#291 At Least He Was Willing to Listen

When motorcycle riders in the province of Saskatchewan found themselves facing an impossible rate hike, they turned to the one man they thought might help.

Motorcycle riders in Saskatchewan awoke one morning in early February to a stunning announcement from Saskatchewan Government Insurance, the province’s compulsory insurance program. SGI was considering a drastic increase in motorcycle insurance rates, with an average boost of 73 per cent but amounting to more than 300 in some cases. The increases, if accepted by the province’s rate review panel, could go into effect in at the end of August, following public hearings. As has been the case in other provinces, the insurer said the most directly targeted sector would be sportbikes and motorcycles with engines over 400cc. In effect, that would amount to every motorcycle owner out on the road.
SGI president Andrew Cartmell cited disproportionately high injury claim costs in the motorcycle sector, costs that were not offset by rider premiums but were in fact subsidized by other drivers. Saskatchewan media quoted Cartmell as saying, “We’re basically collecting, in some cases, not even half the premium we should be depending on the type of motorcycle.”
The motorcycle community in Saskatchewan was outraged and reacted swiftly with a deluge of emails sent primarily by individuals, niche clubs such as the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group (Saskatchewan Section), and even a protest website, www.saskrage.com (Riders Against Government Exploitation).
While there is no strongly unified motorcycle lobbyist group in the province, such as the British Columbia Coalition of Motorcyclists, the grassroots movement made an immediate impact with some voices such as the Saskatchewan CVMG even proffering alternative solutions while advising calm, measured discourse as the best tactic during the crisis.
“In the case of a motorcycle injury claim, consideration needs to be given to who is actually at fault, or has caused the accident,” advised the CVMG in a response to the SGI rate hike proposal. “Without knowing exact statistics, it may be safe to assume that, proportionately, motorcycle related accidents (and subsequent high-cost injury claims) are caused by as many drivers of non-motorcycles as by motorcycle riders themselves, thereby debunking [SGI’s statement].” The CVMG went on to propose a system in which surcharges are applied based on essentially a power-to-weight ratio, with deductibles also pegged against an individual’s certified training time.
All this should be considered well before an across-the-board rate increase of such drastic proportions, said CVMG.
The email and letter writing campaign did not go unnoticed at the office of Premier Brad Wall, leader of the majority government formed by the Saskatchewan Party during overwhelming landslides in successive elections. Wall’s open and conciliatory response clearly illustrated why the Swift Creek resident continues to maintain a populist status not enjoyed by any other political leader figure, arguably, in all of Canada.
“Our MLAs are reporting a lot of feedback on the issue, not just from those who are riders or have motorcycles, but others in general who note that these increases seem to be very high,” Wall told Saskatchewan media. “I’ve said that we’re going to try to be the kind of government that recognizes when adjustments are needed, that recognizes when maybe mistakes were made.”
A written statement was issued by Wall directly to Saskatchewan riders that said, in part, “The proposal put forward by SGI was a simple mathematical calculation designed to recover cost. However, we recognize that there is more to this matter than simple mathematical calculation and we have instructed SGI to bring forward options that would significantly reduce the financial burden on motorcycle owners while respecting the need for a fiscally sound insurance plan … Governments are tasked to act and in many cases to lead on matters of public policy but it is our firm belief that when a policy is clearly wrong … government must be prepared to change its path, admit that an error was made, and get on with making better policy choices for the people. We have done just that.”

BY ACKNOWLEDGING THE indignation of Saskatchewan riders, admitting frankly the called-for rate increases could be completely out of line, and by promising to make an immediate review of the factors that led to the SGI decision, Wall effectively put the brakes on a sudden-impact scenario that might have spelled the end of the motorcycle industry in that prairie province. Once again, the most capable premier in the country came through for an already troubled sector and secured uncounted future votes.
Even the vocal activists behind www.saskrage.org were moved by the immediate effectiveness of the Sask. Party leader. “It is a pleasant change to have a Premier that listens and is not afraid to come out and publicly say when they, the government may have made a mistake!” declared the blog. “The Premier stands by his word! This is important to us as a go-forward position! Encourage people to acknowledge HIM!”
Indeed, by mid-March, after having been quoted he was not convinced SGI had exhausted all of its options to help eliminate a reported $9 million deficit between crash injury payouts and premiums, and that there was “slim” chance the proposal would stay as it was initially presented to the public, the Minister responsible for SGI, Donna Harpauer, asked the corporation to amend its rate proposal to cap increases at 15 per cent. Annual rates greater than $1,000 would now be capped at a maximum of 15 per cent, while rates of $1,000 or less would be subject to a dollar cap with a maximum increase of $150 annually.
If the rate review panel approves (read: rubber stamps) the Wall-Harpauer proposal the rate changes would still be effective Aug. 31. Until then, SGI will consult with motorcycle stakeholders in the spring, but any comments can be sent to motorcycles@sgi.sk.ca. The revised rates will be posted on SGI’s website at www.sgi.sk.ca. 

IT’S UNLIKELY EVERY RIDER IN THE province will be happy with the made-in-Wall solution, but at least the guy was willing to listen to the concerns of motorcycle riders, and then try to do something about them. In what jurisdiction outside of Saskatchewan has a riding community enjoyed a similar response from its leader?
Brad Wall for prime minister? I’d give the plain-spoken direct-action man my vote any day of the week.