Martyn Brown: A short thought on B.C.’s ICBC fiasco, guaranteed to drive you nuts

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      Have you read Mike Smyth’s front-page scoop on ICBC’s true fiscal state? It’s enough to drive all British Columbians stark, raging mad.

      Thanks to the former B.C. Liberal government’s duplicitous actions and egregious mismanagement, B.C.’s public auto insurance company is now headed for the wall.

      It is now facing a $1.3-BILLION operating loss this year, up from “only” $300 million just a few months ago. It threatens to cost all B.C. motorists an average $400-a-year rate hike, absent tough new actions.


      Because as Rob Shaw reported, some seven pages of controversial recommendations from a December 2014 draft Ernst & Young report, which were aimed at addressing ICBC’s rapidly escalating fiscal crunch, were arbitrarily “scrubbed” from the final report that went public.

      Those urgently needed actions to cut ICBC’s rising claims costs were hidden from B.C.taxpayers, arbitrarily rejected, and unilaterally deleted from the March 2015 final report by former finance minister and current Liberal leadership hopeful, Mike de Jong.

      He admits as much, incredibly, making no apologies. He almost seems proud of his perfidy, doing his own best impression of a human airbag.

      If then transportation minister and current co-leadership contender Todd Stone is to be believed, that draft report was doctored by de Jong without his knowledge.

      He claims he never even saw that unvarnished analysis, despite the fact that he was the minister who commissioned it. He suggests that he was essentially hoodwinked by de Jong and willfully kept in the dark like the happy mushroom he was.


      And I’m sure that cabinet and the ministers sitting on Treasury Board are also all just innocent dupes who had no idea that ICBC was bleeding red ink. 

      I’m sure they, too, had no knowledge of what the experts had urged them all to do to prevent ICBC’s crash course with disaster.

      Like Sgt. Schultz on Hogan's Heroes, they saw nothing, which is why they did not report what they saw.

      It would be funny, if it wasn’t so infuriating.

      Who knew what, and when, about the unconscionable acts of blatant negligence and/or malfeasance on this file should be the subject of a full public inquiry, in my view.

      All of the players should be subject to formal examination and required to testify under oath.

      Hogans Heroes character Sgt. Schultz often declared "I see nothing!"

      I can’t believe that it was only de Jong who decided to rule out the recommended measures that could have saved ICBC and all ratepayers hundreds of millions and avoided the calamity at hand.

      Actions like capping ICBC payouts on soft tissue injury claims in minor accidents. Or severely penalizing distracted driving. Or amending the company’s capital reserve requirements. Or getting the provincial government’s greedy hands out of the ICBC cookie jar.

      NDP Attorney General David Eby will continue to try his best to get that information out before he is forced to adopt some of those corrective actions. But given the scale and nature of the dereliction of duty that this scandal suggests, a formal public inquiry is surely warranted.

      Campaign-finance rules will fill B.C. Liberal coffers

      In the meantime, if the ICBC fiasco isn’t enough to drive you to distraction, consider this.

      Thanks to the GreeNDP’s new campaign finance regime, we taxpayers have just paid the B.C. Liberals $995,965 to help them fight the next election.

      And that is only the first of two installments they will get from us all this year. They will get another cheque for the same amount on July 1.

      Over the next five years, they stand to receive somewhere around $15 million or more in gifts from B.C. taxpayers, with no strings attached, to spend as they wish.

      Thanks to Bill 3, all three of B.C.’s main parties will get $2.50 for each vote they received this year, an amount that will drop by $0.25 a year, to $1.75 per vote by 2022.

      Think that’s bad? Better buckle up, because that’s not the half of it.

      On top of that handout, know this.

      You are probably aware that the new campaign funding system rightly bans contributions from corporations and unions and limits individual donations to $1,200 a year.

      But did you also know that it will oblige B.C. taxpayers to pay 50 percent of all parties’ eligible election expenses, the Liberals included?

      Mike de Jong and Rich Coleman were senior ministers in the B.C. Liberal government when the Ernst & Young draft report was altered.

      Not maddening enough? It gets even worse.

      The political contributions personal income tax credit also provides a tax expenditure to individuals for their political donations. So that, too, will see millions of dollars flow from government coffers to indirectly help all parties, the Liberals included.

      Under that ongoing scheme, all donors are eligible for a tax break of 75 percent on their contributions up to $100, plus 50 percent of any contributions between $100 and $550, plus 33.3 percent of any contributions in excess of $550, up to a maximum total credit of $500. 

      By and large, that public gift horse exists to make it easier for parties to raise contributions that are supposed to be “private” contributions made by individuals. Basically, it means all taxpayers are also paying for the true lion’s share of those donations, through tax rebates.

      Put all those subsidies together and it amounts to as much as a $50 million hit on B.C. taxpayers over the next five years.

      Over a third of that money will be used to pad the Liberals’ party coffers, directly or indirectly.

      We will be effectively paying 38 percent of the Liberals’ total annual direct revenue haul. We will be paying as much as three-quarters of every penny they receive in subsidized individual contributions. And we will be paying half of all their election expenses.

      And all that for a party that many of us did not support and, if anything, would rather punish for its shameful abuse of public trust.

      Galling, no?

      To his credit, at least Todd Stone has vowed not accept any direct public subsidies for his party, if he is elected as the Liberal leader next Saturday (February 3).

      Still, at a time when ICBC is rapidly in danger of becoming its own write-off, and when motorists will be hit for higher costs to offset the Liberals’ politically motivated mismanagement, why should we pay that party even a penny in public political subsidies?

      It is a scandal in its own right, I suggest, which only adds further insult to injury.

      All parties should keep their greedy hands out of our wallets—the Liberals most of all.

      At a minimum, every penny they now stand to receive from those new public political subsidies should go directly back to ICBC, to help cope with its Liberal-imposed fiscal burden.

      Hell, if I had my way, I’d put a “super premium” on the former Liberal cabinet ministers’ personal auto insurance bills.

      It can’t be done, of course.

      Regardless, the last thing I want to do is pay more out of my pocket to help that bunch of rogues who are already newly feeding off our “gratitude” for their political “contributions”.

      Seriously, someone should permanently revoke their licence to lead this province forward.

      Their reckless and distracted driving, without due care or attention, should be reason enough to park our votes with other parties that aren’t quite so dangerous or devious.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at