Whether or not they intended to put the fear of God into insurance companies they just did.
Just the idea public insurance in Alberta hasn’t been ruled out as the work of radicals hell-bent on the destruction of the province is something you would have never seen in the days of former premier Jason Kenney, a time when the UCP government was mighty cozy with the insurance outfits.
Nate Horner is the budget boss and point man on insurance in the government led by Premier Danielle Smith and you could never paint him as being anything but a conservative.
“I would tell you when I came into this job I would have been very against starting new Crown corporations but I’m doing my best to not be ideological and see what the report actually says,” Horner tells us Wednesday.
Let us allow Horner to continue talking about public insurance, for those enjoying the moment.
“In some instances it provides a great tool for their citizens.
“I know many people that are very happy with Saskatchewan’s system in the way it’s delivered.”
Looking at the freshest numbers from Alberta’s own insurance rate board, Alberta has the second-highest average yearly premiums, just behind Ontario.
Public insurance Saskatchewan is eighth-highest among the 10 provinces, $489 a year lower than Alberta.
Looking at another measure, the average after-tax income spent on auto insurance in Alberta is going up, up, up, up.
Alberta is tied for second place in the nation. Again, Saskatchewan is eighth.
It is no surprise fewer than one in five in Alberta solidly agree premiums here are fair and reasonable.
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Here’s Horner again on public insurance.
“I think it would be unfair to be ideological and take anything off the table. We need to look at everything.
“I think it warrants a really deep-dive and if that’s what the report says, with the blessing of the premier and cabinet, that will be the direction we take.”
Horner makes sure to add a strong word of caution. It’s too early to draw any conclusions.
After all, few, if any, actually believe Alberta would go the public insurance route.
Still, the Smith government has hired some deep-thinkers for half a million bucks to do a look-see on what places elsewhere are doing on the insurance front and what changes Alberta could bring in to make auto coverage more affordable going forward.
That report will be done in early 2024 and, in the meantime, come January 1 of next year insurance companies cannot raise rates more than 3.7% on good drivers.
The Smith government defines a good driver as those with no at-fault accidents in the last six years and no Criminal Code traffic convictions in the last four years and no major traffic convictions in the last three years and no more than one minor traffic conviction in the last three years.
Horner says whatever is decided more of the cost has to come out of the insurance system. The same-old, same-old is not an option.
“If the goal is to make Alberta auto insurance more affordable compared to the other provinces more will need to be done.”
Shannon Phillips leads the Alberta NDP’s charge on auto insurance. Phillips is more than willing to mix it up with the UCP government.
“We should study the merits of public auto insurance. We should be open to all possibilities.”
Would Phillips want to see a real public consultation on the issue?
“Absolutely, Albertans deserve this conversation. They’ve been getting hosed by private insurers.”
And auto insurance is something people have to buy if they want to own and operate a vehicle.
Phillips looks back to the days, not so long ago, when Kenney’s insurance point man Travis Toews was calling the shots and public insurance wasn’t even in their dictionary.
“We would be assured by Minister Toews that it was one step way from a communist calamity to even entertain the thought,” says Phillips.
Phillips sounds like she’s in a very good mood.
“There are pros and cons and I’m glad to see Minister Nate Horner has joined the NDP on this.
“Memberships in the Alberta NDP are $10 if Minister Horner is at all interested.”
Er … Not.
The smart money would make one bet.
At least on this day, most of those in the wagering mood would bet on public auto insurance getting a bigger Yes vote than an Alberta Pension Plan.
There is one question nobody asked.
It’s something the Smith government could do in next spring’s budget.
Scrap the province’s 3% tax on insurance premiums.
“I guess you’ve got me thinking, Rick,” says Horner.
And thinking is a good thing.