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Opinion  

Les Leyne: Don’t expect a pandemic rebate from ICBC — it’s flat broke

Don't expect a rebate

Other insurance companies in Canada are offering rebates to help customers through the pandemic, so why can’t ICBC do the same? Don’t be ridiculous. It was already flat broke before COVID-19 hit. Now it’s even further in the red.

But Attorney General David Eby, minister responsible, is still painting a glorious picture of the big turnaround. There will come a day, in the sweet by and by, when all the reforms have clicked into gear. “Dumpster fire” — Eby’s favourite description of the outfit — will fade from memory. The new buzzphrases will be “enhanced care” and “rate cuts” and even … surplus.

All the ambulance-chasing lawyers will be banished, because almost no one will have to fight ICBC in court. So the corporation will be awash in money. And it won’t need all the money because crashes will be reduced by safety measures. So it will give some of it back to customers. Rate freezes and rate cuts, guaranteed. Rebate cheques for everyone to cover the transition period. Lifetime benefits to victims who need them.

“The trends are very hopeful that ICBC will be seeing some sort of financial benefit from reduced collisions,” he told the legislature.

It’s going to be awesome.

But it was never going to be easy getting to that happy place, and it’s even harder now.

Eby was asked about pandemic ICBC rebates like the ones Ontario and Manitoba drivers are getting and his answer boiled down to: Not a chance. There’s no safety net.

“The availability of rebates or any other kind of initiative with a surplus depends on there being a surplus… Those reserves are not in place.”

ICBC reported earlier in the pandemic that costs were down $158 million, but premium revenue was down $283 million, so COVID-19 is costing more than it’s saving.

He said people are generally reducing their coverage, opting for higher deductibles and lower third-party coverage. They’re also shifting rate classes, from commuter to pleasure-only, because their jobs have shrunk or have disappeared.

The much bigger impact is likely on ICBC’s investment portfolio. It may be broke, but it still has about $19 billion on hand in its mandatory portfolio. What the virus did to that won’t be known for another month, when the government’s public accounts reckoning is released. About a quarter of it is in equities, and they took a huge hit in the spring.

ICBC didn’t get mentioned in Finance Minister Carole James’ economic update this month that projected a $12.5-billion deficit due to the virus. That was in contrast to her first full budget in 2018, when it was happily highlighted on the first page as a Liberal-inspired disaster that was dragging government down.

Eby noted a caution that the B.C. Utilities Commission issued a month ago about ICBC’s books. He cited it as a reason why there will be no rebates. But it says a lot more than that.

The agency is independent — unless ordered to do something by cabinet — and regulates ICBC.

It wrote about the rate freeze set for next spring that was ordered by cabinet earlier this year.

Given it was an order, the BCUC noted that it didn’t review that for “any regulatory or economic justification.”

But it expressed concerns about the overall financial health and solvency. The commission is supposed to ensure ICBC brings in enough money to meet a minimum standard for reserves, the “minimum capital test.”

But that was suspended early in the NDP’s term. Now ICBC is at 6.1 per cent of that capital test, when it’s supposed to be at 100 per cent. The utilities commission reiterated concerns about the shortage. “There is no capital available to backstop further losses. … Further capital injections from sources outside the basic insurance system, significant cost reductions or further insurance reform amendments to reduce costs may be necessary.”

The BCUC acknowledged the major overhaul underway to produce a brand-new model of no-fault insurance. They’re forecast to save $1.5 billion a year. But “it is unclear whether they will be sufficient to mitigate the risk of such a low minimum capital test ratio.”

So ICBC will run two different systems for three years or more transitioning to the promised land, while B.C. hopefully transitions out of the viral nightmare at the same time.



Finance minister asks British Columbians to share feedback on province's economic recovery

A voice in BC's recovery

It's hard to believe it's been only four months since the world as we knew it changed drastically.

We are amidst one of the largest challenges in B.C.'s history, with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as bad as we have ever seen. We have had to close many parts of our economy to prevent the spread of the virus and protect British Columbians, as well as protect our province from even more economic damage.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have not been the same for everyone. Some demographics and sectors were harder hit than others. Notably, the youth unemployment rate remains a staggering 29% and women make up most of the job losses in the hardest hit sectors.

We are seeing encouraging signs as we move through our gradual economic restart. We have regained 40% of jobs lost since the pandemic began, with more than 118,000 British Columbians returning to work in the month of June alone.

