New Brunswick

Business reps brace for hike in insurance premiums following N.B. fish plant fires

Two weeks after suspicious fires destroyed fish plants in southeastern New Brunswick, business leaders say they're worried that their businesses and others in the region will get hit with higher insurance premiums.

Other businesses unaffected by fire could see premiums go up, says consumer advocate for insurance

Fires destroyed five buildings, including three smokehouses, at M&M Cormier Fisheries in Petit-Cap, N.B. on Aug. 28, said owner Mario Cormier. (Jérémie Tessier-Vigneault/Radio-Canada)

Mario Cormier looks forward to rebuilding after suspicious fires ravaged his fish plant near Cap Pelé, N.B.

What he's not so excited about, however, is the prospect of paying double, or possibly even quadruple what he currently pays in business insurance once the buildings have been replaced and he resumes regular operations.

"We're already a fragile industry — the fishing industry," said Cormier, owner of M&M Cormier Fisheries.

"We'll see as we go along when I renew [my insurance] next year ...  it's a big concern for every one of us."

Five buildings, including three smokehouses, were burned down at Cormier's fish plant in Petit-Cap, N.B. on Aug. 28.

Cormier said he's unsure he'd be able to insure his business if the premium were to quadruple. (Submitted by Mario Cormier)

The fires marked the third weekend in a row that smokehouses burned in the province's southeast. Fire destroyed smokehouses at the nearby Botsford Fisheries the previous two weekends.

RCMP investigators say they consider the fires suspicious.

Natalie Cormier, vice-president of the Cap Pelé/Beaubassin-Est Chamber of Commerce, knows first-hand the added stress and expense that can come after a business is destroyed by fire.

Last year, an electrical fire destroyed her business, Able Canvas.

The business has since been rebuilt and is back in operation, but getting it insured wasn't easy or cheap.

She said 27 insurance companies declined to insure the business, citing the frequency of fires in the region.

She said she finally found a company willing to insure it — but her annual premium went up from about $9,000 to $40,000.

"That's basically all your profits just going down the drain," she said.

With the recent uptick in fires at fish plants, Cormier said she's worried for not only those businesses, but others in unrelated industries that could see higher insurance rates just for being in the same area.

"Because of this high-risk area, some of these businesses are definitely going to see an increase even though they haven't had a fire because … it's affecting the whole region, right?"

Asked whether his business could survive a 400 per cent increase in its insurance premium, Mario Cormier said it would depend on the market price for the salted fish products he exports to countries like Haiti, the Dominican Republic and others in Africa.

"It's hard for us [to ask] them to pay higher price because they don't have any money to pay for that," Cormier said.

"So something will have to be done."

Cormier said he thinks the government should guarantee affordable insurance rates for his and other fish processing plants.

Tough time to get business insurance, says advocate

Michèle Pelletier, New Brunswick's consumer advocate for insurance, said entrepreneurs have already had a hard time insuring their businesses, with companies saying they need to charge more to cover costlier claims being filed.

A head shot of a woman sitting behind a desk in an office. She has medium-length wavy red hair with bangs and is wearing a dark suit over a lighter v-neck blouse.
Michele Pelletier, New Brunswick's consumer advocate for insurance, said it's possible that other businesses in the region - even those unaffected by fire - could see an increase in their insurance premiums. (Submitted)

And with the recent fires in the Cap Pelé region, Pelletier said she's concerned that businesses in that area — regardless of their history or the industry — might struggle to get an affordable premium, if they can even find a company willing to insure them.

"So even if I have a clean record, no claims, everything is going well — never had any claim — I could see an increase in my premium," Pelletier said.

"It's the same thing as my auto insurance and the same thing as for my house insurance. Even though I'm claims-free, nothing wrong, that can change... It's many [who are] insured that pay for a few."