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Alberta

Insurance rate increases absolutely unacceptable: NDP Critic for Service Alberta

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This post was submitted by Jon Carson, NDP MLA for Edmonton-West Henday, Opposition Critic for Service Alberta

Thirty per cent.

That’s how much auto insurance rates skyrocketed by for some Albertans at the end of this year, after Premier Jason Kenney and the UCP removed the five per cent cap on rate increases that our NDP government brought in, taking a “no limit” approach to how much insurance companies could actually raise rates.

The jump was immediate.

Albertans saw a wave of premium increases bordering on price gouging. Over 90% of car insurance companies filed for rate increases as soon as the cap was lifted, and rushed to bill drivers as soon as they could. Of the companies that received approved rate changes, the increases ranged from 4.9 per cent to an eye-popping 29.8 per cent.

It was a nice gift from Jason Kenney, who already slammed families for hundreds of dollars of new costs in his fall budget, including hikes to income tax, property tax, as well as more in school fees, prescription drugs and college tuition.

As usual, Finance Minister Travis Toews trotted out the UCP’s one-trick pony and blamed the NDP, claiming that insurance companies were set to pack their bags and flee the province if he didn’t let them jack up premiums beyond five per cent.

The lobbying effort came out in full force. The brokers, the insurance companies, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada are working overtime to sell quite the sob story: a massive spike in claims costs, not enough options for drivers, etc, etc. It’s tough times for the poor, little ol’ car insurance company.

What a load. These are some of the biggest and most profitable companies in Canada, and they simply want back the power they had to jack up premiums hand over fist.

The truth is that claims costs over the past few years are level, a fact that’s supported by the Insurance Bureau of Canada‘s own data. In fact, an actuarial analysis by Fair Alberta Injury Regulators, an organization made up of concerned Albertans, doctors and legal experts, found that injury payouts have stabilized in the last few years, and even started to dip in 2019. Their actuary specifically found evidence that claims are “not skyrocketing.”

This is further supported by the Alberta Superintendent of Insurance, responsible for all regulatory oversight of insurers operating in Alberta with a specific duty to ensure that insurance companies treat Albertans fairly. In his annual report for 2018, he found on average that the claims ratio for car insurance was 80 per cent across all companies in Alberta. Not the 120 per cent figure the insurance companies trot out on TV.

And while the UCP Government continues to claim they have documents to prove the cap made the car insurance industry unsustainable, they haven’t provided a single piece of paper showing any of these companies would bail if they could–GASP–only raise premiums five per cent every year.

So why remove the cap? Well, in politics, it’s who you know. And Jason Kenney knows an awful lot of people in the insurance industry. Namely, his former chief of staff and campaign director Nick Koolsbergen, who was hired to lobby the Premier on behalf of the car insurance industry just last year. He has Kenney’s cell phone number.

Sounds like a good guy to have on your side… if you’re a car insurance company.

The fact is, these companies turn a profit of tens of millions of dollars each year. They’re used to having carte blanche in Alberta, and they want it back.

Under the thinly-veiled guise of “red tape reduction”, the UCP has struck a panel looking at more regulatory changes that the insurance lobby itself has said “could also change the rate regulation framework that governs how insurers set premiums.”

If costs are going to go up even more, who will Jason Kenney look out for? His friends and interests in big insurance? Or everyday Albertans driving to work?

Knowing Jason Kenney, Albertans should brace for impact.

Jon Carson is the MLA for Edmonton-West Henday and the Alberta NDP Opposition Critic for Service Alberta.

After 15 years as a TV reporter with Global and CBC and as news director of RDTV in Red Deer, Duane set out on his own 2008 as a visual storyteller. During this period, he became fascinated with a burgeoning online world and how it could better serve local communities. This fascination led to Todayville, launched in 2016.

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Alberta

Union boss wants meat-plant workers on early COVID-19 vaccine list

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CALGARY — The president of a union representing employees at some of the largest meat-packing plants in the country says there needs to be a discussion about making the COVID-19 vaccine more readily available to essential workers.

Thomas Hesse of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 says he realizes there’s a shortage of the vaccine right now. But once that is remedied, he say, workers at large operations such as the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, Alta., and the JBS Canada plant in Brooks, Alta., shouldn’t have to wait too long.

“In the coming months at some point someone’s going to make a decision about who gets the vaccination. Will there be a priority? Will there be any prioritization of any so-called essential workers?” he asked in an interview with The Canadian Press.

The two plants, which together normally process about 70 per cent of Canada’s beef supply, were hot spots for COVID-19 outbreaks last spring.

Cargill’s plant, south of Calgary, shut down for two weeks in April because of an outbreak that initially affected 350 of its 2,200 workers. Eventually nearly half the workers contracted the novel coronavirus and two employees died. 

COVID-19 forced JBS to reduce its production to a single shift a day for a month, which added to a backlog of cattle at feedlots. The plants brought in safety measures that included temperature testing, physical distancing, and cleaning and sanitizing before they returned to normal operations.

Packing-plant employees are still at risk, Hesse said.

“In a Cargill or a JBS or other manufacturing facility in Alberta, there’ll be a couple of thousand workers in a big box still working in relatively proximity,” he said.

“These are essential workers. They’re at higher risk. This is clearly an occupational disease. Many of them want to have access to a safe vaccine.”

Hesse said the union plans to hold a town-hall meeting Sunday to hear members views and what to do if getting a vaccination becomes a condition of employment.

An official with Cargill said the company is working with health authorities and medical experts to make sure its employees have access to vaccines when they become available without jeopardizing the priority being given to health-care workers

“We will prioritize our front-line workers whenever we can, as they continue to work tirelessly to keep our food system going strong,” said Daniel Sullivan in an email.

“Because we know vaccines don’t work without vaccinations, we also will join local health authorities in promoting the importance of vaccination among our employees.”

JBS USA said it will offer all its employees a $100 bonus, including those in Brooks, if they get vaccinated in the future.

“Our goal is to remove any barriers to vaccination and incentivize our team members to protect themselves, their families and their co-workers,” said CEO Andre Nogueira.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2021

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Hockey Alberta sets deadline on decision for 2020-21 minor hockey season

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Hockey Alberta has set a deadline to decide whether or not to continue planning league play for the 2020-21 minor hockey season.

Hockey Alberta, in conjunction with its sanctioned minor leagues for male and female hockey, said in a statement Tuesday it is currently reviewing the sustainability of league play for the remainder of the season, and that if there is no new information from the Government of Alberta by Feb. 1, a decision will have to be made about its league play based on the current information available.

Hockey Alberta says any decision regarding league play doesn’t mean the end of hockey activity for the 2020-21 season, and that other potential ideas such as skill development programming and/or exhibition or mini-league games could be viable options with the required safety protocols in place.

Hockey Alberta says it has met with Alberta Health and Government of Alberta representatives on several occasions, as recently as last week with discussions “focused on how hockey can be relaunched in a way that ensures the safety of all participants.”

Minor hockey across the country was put on hiatus in March due to COVID-19.

Minor hockey associations came up with different solutions for a return-to-play program this season, blending guidelines from Hockey Canada and local public health authorities, in an effort to get back on the ice.

But Alberta had to suspend all minor hockey activities in December after the Government of Alberta announced the temporary closure of all indoor recreation facilities, including arenas.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published January 26, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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january, 2021

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