But there is still more work to do as we build a strong recovery and a more secure future for everybody in British Columbia. A one-size-fits-all approach to recovery will not work, nor should we expect that it could.

Behind the statistics are people, families and businesses worried about their futures and their children's futures. Their ideas and priorities are important as British Columbia continues to build a strong economic recovery.

That's why we have asked British Columbians to share their feedback on the province's economic recovery. In just over four weeks, more than 10,000 British Columbians have now shared their views and ideas through a comprehensive online survey. This is in addition to numerous virtual public town halls and the direct work we've been doing with the business, First Nations, labour and non-profit sectors. I encourage everyone to participate in the survey, which is open until July 21, because your views are important.

Although it has been a uniquely challenging period for many these past months, the people of the province have pulled together in extraordinary ways and have shown we are stronger when we come together with a common goal. In responding to this crisis, we have shown we can take care of each other through co-operation and partnership. We have flattened the curve as a result, which allowed us to enter Phase 3 of our restart plan in June.

Rebuilding our economy after the outbreak will be an immense job, and I don't think this comes as a surprise. But we are restarting from a place of strength with a great many advantages.

We entered this crisis with zero operating debt - a desirable position that allowed us to invest immediately in a response plan focusing on three main priorities: protecting people's health; providing income, rental and other supports for individual and businesses; and ensuring essential services like public transit remained available. We will continue to adapt and respond as needed to support people through this crisis.

Our recovery plan is an opportunity to build a strong, resilient, innovative economy that leaves no one behind, while focusing on our Province's core values, like making life more affordable, honouring the rights of Indigenous peoples and acting on climate change.

By building on our strengths and drawing on our people, I am confident we will restore economic growth and achieve a vibrant, inclusive, competitive economy for all British Columbians. Together, we can rebuild a strong, resilient, innovative economy that leaves no one behind.

To provide answers to some important questions and give advice about B.C.'s economic recovery planning, visit: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/recoveryideas

For information about BC's Restart Plan, visit: gov.bc.ca/restartbc



Opinion - Interior monologue: was B.C.’s provincewide shutdown overkill?

Worlds apart from Vancouver

Kirk LaPointe is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and the vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.

John Horgan and Bonnie Henry have taken the Saran Wrap off the province and encouraged us at last to dig in. Not that there is a less risky, full-meal deal to feast upon much farther away this summer, anyway.

But, back from a week in the Okanagan, I’d say it’s very much time for a needed giddy-up into higher gear. If a place like this isn’t roaring, we British Columbians have work to do.

The Interior is the place COVID-19 has so far forgotten to visit. Locals are in evidence on the hot early summer days, but the frolicking beaches are a bit misleading. It conceals the hurting local merchants, the emaciated by-appointment-only winery traffic and the overall chasm in the necessary tourism market.

The Okanagan, in particular, is one of the province’s most resilient regions. Near-perennial forest fires would have suffocated many economies, but not this one. Still, even with no threat this moment of wildfires this summer, the economies of the communities adjacent to Okanagan Lake are clearly clobbered by the coronavirus.

For the time being, at least, residents are enjoying better access to what the tourists come to savour. Problems are: there aren’t enough of them, many of them and their employers are struggling, and the disproportionate Alberta licence plates likely means fewer fellow British Columbians are yet boldly taking to the roads. That might have changed as we hit Canada Day, but vendors I talked to cited plenty of capacity for July and August.

A Vancouverite would find the region otherworldly – as in, 2019 in 2020, same vibe, just a little less populous and thus dialled back. Restaurants have heeded the guidelines to limit capacity and exercise caution in serving food and drink, but unlike what you’d see in much of Greater Vancouver, you would be hard-pressed to see a half-dozen face masks in a day of Okanagan leisure. Apart from servers, almost no one wears them publicly, even in supermarkets.

Plexiglas is everywhere at counters, seemingly a condition of continuing business or reopening after dormant weeks, and patrons don’t mind taking a step back to form a longer line. But the indoor nervousness of Vancouver is nowhere to be found as people walk past each other in shops. Restaurant tables are social-distanced, but restaurant patrons at those tables aren’t. Hugs are happening. The golf courses feel quite close to business as usual. The beaches are whatever.

