Rachel Notley threatened to change Insurance Act if Fort McMurray claim extensions weren't granted, memo says

Premier Rachel Notley threatened to change the Alberta Insurance Act if insurance companies did not offer extensions for Fort McMurray wildfire claims, according to a memo.

'It was quite shocking when I read the notation that the insurers were being compelled to comply'

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley talks tough to insurance companies handling Fort McMurray wildfire claims. (Dean Bennett/Canadian Press)

Premier Rachel Notley threatened to change the Alberta Insurance Act if insurance companies did not offer extensions for Fort McMurray wildfire claims, according to a memo. 

On May 2, on the eve of the wildfire claims deadline, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) said in a memo to its members the Alberta Superintendent of Insurance issued the provincial "government's expectation" that insurers were to grant a one-year extension for wildfire claims.

"...In the absence of insurers' agreement to provide a one-year extension on all open claims, the Superintendent verbally represented to IBC that Premier Rachel Notley will introduce changes to Alberta's Insurance Act to compel insurers to do so," reads the IBC's "Breaking News" bulletin sent to its members.

IBC's Western Canada vice-president Bill Adams called the move a "reversal of the government's decision" in the bulletin. 

Prior to May 2, Alberta's Finance Minister Joe Ceci told media that the provincial government did not have the power to grant extensions to claims that were unsettled before the two-year cutoff stipulated in the Alberta Insurance Act.

Ceci also denied a request in March from Fort McMurray regional Mayor Don Scott, who requested the province provide a blanket extension for all residents given the enormity and complexity of the disaster.

Minister of Finance Joe Ceci and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley hug after delivering the budget in Edmonton on March 22nd, 2018. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press )

'It was quite shocking'

Bryce Kumka, a partner with Rogers Insurance in Fort McMurray, said he was taken aback by the recent IBC bulletin.

"It was quite shocking when I read the notation that the insurers were being compelled to comply," Kumka said.

Shocked but pleased with the move, Kumka was hoping the government would publicly announce it would change the insurance act to give Fort McMurray residents an extension.

He was then disappointed when the province made no mention on Wednesday it would change the legislation.

"I was very disappointed," Kumka said. "[The province didn't talk about] taking out their legislative stick and compelling insurance companies to do what they should do."

On Saturday, Cheryl Oates, director of communications for the premier's office, said changing the insurance act is still a possibility but is likely unnecessary. 

Most major insurance companies agreed to provide an extension on a voluntary, case-by-case basis, she said.

If the government finds insurance companies have not complied, Oates said the government could still choose to amend the act.

"We are watching it really closely. We are working really closely with the IBC," Oates said. "We are watching all those cases to make sure they can be resolved. Like I said, the option of bringing in legislation is something we can go back to."

'No one is helping us'

There are still 900 unresolved insurance claims from the Fort McMurray wildfire which happened in 2016. 

About 150 wildfire claims have not been granted extensions, Ceci said Wednesday.

Tamara Laverdiere was one of the residents denied an extension.

Laverdiere is suing her insurance company after they denied her claim.

Her windows, siding and the structure of the house sustained heat damage during the wildfire at her home in Abasand, but Laverdiere's insurer doesn't believe her.

Tamara Laverdier, seen in this May 18th, 2018 photo, was denied an extension and wanted the government to step up and defend policyholders in Fort McMurray. Her home is riddled with problems caused by heat damage. (David Thurton/ CBC)

She wanted the government to step up and defend policyholders in Fort McMurray before the May 3rd deadline.

"We still feel that no one is helping us at this point," Laverdiere said. "There's no government stepping in and saying what the problem with these insurance companies really are."

Oates said individuals who haven't received an extension should contact the superintendent of insurance who will work with them. 

The province will also use the amount and type of complaints the insurance received by the superintendent to gauge whether it will introduce legislation, she said.

To contact the superintendent, email tbf.insurance@gov.ab.ca, or call 780-643-2237 in Edmonton, or call 310-0000 toll-free in Alberta and then dial 780-643-2237.

IBC did not respond to comment prior to deadline.

Conncet with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories.