By PIERCE GRAHAM
I RECENTLY RENEWED my auto insurance, and also had to visit the ICBC main office in Kamloops to replace a lost Driver’s Licence. The visit was scheduled by phone call because of the necessity for a new identity photograph and current Covid restrictions. The service was efficient, smooth and informative. It was also a revelation; here is what I saw.
I parked my car in the lot – free for me to park in, but not free to ICBC. They (through our premiums) bought, and have to pay city taxes on, that land. They also pave, paint, sweep , plow and maintain it and the buildings, and pay staff to mow and water the lawns and flower beds.
The building was accessible, clean and well-lit, indicating that their hydro bills were paid and their custodial staff – also paid, of course – were effective. The people inside the building all appeared to be purposefully active – all probably on reasonable salaries suitable to living in Kamloops, and all probably suitably educated and trained to the degree required for their efficient performance.
Most of them probably had at least some post-secondary-level of training, skills or education. This is not minimum-wage labour. And most of them were at desks fitted with telephones, province-wide net-worked computer monitors, and the usual paraphernalia of modern data-based techno-industries. All that equipment is expensive to buy, lease and maintain.
So are the staff who are trained and competent to run it. (Monkeys wouldn’t make it.)
They were neatly clothed, clean, articulate in their largely verbal environment, and apparently engaged in purposeful and focused activities or communications of some sort. The quiet efficiency was impressive, obviously the product of training, competence, and managerial and organizational oversight which few casual, superficial observers would notice. Definitely not at entry-level minimum wages.
Less visible, however, were the paper-file record-keeping, electronic records, and inter-office organizational structure, all the way from this local branch up to the Ministerial oversight in Victoria’s Legislature and beyond. But they were there, and are there, and they must be paid.
They are the unseen employees who make it work: the telephone receptionist, the night custodian, the assessors, the body-work and parts men who make the repairs, and those who perform every other function in the chain. And they all work for you and me, to insure us. And it all costs money. And the only source for that money is my premiums, and yours. Is there any other possible source?
A direct government subsidy to reduce ICBC rates would tax the non-driver to help the driver. That would be redundant, because your compulsory public liability clause already protects the public. And privatization of ICBC, a publicly needed utility, for profit-taking from would be immoral. Remember that the old Socred (now Liberal) government used to maintain artificially and dishonestly high ICBC rates and syphon off millions in “profits” every year to balance their budgets!
But they eventually took over private B.C Electric and made it public B.C. Hydro. ICBC, like Hydro, health, education, and welfare, is a public utility serving a social need, and should be publicly owned and operated without profit or regard to costs.
Like hospitals, water, roads, schools, and so on. Private hospitals? Police? Firemen? Sewage? Streets? Never in the Canada I grew up in. Feed yourself, but care for your neighbour, as he cares for you. And teach your kids to care.
My purpose in presenting this simplified but basic view is to point out that those who so bitterly object to ICBC forget that an annual auto insurance premium not only buys us the personal liability and property insurance we require to protect ourselves and our cars.
It also protects every other person on the roads and sidewalks from our actions, however irresponsible those actions may be. very few among us have such resources privately, so we do so communally. Doing so pays for the salaries, benefits and pensions of thousands of direct and indirect employees throughout the province who make it work.
It pays for their work place, their training, their equipment, furniture, lighting, and janitors. It also pays commissions to private agents, who take up to thirty-five percent of your premium before actually sending your money to its ultimate purpose: insuring your driving safety.
If those private agents – repair shops, etc. – take a third of the premium, then the actual cost of insurance itself is only the remaining two thirds. Right? Your premium also manages to provide a significant number of BC trial lawyers with a regular income. Could that be why many lawyers oppose the soon-to be “no-fault proposal?
ICBC exists – not with the aim of reaping a profit for already wealthy shareholder-investors who would probably live in Toronto, Montreal or America. It exists to protect us from ourselves, each other, and ruin. The current shareholders are the citizens of British Columbia, and ICBC is much like a Crown Corporation or a credit union which we, not foreigners, own. We are lucky. Next time you renew, look more deeply.
Perhaps some readers will recall that one of the loudest protests against ICBC has come from the privately-run insurance industry. The reason is simple: ICBC makes no profit and restricts those who do. It negotiates auto-damage repair costs so we don’t have to. Its share-holders are its policy-holders, and the “profits” appear as reductions in operating costs and premiums.
Public Insurance has never paid a dividend; it has only reduced the costs and the impacts of loss, and guaranteed that the innocent are protected. Private capital has never been thus motivated. Comparisons between ICBC and Alberta rates, for example, ignore the fact that ICBC rates tend to subsidize younger, less experienced drivers; Alberta’s are designed to make a profit based on risk assessment.
There is a major difference in basic motive; profit versus service. Socialism, you say? Right; based on social sharing of the necessities. Not a bad idea.
ICBC is a public utility necessary for modern mobile, urban, suburban and rural life. Like roads, hydro power, water, health and education, it belongs to people of all ages, and its costs and its benefits belong to us, not to someone who would “invest” in us.
I would be willing to bet that most people reading this have personal knowledge of someone who has feigned “whip-lash” or exaggerated pain in order to gain or justify a dubious pay-out from ICBC. Sad comment, but I am sure it is true.
Next time you curse at ICBC, look at the immensity of its purpose and operation. Then look in the mirror.
Pierce Graham is a retired vice principal of NorKam secondary, a long-time English teacher, and a member of the Rube Band.