If Vancouver might be complacent about a second wave, considering the first-wave statistics that make British Columbia envied, the Okanagan is indifferent most everywhere. It is frustratingly caught up in someone else’s syndrome.

No surprise, mind you, considering there is scant evidence of a pandemic. The Okanagan has one of the brightest public health pictures. There have been only about 200 cases and two deaths in the entire Interior, hardly the stuff to knock the stuffing out of homegrown enjoyment – but enough to knock it out of the homegrown economy.

Might that change in the weeks ahead as British Columbians head to the picturesque, friendly desert? Perhaps. Might the virus arrive with the tourist influx, too? Perhaps.

But the larger question locally for the time being – and one all mildly affected regions must now be wondering – is why such a fuss in the first place?

We underplayed COVID-19 initially, but did we overplay it in some parts of the province subsequently? Was there a one-size-fits-all overreaction to the coronavirus that, as we can now see, collapsed local economies in an outsized way? Will we pay a more profound price than we needed to? Were the delayed surgeries, the widespread shutdowns and the damage to the psyches of isolation and the separation from loved ones and colleagues more and longer than was necessary?

When you talk to a vendor or a server or an owner in the Okanagan, they’re too polite to say the measures are overkill. They recognize they’ve been fortunate in ducking the first wave. They are sanguine that a second wave could arrive, particularly as the cars and trucks pull in for a good time.

But it’s clear they see the pandemic as someone else’s and not their own, and as we dig out of the economic hole and not just dig into our enjoyment of the province on summer vacations, I doubt they are alone. 



Opinion: Conserving all-Canadian wildlife

Conserving wildlife

Every nation plays an important role in stopping wildlife extinction. Here in Canada, we have an estimated 80,000 known wild species. They range from pygmy shrew to polar bear, and from stellate sedge to Sitka spruce. Canada plays a critical role in protecting many of these plants and animals. Most of the world’s lakeside daisies, narwhals and Canada lynx live here. For other species, such as Jefferson salamander, Lewis’s woodpecker or pitch pine, Canada makes up just a small part of their global range.

We share conservation responsibility for most of our wildlife with other countries, primarily the United States, but also Greenland, Russia and Scandinavia. For migratory birds, marine fishes and marine mammals, our collective conservation community reaches to Argentina (Arctic tern), Mali (northern wheatear) and the Mediterranean Sea (Atlantic bluefin tuna).

But there’s a select group of wild plants and animals that are only in this country. Their global range is completely Canadian and there is no shared responsibility in deciding their future.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has prioritized these nationally endemic species in our conservation plans for over 20 years, but a comprehensive list of these all-Canadian species didn't exist. NCC and NatureServe Canada recently filled this need by cataloguing the different kinds of plants and animals that are only found here. Some, like copper redhorse and Vancouver Island marmot, were well-known Canadian endemics. Confirming others required input from experts and digging into data from around the world.

In our report, we identified 308 plants and animals found only in Canada. These range from the largest subspecies of Steller’s jay that lives only on Haida Gwaii, off BC, to the tiny maritime ringlet butterfly restricted to the eastern Canada coast.

Nationally endemic species occur in every province and territory. But like all biodiversity, they are not evenly distributed. BC, Quebec, Alberta and the Yukon have the most. Nova Scotia has a high proportion of nationally endemic species that only occur in one province or territory.

Certain habitats seem to have more nationally endemic species, including alvars in Ontario, sandhills in Saskatchewan and Alberta, mountains in western Canada, and where the St. Lawrence River meets the sea. We identified 27 ‘hot spots’ across the country where higher numbers of endemic species can be found. These generally occur on islands — places that were ice-free during the last period of glaciation or sites with unique habitats.

Unfortunately, many species have small ranges and numbers, both important factors that can increase their vulnerability. In southern Canada, the main threat for species such as Newfoundland marten is habitat loss. In many Arctic, mountain and coastal habitats, climate change is rapidly altering the environment, putting species such as Lake Louise arnica and Gulf of St. Lawrence aster at increasing risk. Some of our all-Canadian wildlife, including Atlantic whitefish, are teetering on the edge of extinction.

The rapid loss of wildlife is a planetary issue that is as critical and consequential as climate change. Scientists now estimate that up to one million species may be at risk of extinction in the next few decades.

