Stretching the limits of credibility

You don’t have be a personal injury lawyer to know Premier Kathleen Wynne’s recent comments around the fabled promise of a 15 per cent drop in auto insurance premiums doesn’t pass the smell test.

What’s more shocking is the smug, cavalier manner in which she blurted out that Ontario drivers would not only be getting less coverage from their auto insurance but that they really shouldn’t have expected to see a 15 per cent cut in premiums.

“It was a stretch goal,” she shrugged unapologetically as if not delivering was a minor setback, akin to telling your spouse you didn’t have time to pick up milk on the way home from work.

We were supposed to see that reduction by last August as part of a 2013 budget pledge but as personal injury lawyer Brian Goldfinger likes to ask people, “have your auto premiums gone down? It’s an unscientific survey I take when I meet people. I am confident 10 out of 10 times the answer is no.”

Don’t get me started with motorcycle insurance rates which have soared over the past three years for a bike I ride in fair weather with no tickets or accidents on either of my licenses.

Indeed, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario reports approved rates dropped a mere average of 0.15 per cent in 2015. The average since 2013 is a limp seven per cent.

"We always knew it was going to be a challenge and the good news is that insurance rates continue to come down,” she continued ignoring the fact the strategy was part of a political deal for NDP support to buy another year for what was then a minority Liberal government. Nice sunny spin, isn’t it.

The real cost, however, in that failed “stretch goal” isn’t just in Canada’s highest insurance premiums, its written in the agony of accident victims. Car drivers in Ontario get less protection, more process, more hurdles and less value for their premium dollars.

The tragedy, however, is despite an average annual premium of $1,500 a year, most drivers have no idea how vulnerable they are because few of us consider the limits of our coverage beyond whether we have collision and what the deductible is.

Goldfinger, like many who practice in the personal injury world, is furious because he knows the risks all too well. He sees clients and accident victim everyday whose worlds have collapsed through no fault of their own but can’t get the appropriate level of compensation to piece together some kind of life to move forward with.

For these victims, it’s not about getting rich by scamming insurance companies, it’s about dealing the harsh realities of crippling injuries.

“For Premier Kathleen Wynne to come out now and say attaining that 15 per cent insurance rate cut was just a ‘stretch goal’, in her own words, it’s just so infuriating,” said Goldfinger. “They made deals with the insurance industry to cut benefits to accident victims and then this.”

As Goldfinger, points out, the social contract has been broken.

The deal was that insurance companies would see risks reduced and pass those savings on. It started years ago with the introduction of the no-fault concept which has been a disaster.

More recently, attendant care benefits were slashed to $36,000 from $72,000, caregiver benefits have been eliminated along with housekeeping benefit under standard auto policies while a regulatory changes to O.Reg 461/96, were simply imposed, increasing statutory deductibles in case of auto accidents to $36,000 from $30,000, he said.

“It has resulted in making it harder for innocent accident victims to recover compensation,” he said. “The justification for this increase was to reflect the cost on inflation. Yet accident benefits under standard automobile policies such as the $400 weekly income replacement benefit or the $1,500 month for attendant care has not increased to reflect inflation at all. It’s a one-way street and the industry is controlling all the traffic lights.”

More cuts are pending this year as of June 1 when rehabilitation and care limits for catastrophically impaired persons (the most severe injuries) will be cut in half, to $1,000,000 from $2,000,000 while raising the bar on what defines coverage, especially for those suffering from brain injuries.”

Just two years ago York University School of Business Professors Fred Lazar and Eli Prisman York University Schulich School of Business concluded from 2001-2013 Ontario consumers overpaid $1.5 billion auto insurance.

And this is what we get says Goldfinger: “It’s abundantly clear the Ontario government has been transferring money from innocent car accident victims to large, deep pocketed insurance companies.”

With budget consultations underway, we’re likely to see the term “stretch goal” enter the political lexicon in common usage along with “revenue tools.”

Balance the budget? Stretch goal. Pay down debt? Stretch goal. Zero based negotiations with public service unions? Stretch goal.

Transparent, accountable government? You guessed it.

Stretch goal.