No Fault? No Thanks, Even if You Slap a Bogus “Choice” Label On It.
Earlier this year, our firm thanked Premier Jason Kenney, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and United Conservative Party MLAs for respecting the fact that they were elected last year by severely normal Albertans (not by the multibillion dollar multinational insurance industry), and for vowing to protect the civil legal rights of ordinary Albertans wrongfully injured by negligent drivers. Unfortunately, rookie Treasury Board & Finance (TBF) Minister Travis Toews evidently is incredibly intent on investigating the ill-advised idea of essentially turfing motor vehicle accident tort law in favour of a no-fault auto insurance scheme, a proposed change that Mr. Toews, an aspiring insurance industry benefactor, insists would be “transformational” -- yes Minister, but certainly not in a good way. For conservative Albertans wondering which of the UCP’s 375 election platform planks was titled “Tory tort deform,” the answer is: Not a single one of them. Pretty sneaky, eh?
In Canada, no-fault automobile insurance regimes typically are introduced by socialist governments (which tend to be far more ideologically uneasy than most Albertans with conservative concepts including personal responsibility and moral blameworthiness), and usually are administered by one monolithic public insurer run by government appointed bureaucrats. An exception is Ontario’s high premium, low coverage private insurer hybrid no-fault system, widely regarded as an unmitigated disaster by auto insurance corporations, economists and consumers alike. Arguably, no-fault schemes seem a good fit in provinces where the government has a monopoly on the provision of vehicle insurance (such as Saskatchewan Government Insurance and Manitoba Public Insurance), since of course all motorists in each of those provinces therefore share the same insurer. No matter which driver is at fault for a collision, who cares, as inevitably the lone government insurer will be paying any resulting injury and property claim. Consequently, while SGI does technically offer policyholders a tort option, virtually all motorists in our sister province contract out of those tort rights. In stark contrast, Alberta has a robust, highly profitable and competitive private auto insurance system in which consumers are able to shop around and choose from dozens of insurance providers rather than having to buy from a government monopoly. Accordingly, the legal doctrine of privity of contract would preclude a “tort opt-out” clause in a policy between an Alberta motorist and AMA from being enforceable if that innocent Albertan was injured by a drunk, stoned, distracted or careless driver insured by Intact (to use those two insurance companies just by way of example). Should the UCP unwisely decide to ignore the “C” in its name and, through unfair, unnecessary and unconservative government intervention (after more sham “public consultations”), impose on Albertans a no-fault auto insurance bureaucracy (with or without a tort option made illusory by prohibitive pricing or intentionally inferior benefits), the logical next step (by this government or the next) would be to oust private insurers in favour of a single WCB-style government auto insurance corporation. Hence the insurance lobby, acutely aware that no-fault schemes and non-profit public insurance go together like peas and carrots, has rightly denounced no-fault recommendations (the main thrust of the predictably radical Auto Insurance Advisory Committee report, which obviously is glaringly out of step with the values of right-minded Albertans). That said, let’s not give insurance lobbyists too much credit. Currently under long-established common law tort principles, Albertans left in chronic pain due to the fault of reckless drivers are FREE to recover 100% full and fair compensation for their pain and suffering and other losses from those negligent motorists’ insurers. But well-connected insurance lobbyists have a “reverse Robin Hood” scam in mind: they want our provincial government to rob legal rights from ordinary Albertans and give the confiscated rights to insurers so that auto insurance companies can turn around and SELL those stolen freedoms back to any Albertan willing and able to PAY an extra steep premium to restore them. To add insult to injury, the insurance lobby is peddling this sick scam by slapping a “Choice” label on it. We kid you not: the proposed “made-in-Alberta solution” for Albertans wanting to recover their expropriated freedoms would be that they could “choose” to pay the ransom. Of course, no ransom, no recovery. It’s unclear how pedestrians, passengers (mostly women and children), and Albertans who don’t own vehicles are supposed to buy back their inherent rights in this repulsive scheme. The suggestion that innocent Albertans should have their tort rights seized, corrupted and then perhaps sold back to them if they still want them is abhorrent and asinine, and yet probably is precisely what TBF Minister Toews has planned for us next year, given that he has proven so darned receptive to whatever Ontario-based insurance lobbyists ask of him. Mr. Toews’ embarrassingly unconservative obsession with plotting massive marketplace meddling in the private auto insurance sector brings to mind the famous Ronald Reagan quote, “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Toews recently was described in the assembly as the worst Finance Minister in Alberta history, and judging from his track record to date, he appears to resemble that remark. If the Honourable Minister spent less taxpayer-funded time shamefully parroting insurance lobby talking points in the legislature and more time tackling the all-time high public spending deficit for which he is directly responsible, it is respectfully submitted that Alberta would be in appreciably better shape. Unless genuinely conservative UCP MLAs such as our Justice Minister step up to demand that Travis “CINO” Toews reverse course and start prioritizing justice for vulnerable Albertans hurt by careless motorists instead of conspiring to implement the insurance lobby’s odious “Driving Change” wish list, the Koolsbergen Power couple will keep on driving the IBC/TBF tort deform agenda to its obvious destination: the vile revictimization of innocent injured Alberta auto accident victims in 2021 and beyond.
With last month’s substantial changes to auto insurance legislation and regulations, stabilization of premiums for good Alberta drivers is bound to follow in relatively short order. The significant cash grabs from innocent injured Albertans perpetrated by means of these recent Minor Injury Regulation and pre-judgment interest amendments (drafted by the insurance lobby and obediently enacted by the TBF Minister) will result in nearly a $100 per automobile annual premium reduction for the average Alberta policyholder, if you actually believe the Insurance Bureau of Canada (as surely, altruistic insurance corporations won’t just pocket that savings to pad their already swollen profit margins). Some further adjustments, such as deindexing (and perhaps rounding down to $5000) the minor injury compensation cap, lifting the “grid lid” on the rates insurers can charge accident-prone drivers, increasing traffic safety initiatives including higher penalties for driving while uninsured and other traffic violations, incentivizing or mandating the use of winter tires, codifying an automatic 25% contributory negligence forfeiture for failure to wear a seatbelt, and reducing red tape so as to permit insurers to offer consumers the option of customizing their Section B medical and disability benefits (just as Alberta motorists already can choose to purchase additional Section A liability insurance over and above the mandatory minimum and enjoy the choice of how much, if any, Section C collision and comprehensive coverage to carry and at what level to set their deductible) are all worthy of consideration. But Albertans have spoken loud and clear: A no-fault car insurance regime, even with an emasculated tort option? No way, no how, no thanks!