We need to act soon. Just last year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature released the Abu Dhabi Call for Global Species Conservation Action. The call appeals to halt the decline of wildlife and prevent human-driven extinctions by 2030, and to improve the conservation status and ensure the recovery of threatened species by 2050.

Saving our all-Canadian wildlife is just one part of the conservation puzzle that future generations need us to solve. Supporting private land conservation can help leverage funding from the federal Natural Heritage Conservation Program and protect important habitats. It’s a critical first step. There is no plan B for these Canadian species. The consequence of our failure will be their extinction

Dan Kraus is senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and co-author of the “Ours to Save” report - Canada’s 308 nationally endemic species



Opinion: We must stand up to China’s bully tactics

We must stand up to China

Historians make lousy prophets. We find it hard enough to predict the past, much less what’s going to happen in the future. Nonetheless, I’m going to attempt to predict some imminent geopolitical strategy.

As the People’s Republic of China makes threats against Canada for detaining an executive of a Chinese corporation, as it warns the United States of “stern counter-measures” and as it outrages its southeast Asian neighbours as a result of its claims to the South China Sea, it’s not hard to portray these moves as parts of a new Cold War.

So what historical model can we use to assess China and its future actions?

Will President Xi Jinping’s China, for example, resemble the Soviet Union leadership in the wake of the Second World War?

There’s the similarity of two superpowers facing off over a number of possible flash points – Berlin, Cuba and Vietnam in the previous era, and Taiwan, Hong Kong and intellectual property theft today.

But the difference today is significant. The economy of the Soviet Union was its weakest point post-war, whereas China’s economic muscle gives it significant clout on the international stage.

Soviet leaders weren’t able to make cowards out of world leaders by threatening to withhold supplies of vital rare earths or bribe whole continents with financial aid and technical expertise. China can – and does.

Moreover, China, unlike the Soviet Union, need not occupy neighbouring countries to exercise sway over them.

Should we look to Nazi Germany as the model?

There are a number of interesting similarities between Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists and Xi’s People’s Republic. But, so far, China has shown no inclination to use its military might outside its border territories, unlike Hitler’s ambitions to rule conquered lands from the Atlantic to the Caucasus.

In fact, the state that most nearly resembles China today is the Qing (or Manchu) dynasty that ruled China from 1644 to 1912. The key elements in this model are the notion of sinocentrism, a visceral dislike of foreigners, refusal to accept global diplomatic norms and a winner-takes-all approach to trade.

Sinocentrism is the idea that China is the centre of the world, the only true empire. All other states must be regarded either as tributary nations acknowledging their inferiority to China and receiving trade privileges in return, or as barbarians.

The Qing refused to accept other countries as in any way equal or worthy of having a permanent diplomatic presence in the capital.

Sinocentrism can be seen today in the way China behaves on the world stage:

  • It aggressively hacks foreign governments, corporations and news agencies.
  • It has sanctioned intellectual property theft on a massive scale.
  • It suborns international organizations such as the World Health Organization and Interpol, as well as politicians in other countries’ parliaments.
  • Chinese living abroad as students, scientists, businessmen or emigrants are used as agents of influence and espionage.
  • China demands that its actions not be criticized and that its enemies, such as Taiwan or the Dalai Lama, be treated as enemies by the rest of the world.

The rules that are supposed to govern international behaviour mean nothing to China: when one of its grandees is detained in Canada (in luxurious house arrest), innocent Canadians are taken hostage and we’re told to stop our “wrongdoing” and warned of “grave consequences.”

China under the Qing dynasty insisted on making the rules of commerce, running an enormous trade surplus, accepting only silver for its exports and severely restricting foreign imports. This mirrors the enormous trade deficits that modern China is content to profit from in its dealings with most Western countries, including Canada and the United States.

The world, in general, need not worry about Chinese colonization or invasion. But it will seek to ruthlessly maintain its dominance of east Asia. It won’t hesitate to use force in dealing with Hong Kong or Taiwan, or in defending its interests in North Korea and the South China Sea.

We can expect that, unless checked, China’s economic muscle will continue to be used to acquire increasing influence in Africa and South America, and in exercising illegitimate pressures on countries in the West.
It’s essential for world order in the 21st century that China be made to realize it can’t conduct itself unhampered by accepted standards of behaviour.


Gerry Bowler
Senior Fellow
Frontier Centre for Public Policy

 



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