, during a training session with the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, the provincial body that oversees the insurance industry in Ontario. FSCO officials said that it was illegal for them to rewrite rules announced by a provincial government once an election has been called.
Mr. Cooke said it's unfortunate that what appears to be a bureaucratic complication will hit drivers in the pocketbook.
"I've got the first chapter of the rule book," Mr. Cooke said. "But I don't have the second one. And that's the most important one."
Mr. Cooke said the impact of the delays will be probably noticed by drivers whose insurance comes up for renewal in mid-December. They will be saddled with the increased rates until their insurance comes up for renewal the following year, he said.