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It's about keeping a lid on MPI rates: Swan

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The minister responsible for Manitoba Public Insurance defended a proposal from the Crown insurer to invest in road improvements if it will help reduce rates.

Andrew Swan said Thursday he's been assured by MPI it will not fund infrastructure improvements if it can't make a solid business case for it.

He also said he can't understand why Conservative Leader Brian Pallister would reject an MPI investment in road infrastructure out of hand.

"I really don't know why Brian Pallister wouldn't want to consider ways to reduce auto insurance rates. It's actually a big surprise to me," he said while en route from a meeting in Regina.

Pallister continued the Conservative attacks on MPI infrastructure funding at a news conference at the Manitoba legislature Thursday.

Pallister said MPI should stick to what it does best and let the provincial government department responsible for roads, Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, decide what improvements should be carried out.

He compared MPI making decisions on road improvements to a patient getting operated on by a plumber and a hockey goalie streaking down the ice to receive a pass to try to score a goal.

And he suggested the Selinger government is calling on MPI for road-repair funding because it is having a tough time balancing its books.

"Manitobans are getting kicked with higher taxes and a higher tax increase than any time in a quarter of a century," Pallister said. "So perhaps if MPI has all this extra money, it should consider giving it to the people who overpaid (for their insurance)."

Swan said MPI was motivated to investigate funding infrastructure improvements by examining the success of a program in British Columbia.

"They've reduced collisions. They've reduced damage, and of course they've reduced claims and saved money," he said of infrastructure spending by the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia (ICBC).

ICBC invested about $6.5 million in 283 road-improvement projects across B.C. in 2011. It launched its road improvement program in 1989, and has since poured $100 million into infrastructure improvements.

The most recent evaluation of the program found it reduced severe crashes by 20 per cent. ICBC concluded that for every dollar invested in a project, ICBC and its customers saved $5.60 over two years and $12.80 over five years in reduced claim costs.

Swan noted MPI has undertaken other investments in the past that have reduced claim costs, including participation in an auto-theft strategy, and investments in police checkstop programs and anti-drunk driving advertising. "I don't think anybody in Manitoba would criticize MPI for taking steps to reduce impaired driving," he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 A5

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