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Three-quarters of Canadians want limits on auto insurance rates: poll
( 2003-11-06 08:59) (Agencies)

In the latest research on the heated issue of auto insurance, a new poll suggests that three-quarters of Canadians believe provincial governments should impose limits on premiums.

Drivers under public insurance plans are also more satisfied than motorists in provinces with private systems, suggests the poll of 1,017 Canadians released Wednesday.

"Satisfaction with car insurance in Canada is strongly related to the type of system in place," said David Stark, a spokesman for NFO CFgroup, the research group that conducted the poll over a one-week period in late October.

"People who live in provinces that have a public system are much more satisfied than those in provinces that have a private system."

Seventy-eight per cent of those polled said premiums should not increase more than inflation for good drivers, while 75 per cent said governments should limit rate increases.

The poll also asked Canadians whether they favoured switching to a different system.

Among those living in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where public systems are in place, 44 per cent of those surveyed said they would support switching to a private system, while 42 per cent would oppose such a plan.

Among those surveyed living in a private-system province, half said they would be in favour of adopting a public auto insurance scheme, compared to one-quarter who would oppose switching.

Because the auto insurance system in Quebec combines both public and private elements, people in that province were not asked whether they would switch systems.

In the past few months, auto insurance has been a divisive topic in provinces with private systems, including in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where it nearly cost New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord his re-election, and in Alberta and Ontario, which both recently announced rate freezes.

An insurance industry official cautioned against reading too much into the poll results.

"If you ask someone walking down the street, do they want to pay less for insurance or more? They'll probably tell you they want to pay less," said Jim Rivait, Alberta spokesman for the Insurance Bureau of Canada. "That's not a difficult conclusion to understand people would reach."

However, Alberta's opposition parties jumped on the poll results as proof that drivers want public insurance.

"Albertans want the option of public insurance," said Hugh MacDonald, insurance critic for Alberta's Liberal Opposition.

Raj Pannu, Alberta's New Democrat leader, chastized Premier Ralph Klein's Conservative government for refusing to even consider public insurance.

"It's the fairest and cheapest insurance plan that's available in this country," said Pannu.

Rates in provinces with private plans have increased at a significantly faster pace than rates in provinces with public insurance, said NFO CFgroup.

In early September, the Consumers' Association of Canada found drivers in Ontario pay far more for auto insurance - including as much as 500 per cent more in Toronto - than consumers in provinces with public insurance.

Another study by the right-wing think-tank the Fraser Institute, however, suggested that public auto insurance leads to more deaths, injuries and property damage because bad drivers aren't forced off the road by high premiums.

Stark said his research group's poll didn't probe the driving records of interview subjects.

"It simply reflects Canadians' dissatisfaction at this time with respect to high insurance premiums."

The poll found that 63 per cent of motorists surveyed said their premiums increased over the past year, while one-quarter reported no change and nine per cent said their rates dropped.

Asked why insurance premiums are higher, 72 per cent of those polled said they believed that insurance companies want to increase their profits.

The insurance industry points to stock-market losses as a cause of higher premiums, as well as the terrorist events of Sept. 11 two years ago which cost the industry billions in payouts, said a summary of the poll.

The poll results are considered accurate to within 3.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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