Ontario will fall short of its promise to cut auto insurance rates 8 per cent by next month, Finance Minister Charles Sousa acknowledged Tuesday as average premiums inched 0.22 per cent higher in the second quarter.
Premiums are now down 5.44 per cent since the government improved efforts to tackle fraud and promised a larger 15 per cent cut by August of 2015, Sousa said as he reintroduced legislation to cut costs for auto insurance companies and crack down on price gouging in the towing industry.
That 15 per cent cut would be worth an average of $225 annually.
Sousa advised motorists feeling the pinch of higher rates to “shop around” and blamed the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats in the last minority parliament for stalling efforts to pass the bill first proposed last winter.
“It’s unfortunate the opposition delayed it and delayed it and delayed it,” the finance minister told a news conference.
“We’re still going to be on track for the 15 per cent. We have to pass the legislation as soon as possible.”
Progressive Conservatives support the legislation but want amendments to improve the dispute resolution mechanism between motorists and insurers, said Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, accusing Sousa of going too far in the blame game because not enough has been done to combat insurance fraud.
“It was everything but the dog ate my homework…they have nobody to blame but themselves.”
The Financial Services Commission of Ontario reported Tuesday that five companies with a total market share of 14.5 per cent had new rates approved with an overall impact of 0.22 per cent across the system for the province’s nine million motorists.
Two companies lowered costs for drivers by one percentage point but another, Security National Insurance Company, boosted premiums 4.19 per cent.
Ralph Palumbo of the Insurance Bureau of Canada said that was likely to make sure Security National has “enough money to pay the claims” and Sousa suggested its rates were “well below the cost of other companies.”
New Democrat MPP Jagmeet Singh for Bramalea-Gore-Malton said many drivers are still seeing increases or won’t see promised reductions for months when their new billing periods begin.
“Claiming that there’s a 5 per cent reduction is ludicrous,” he told reporters. “People are feeling pinched…we’re paying the highest rates in the country.”
He said Sousa has a long way to go to meet the 15 per cent target, set in the spring of last year as a condition for NDP support of his budget.
“I think this will be another promise made, promise broken.”
The proposed auto insurance legislation, aimed in part at settling disputed auto insurance claims faster to reduce administrative costs and licensing of accident rehab clinics, is being combined with another bill to regulate towing and vehicle storage, giving consumers — who have often just been in car accidents — more rights in dealing with tow truck operators.
Towing companies would have to post prices, accept credit cards for payment, provide itemized bills and notify motorists immediately where vehicles have been towed.
“We’ve had concerns raised,” said Consumer Minister David Orazietti.
Palumbo said the measures will help cut costs for insurance companies and make lower premiums possible in an industry where a number of firms have already posted average rate reductions.
“We’re months behind.”