Insurance Board's golf dealings with companies challenged

New Brunswick's Insurance Board, which has been under fire for being too industry friendly, is now drawing criticism for running its charity golf tournament with the financial backing of the auto insurance companies it regulates.

Liberals want Insurance Board dissolved and duties taken over by Energy and Utilities Board

New Brunswick's Insurance Board, which has been under fire for being too industry friendly,  is now drawing criticism for running its charity golf tournament with the financial backing of the auto insurance companies it regulates.

"It's a perception problem," said Moncton Liberal MLA Chris Collins. 

Last month Insurance Board Chairman Paul D'Astous made a cheque presentation of just over $25,000 to Teens Against Drunk Driving (TADD) following the Board's annual golf tournament at the Hampton Golf Club.

New Brunswick Insurance Board chairman Paul D'Astous told a legislature committee he doesn't believe there is a gap between what insurance companies are charging New Brunswick drivers and what is a fair amount. (CBC)
Much of the money D'Astous was able to hand over came from auto insurance companies the Board regulates, including $5,000 donations from both TD Insurance and The Dominion and a $3,000 donation from Intact Insurance. 

Intact appeared in front of the board this week to give its opinion on how much new accident benefits in New Brunswick will cost the company while The Dominion was at the centre of a controversy in 2010 when the province accused the Insurance Board of letting the company overcharge its customers without a proper hearing.

Collins says he supports TADD but questions whether the Insurance Board should be soliciting money from companies that should be kept at arms length.

"For the most part golf tournaments are quite harmless but when you have the board members golfing and socializing with the insurance companies then it brings out some concerns for New Brunswickers," said Collins.

According to Tania LeBlanc, Executive Director of TADD the golf tournament is the organization's most important fund raiser. In addition to donations, spots in the event are sold to the public for $250 or in groups of four for $900.

But not many members of the public actually play in the event.

TD, The Dominion and Intact all entered four-person teams in the tournament this year.  Also buying $900 entries was the Insurance Company of Prince Edward Island and the Insurance Bureau of Canada, which sent its Halifax-based manager of government relations to play, Steve Olmstead..  

The Insurance Board itself entered eight people, including D'Astou. New Brunswick's largest auto insurer, Wawaneasa , entered only one person, but the company's regional vice-president Brenda Mackenzie got to play on a team with one of its regulators, Insurance Board member Francine Kanhai.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, which provides consulting services to the board  also donated $5,000 and entered a four-person team.

In a statement released Wednesday, the Insurance Board defended the tournament and downplayed its role in holding it.

"As one of the sponsors, the board has provided administrative support to the event since its inception, however, TADD is the organizer of the event," read the statement.

That's a slightly different version of the board's involvement in the tournament than appears in its annual reports, where it takes more credit for the event, including all of the credit for raising money from donors.

"The NBIB began supporting TADD in 2006 and has since raised over $190,000 for the organization," reads the 2012 annual report.

Collins says Liberals want the Insurance Board dissolved with its responsibility for auto insurance given to the Energy and Utilities Board. He says the Insurance Board and its chairman have a "closed mind" toward evidence New Brunswick drivers are substantially overcharged for auto insurance by companies regulated by the board.

Last week Collins and D'Astous sparred over whether auto insurance rates are too high in New Brunswick at the Legislature's Crown corporations committee.   

A new report by the firm Oliver Wyman that was commissioned by the province shows drivers pay between $150 and $170 per car more than what's fair, a gap D'Astous told Collins he didn't believe was true.

"The gap exists in the mind of one consultant," said D'Astous.


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