B.C. eyes law to ensure drivers, not government benefit from ICBC profits

It’s been a long time since the words “ICBC” and “profit” have been used in the same sentence. The public auto insurer is a long way away from actually making money.

But B.C. Attorney General David Eby is confident that day will come — eventually — and when it does, he believes governments should keep their hands off.

That’s why he’s considering new legislation to prevent the province from scooping up any surplus from the insurance corporation and funnelling it into government coffers. 

“That money belongs to drivers,” he told reporters at the legislature on Tuesday. “Insurance revenues from the optional side shouldn’t be used as some form of a tax on British Columbians; it should be used for insurance.” 

Eby is looking at bringing an amendment in the spring that would make it illegal for the province to raid ICBC profits, and instead flip that money back to drivers in the form of lower rates. 

‘We’re not there yet,’ says Attorney General David Eby, acknowledging ICBC still has a long way to go following two years of billion-dollar losses. (Tanya Fletcher/ CBC)

But with the Crown corporation bleeding billions of dollars since 2017, he acknowledges there’s a long way to go before that happens. 

“We’re talking about profits from ICBC that do not currently exist,” Eby said. “We’re nearing a much better year in terms of avoiding those billion-dollar losses we’ve seen for the past two years — but we’re not there yet.”

The primary motivator behind this new measure: the official opposition — with the blame going back to the B.C. Liberals’ handling of the file from 2010-2016.

“One of the concerns that many British Columbians have raised with me was that administration taking $1 billion out of ICBC’s capital,” said Eby. 

He says the previous government swiped hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends from the Crown corporation and earmarked it as general revenue for the province. 

Impact on B.C.’s ‘sliver’ budget surplus?

Today, B.C. Liberals are overall supporters of the proposed legislation.

However, the party’s ICBC critic is surprised the NDP would make such a promise, given the province’s projected $179 million budget surplus.

“It’s a sliver,” said MLA Jas Johal. “If there’s a deficit situation and there’s a small surplus at ICBC that could bring the government back into the black, the finance minister is going to say the bigger issue is the broader budget that has to be balanced.”

He also suggests reallocating ICBC surpluses isn’t a bad thing if that money helps build things like bridges, hospitals and schools.

“We are the shareholders and the benefit should come to the people of British Columbia, either through lower rates or through vital infrastructure,” said Johal, adding he looks forward to seeing details of the future amendment.

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