High salaries spur calls for ICBC review

'ICBC is broken ... and needs to be fixed,' says NDP critic.

In the wake of news highlighting hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on certain ICBC salaries and expenses, more than one person is calling for a closer look at the Crown corporation.

The latest news reports come on the heels of ICBC applying to the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) for a rate hike that would see most motorists pay about $30 more in premiums next year. Basic premiums will rise by 11.2 per cent and optional premiums will be about six per cent lower if the BCUC approves the increase.

ICBC president and CEO Jon Schubert said the rate increase is needed because of climbing claims costs, which rose $200 million in the first nine months of 2011. Bodily injury costs, which will hit $1.7 billion this year, are up $350 million from five years ago.

But ICBC financial statements show Art Kirkner, a U.S. citizen hired as one of ICBC’s 15 vice-presidents in 2008 to help cut costs, received more than $188,000 for expenses claimed in 2010 – in addition to his $315,000 annual salary. In 2010, Kirkner’s salary and expenses totalled $504,505, the second-highest salary in the Crown corporation after Schubert, who pulled in $504,771. Kirkner left ICBC in July and received 12 months severance pay.

In reaction, Minister for Public Safety and Solicitor General Shirley Bond said Wednesday she has asked for a review into ICBC, which will start sometime in the new year.

Consumers Association of Canada president Bruce Cran also suggested the Crown corporation needs closer scrutiny.

“I think we need an inquiry into what’s happening at ICBC,” he said. “I have great respect for the people who work there, but they overcharge for the cost of insurance and have been for years.”

Cran doesn’t agree with the fact the provincial government takes millions from ICBC every year in dividends – $1.215 billion in the past few years; $580 million for 2010-2011 alone.

“The government is in the middle of removing $1.2 billion from ICBC and now, automobile owners and insurers face a rate hike to pay for the money the provincial government has stolen from our premiums,” Cran said. “That money should go back to the drivers, not the provincial government. It is absolutely frightening and disgusting.”

Kathy Corrigan, the NDP critic for the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor-General (the ministry responsible for ICBC), agrees the government has its hands in ICBC’s pockets far too much.

“Over the last few years government has taken hundreds of millions of dollars … they said they would take less (in ICBC dividends) each of those years but they actually took more,” Corrigan said. “That indicates to me that we have an imprudent government.”

Corrigan said the government’s and ICBC’s decisions end up hurting the average person the most, as well as those who can least afford a rate hike.

“I think ICBC is broken right now and needs to be fixed.”

– with files from CBC News