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HomeBusinessICBC pandemic rebates may not be feasible, as monopoly spends millions on new ads

ICBC pandemic rebates may not be feasible, as monopoly spends millions on new ads

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Bob Mackin

An independent B.C. utilities watchdog has accused the B.C. NDP government of “gaming the timing” of ICBC financial disclosures for political purposes.

In a Feb.4-published analysis, Richard McCandless raised the alarm about Premier John Horgan and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announcing a $190 average pandemic rebate to policy holders on Feb. 2. The NDP finally released ICBC’s two-months overdue, second quarter financial report on Feb. 3.

From ICBC’s $3.3 million ad campaign by PSDDB (ICBC)

“The withholding of ICBC’s second quarter financial report is a regressive step in the continuing effort to make ICBC more accountable to its policyholders and to the public at large,” wrote McCandless, a former senior B.C. government bureaucrat. “While it may be acceptable for the government to justify a COVID-19 rebate as fulfilling a previous commitment, it should not be gaming the timing of such accountability documents to meet its political timetable.”

The report showed $394 million combined net income as of Sept. 30, 2020, up $83 million since June 30.

By McCandless’s calculation, ICBC could have $550 million to $600 million net income by year-end. But that may not be enough to justify the rebate.

“In this simple scenario returning $600 million to policyholders would result in no net income at year-end.

From ICBC’s $3.3 million ad campaign by PSDDB (ICBC)

The low capital reserve leaves ICBC in an unhealthy financial condition with an elevated risk of a taxpayer bailout if there is an adverse financial development, such as a drop in the equity markets,” McCandless wrote.

Though the NDP is touting an average $190 per policyholder, the actual rebate payments could be as high as $400 and as low as $25.

ICBC has been a major focus of the Horgan government in early 2021, as it seeks to change the channel from the glacially slow rollout of coronavirus vaccine.

The basic insurance monopoly’s transition to a no fault insurance system in May is the subject of the $3.3 million “enhanced care” ad campaign. The Jan. 25-launched campaign runs to May and is funded $2.8 million internally and $500,000 from central government.

“It’s important to let British Columbians know what these changes mean for them and where they can learn more,” said ICBC spokesman Brent Shearer.

ICBC hired the Palmer Stamnes DDB ad agency for creative services and Vizeum for media buying on the radio, TV and digital media campaign.

The firms were hired on five-year contracts, after a tendering process in February 2020, worth an estimated $11.5 million for Vizeum and $5.8 million for PSDDB.

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