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MPI, PUB dispute will sort itself: Swan

Minister won't get involved

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Andrew Swan: Nothing needs fixing; the process will work

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The Selinger government is content to watch the Crown auto insurer, which has a monopoly, and its watchdog duke it out in public -- and in a potential court fight -- rather than sit the two down to peacefully settle their jurisdictional squabble.

Attorney General Andrew Swan said he believes Manitoba Public Insurance and the Public Utilities Board can work out their differences without the heavy hand of government or a legislative amendment to better outline their roles. Swan is responsible for MPI.

"Obviously, there is a disagreement between some of the parties as to exactly what needs to be provided," Swan said.

"That's nothing new. That's happened in the past. It's certainly my expectation that, obviously the PUB is now considering this, that they will make a decision that will balance everything and come up with the right answer on what they need to do their job and that people will have satisfaction there is transparency."

MPI and the PUB are embroiled in a dispute over how much internal information MPI should turn over to the PUB as it weighs MPI's request for a 3.4 per cent Autopac rate increase for 2015. MPI says the hike would offset rising claims costs related to last winter's horrible driving conditions and to bolster its rate-stabilization fund.

The PUB believes it has the authority to dig deep into MPI operations to examine how it spends and invests money, but the Crown corporation is refusing to answer any question it says is outside compulsory driver and vehicle or basic insurance.

Last week, MPI, the PUB and interveners such as the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Consumers Association, argued the matter at a special hearing. The PUB is to release its decision shortly as hearings for MPI's rate application are scheduled to start Oct. 7.

The disagreement between the two goes back to 1989 to when the PUB was first put in charge of approving MPI rate increases.

The PUB took MPI to the Manitoba Court of Appeal more than three years ago on the disclosure issue, but the appeal court declined to make a formal decision because it said it did not have the necessary context. Depending on how PUB rules in the coming days, it's possible both sides will go back to court.

Swan also echoed MPI's request for a more structured hearing process that focuses more on rates than internal policy decisions.

"Maybe it means the PUB should play a more active role in the future in making sure that information requests are helpful," he said, adding it would result in quicker disclosure of information by MPI.

Swan added the PUB rate-hearing process needs only fine-tuning by the players.

"I think that giving the PUB the ability to determine what it needs to do to do its work has by and large served Manitobans well for a long time," he said, adding he hopes the Court of Appeal need not get involved.

During the 2011 hearing, the court said the PUB has access to all financial information on the basic insurance side of MPI's business, which accounts for approximately 85 per cent of the Crown corporation's revenue.

"The question must be asked whether the inability to access detailed information that affects only the non-basic lines of business, which account for only 15 per cent of the revenue, would result in the PUB being unable to assess the financial health of the corporation," the court said.

Tory MPI critic Kelvin Goertzen said Swan should compel MPI to release all the information the PUB deems relevant.

"I do think questions on operational costs and donations and sponsorships is related to whether or not there is a need to have a rate increase," Goertzen said. "People have to have confidence that they're not getting fleeced for reasons when they don't need to be fleeced.

He also said the court is the wrong venue to settle the matter.

"I think our courts have a lot of other things to do than deal with disputes about trying to hide information from the public that the government doesn't want released," he said.

Swan also pointed out the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) has applied to its regulator to approve a basic automobile insurance rate increase of 5.2 per cent as of Nov. 1.

The publicly owned ICBC says it needs the increase to address the rising cost of injury claims due, in part, to more collisions related to distracted driving.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2014 A9

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