‘Blame it on the rain."
It’s a pretty lousy song lyric, and also a bit of a confounding strategy to underpin an explanation for a financial loss that will inevitably be used to justify a request for a sure-to-be-unpopular revenue-boosting initiative.
But blaming it on the rain — or, more specifically, the hail that sometimes accompanies major rainfall events in these parts — is precisely what Manitoba Public Insurance seems to be doing in a 2016 annual report in which more than half its $85.2-million operating loss is attributed to climate change and the increased damage caused by major weather incidents.
MPI’s report states $45.1 million of last year’s operating losses are the direct result of vehicle-insurance claim payouts related to hailstorms, and suggests such events are part of a larger trend of meteorological volatility related to global climate change.
"For Manitoba, climate change has become synonymous with increasing and unpredictable levels of flooding, fires and severe weather conditions, including snowstorms and hailstorms," says the report, released Thursday.
On Friday, MPI announced it has filed a request to the Public Utilities Board for a 2.7 per cent rate hike for the 2018-19 insurance year, which amounts to about $29 on an average passenger vehicle. Without "an ongoing focus on fiscal prudence and cost containment" — which, one assumes, means following the Pallister government’s austerity-focused instructions — the requested rate increase would have been 7.7 per cent.
There’s little reason to doubt the accuracy of MPI’s accounting — the public insurer is in the numbers business, after all, and it’s incumbent on those who prepare such reports to provide government and rate-paying customers with a precise annual assessment.
But the climate-related passage in the report includes a couple of curious elements — first, the statement that MPI, in designating hail as the culprit responsible for a $45-million claims tab, could not identify a specific event or events that contributed to huge hailstorm-related costs over the past two years (the previous year’s report showed $52.6 million in hail-related claims).
Second among the Autopac-accounting oddities is the notion hailstorms — and, by inference, climate-change-related volatility — became a problem for the insurer with relative suddenness. According to the report, it has only been since 1996 that "the once stable and consistent weather pattern has changed, resulting in the Corporation making four reinsurance claims following severe hailstorms."
Few, if any, in the worldwide scientific community have been able to make such decisive declaration about global warming’s presumed tipping point. Still, MPI’s report writers say the insurer will continue to monitor and respond to future weather-related projections, which call for "a continued trend in unpredictable and variable weather patterns."
A skeptic might be inclined to wonder if the 2016 annual report is, in part, a document framed to prepare Manitobans for the inevitability of future rate hikes.
And a pure cynic might question whether the mention of a narrowly avoided 7.7 per cent increase in Friday’s release is part of the Pallister government’s ongoing and mischievous plan to use information distributed by the province’s public utilities and Crown corporations as an arm’s-length means of continuing to discredit its NDP predecessor.
Sometimes, in the insurance game, it’s about the rain. But in politics, it’s always about the blame.