Ontario's auto insurance system 'one of the least effective' in Canada: report
TORONTO -- Ontario has the most expensive auto insurance premiums in Canada despite also having one of the lowest levels of accidents and fatalities, a report has found.
"While the number of automobile accidents in Ontario -- especially very serious ones -- have consistently come down, the cost of claims has consistently gone up. Ontario also has one of the least effective insurance systems in Canada," said the report by David Marshall, Ontario's auto insurance adviser.
The average auto insurance premium in Ontario is $1,458, which is almost 55 per cent higher than the average of all other Canadian jurisdictions, Marshall found. If Ontario's premiums were closer to the Canadian average of about $930 it would save Ontario drivers almost 40 per cent -- or about $4 billion a year, he wrote.
The problems in the system are structural, Marshall wrote, not excess insurance company profits or the behaviour of claimants or lawyers.
"While Ontario's benefits, taking into account both the no-fault and tort portions are, on the whole, fair, they are not being fairly delivered," he wrote. "The main cause is that the system does not promote a timely, conflict-free means of deciding what care is needed and providing it to accident victims."
The system favours cash settlements in lieu of care, Marshall found. Sprains and strains -- the majority of claims -- often take more than a year to settle and about one-third of overall benefit costs goes toward competing expert opinions, lawyers' fees and insurer costs to defend claims instead of going to treatment, he wrote.
Marshall's recommendations include adopting a "care not cash" approach, exploring better ways to care for people who are catastrophically injured, making lawyers' contingency fees more transparent.
The government says it will consult with stakeholders on the recommendations.
It has already lowered the maximum interest rate that an insurer can charge for monthly auto premium payments, prohibited minor at-fault accidents from boosting premiums and introduced a winter tire discount.
The government-commissioned report was quietly posted online last week to Ontario's government news release site in a way that does not alert subscribers. A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Charles Sousa said it was not issued as a news release because "there really was no news to announce."
NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh said it looks like the government was trying to "bury" the report.
In the past several years the government has reduced benefits, Singh said, such as reducing coverage for catastrophic injuries from a maximum of $2 million to $1 million.
"Every change has systematically cut the coverage that Ontarians receive and benefited not the people but insurance companies," he said.
A spokesman for the Insurance Bureau of Canada said it is reviewing the report.
"We've said in the past and continue to say that we pay too much for insurance (in Ontario)," said Steve Kee. "Claims are higher here than anywhere else in the country so I think this report should be a catalyst to bring us together -- the industry, the government, the stakeholders, to ensure that we do whatever is necessary to deliver the best system for Ontario drivers."
The report comes as the Liberal government is still trying to fulfil a promise to reduce rates by 15 per cent on average from 2013 levels.
The government missed its self-imposed deadline of August 2015 to hit that target and Premier Kathleen Wynne has admitted that was a "stretch goal."
The Financial Services Commission of Ontario has not yet posted approved rates from the first quarter of 2017, but as of the end of 2016, the average decrease since August 2013 was about 8.3 per cent, putting the government a little over halfway to its goal.