Manitoba Public Insurance is seeking a 0.6 per cent overall reduction in annual vehicle insurance fees.
If the request — brought Monday to the Public Utilities Board — is granted, most Manitoban vehicle owners will see a slight decrease in the amount they pay in insurance, starting in March.
Drivers of passenger vehicles (more than 800,000 are registered in the province) would see their bill shrink by an average of $10. Motorcyclists, however, would experience a spike in fees of about $41 more each year.
The rate decrease — which would be the province's first since 2012 — took a backseat Monday in the hearings to the Crown corporation's push to modernize and develop online services under new president and chief executive officer Ben Graham.
"It would be remiss of us to not provide customers with an option of at least how they transact with MPI." - Ben Graham
Graham told the PUB there is evidence Manitobans would like to make more insurance transactions online. He said the online insurance services wouldn't replace the current brick-and-mortar model — there are 12 claims and services centres in the province, along with thousands of independent brokers — but would augment them to create more choice and access.
"It would be remiss of us to not provide customers with an option of at least how they transact with MPI," he said.
One group that has not supported the idea in general is the Insurance Brokers Association of Manitoba, which, for the first time, is acting as an intervener in the hearings.
"We did not take that decision lightly," said association lawyer Curtis Unfried, mentioning the close ties brokers and MPI have had for nearly 50 years.
IBAM expressed worry an online service delivery under MPI would be a direct-to-consumer approach, which the organization fears would limit consumer choice of other providers and would take business away from independent brokers. It doesn't oppose online service, but want to ensure brokers are included in the process, Unfried said.
"We want to service customers online. The contention that we have currently is that MPI seems to want to put forward a model where they are going direct to the consumer," association CEO Grant Wainikka told media. "We believe that puts consumers at risk."
However, Graham said any online service provision wouldn't exclude any parties, referring indirectly to IBAM.
Still, as they enter a provincially-mandated conciliation process, the question of online service has kept the two groups at an impasse.
In getting its rate approved, as well as its capital management plan, MPI will also have to contend with other interveners, including the Consumers' Association of Canada (Manitoba), Bike Winnipeg, and Coalition of Manitoba Motorcycle Groups.
"The contention that we have currently is that MPI seems to want to put forward a model where they are going direct to the consumer. We believe that puts consumers at risk." - IBAM CEO Grant Wainikka
The Consumers' Association raised concern over accessibility issues related to both brick-and-mortar and online delivery options, as well as whether MPI was putting its own interests ahead of its rate payers.
Though rates would decrease overall, certain ownership groups would still experience a hike. Motorcycle owners stand to face a 5.1 per cent hike — and the coalition's lawyer, Charlotte Meek, said the increase was "directly prejudiced" to those owners.
An MPI spokesperson said the rate was calculated based on the relatively high average cost of bodily harm to motorcyclists injured in accidents; a single-vehicle motorcycle collision's costs are around $13,000, as compared to $4,000 for single-vehicle collisions involving passenger vehicles.
Other average rate changes up for approval include those on commercial vehicles (plus 0.7 per cent, or $200), public vehicles (plus 10.4 per cent), trailers (minus 5.2 per cent, or $4), and off-road vehicles (minus 12.5 per cent, or $1).
The Public Utility Board of Manitoba is an independent, quasi-judicial administrative tribunal, with supervisory powers over public utilities and designated monopolies. It will continue to meet through the month of October.