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Ontario government announces changes to auto insurance industry

Highway 401 in Southwestern Ontario.
Highway 401 in Southwestern Ontario. Stephen C. Host / Canadian Press

TORONTO – Ontario is making changes to the auto insurance industry to try to combat fraud and reduce rates for drivers.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Attorney General Yasir Naqvi introduced a plan Tuesday that they said will address structural problems in the province’s auto insurance system.

The Liberal government will develop standard treatment plans for common collision injuries such as sprains and whiplash, create independent and neutral examination centres to provide medical assessments for more serious injuries, and establish a Serious Fraud Office to tackle fraud in the system.

READ MORE: Ontario auto insurance rates drop by less than 1%

Sousa said the cost of auto insurance fraud is estimated to be as high as $1.6 billion a year.

“Auto insurance fraud has become an industry,” Sousa said. “It’s time to stop it. If you know someone who has been engaged in this crime let the Serious Fraud Office know. They will pursue and investigate these fraudsters and bring them to justice.”

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A government-commissioned report earlier this year found that Ontario has the most expensive auto insurance premiums in Canada despite also having one of the lowest levels of accidents and fatalities.

“This transformation must change the emphasis away from cash for bogus pay outs and ensure appropriate care for victims,” Sousa said.

READ MORE: Ontario auto insurance rates rise yet again in 2017

Ontario’s announcement comes as the Liberal government is still trying to fulfill a promise to reduce rates by 15 per cent on average from 2013 levels – rates have now decreased on average by about eight per cent since then.

The government missed its self-imposed deadline of August 2015 to hit that target and Premier Kathleen Wynne has admitted that was a “stretch goal.”

The opposition Progressive Conservatives said the Liberals are only acting on insurance rates now because an election is less than six months away.

“Auto insurance premiums are still 55 per cent higher than other Canadian jurisdictions,” PC finance critic Vic Fedeli said. “Four years ago this government promised a 15 per cent cut … They have completely bungled this file.”

NDP legislator Wayne Gates said the Liberal plan is too late and has missed the mark.

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“Today we heard about a new auto insurance scheme and it doesn’t even target rate reduction,” he said. “Is this another stretch goal by the Liberal government to pretend you’re lowering auto insurance rates right before an election?”

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