Consumer advocate for insurance scrapped

New Brunswick’s consumer advocate for insurance will not be renewed when his term is up and the independent watchdog’s office will be permanently scrapped at the end of 2014. (CBC)

New Brunswick’s consumer advocate for insurance will not be renewed when his term is up this year and the independent watchdog’s office will be permanently scrapped at the end of 2014.

Ronald Godin, who was appointed as the province’s first consumer advocate for insurance in 2004, said he was told in a phone call two weeks ago that his term would not be renewed.

He said he had expected that he may not have another term in the oversight position.

“But the surprise was that the office will be closing at the end of my term and the employees will be released by that date, Dec. 31, 2014,” he said.

​Godin said in an interview that he is concerned for consumers in New Brunswick about who they will turn to for independent help. 

Further, he said he was also “the ears and eyes of the elected members of the legislature to give them the accurate picture of the insurance industry in the province.”

The insurance advocate’s position was created shortly after the 2003 election campaign. Bernard Lord’s Progressive Conservatives barely hung onto power and the party’s poor handling of the insurance issue was blamed for the loss of seats, particularly in northern New Brunswick.

The insurance advocate was one of several reforms that were implemented.

Independent office still needed

A decade later, Godin said the independent office is still necessary.

“There is still a need and when this office was created it was not only to meet a crisis but also to give a voice to consumers and to have someone to speak on their behalf and to create some sort of balance between the great powers of the insurance industry and the consumers who felt they were voiceless and powerless,” he said.

“So this office brought a little bit more balance in that equation.”

While the office was created at the height of the automobile insurance crisis, Godin said he now deals with a substantial number of questions about other forms of insurance, particularly home insurance.

In 2011, Bernard Richard, a former ombudsman, wrote a report looking at ways to reform the number of independent legislative officers in New Brunswick.

In that report, Richard recommended the insurance advocate’s position be folded into the ombudsman’s responsibilities as of Jan. 1, 2015 and the advocate’s budget be transferred to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Godin said he doesn’t know who consumers will now turn to for help. He said he believes some of his functions will be added to the Financial and Consumer Services Commission.

The Crown corporation is designed to provide “protection to consumers and investors from unfair, improper or fraudulent practices.”