B.C. legislature clerk retires; report says benefits wrongly claimed

By Dirk Meissner

THE CANADIAN PRESS

VICTORIA _ A spending scandal that shook British Columbia’s legislature came to a partial conclusion Thursday with the abrupt retirement of the clerk and the suspended sergeant-at-arms asking for his job back after a report by a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Beverley McLachlin, appointed last March to probe overspending allegations against clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, concluded James engaged in misconduct, but Lenz did not.

She also noted in her report there was a “lack of clarity” in authority over expenses and administrative matters that were at the heart of her investigation of Lenz and James, the top two administration officials at the legislature.

New Democrat House Leader Mike Farnworth told the legislature Thursday that James has retired with a  “non-financial” settlement.

“We have all worked very hard, together, and it has not been on the basis of partisanship or anything like that other than to do what’s right, and what’s in the best interest of this institution,” said Farnworth at a joint news conference with house leaders from the Green and Liberal parties.

The NDP government said in its throne speech last February the spending scandal shook public trust in the legislature and the government will implement  “reforms that restore trust in this core institution.”

Both James and Lenz were suspended last November amid allegations of receiving improper benefits and expensing spending on personal items, which they have denied.

McLachlin’s report found four of five administrative allegations against James were substantiated, while she said Lenz did not engage in misconduct. Farnworth says Lenz will remain on paid leave, while the search for a new clerk will begin this month.

McLachlin says James engaged in misconduct in expense claims for suits, luggage and a private life insurance premium for himself.

Her report says he engaged in misconduct by directing the creation of three benefits for his personal advantage: the 2012 retirement benefit, the 2018 resignation benefit and the death benefit proposed in a 2017 letter.

She says James also took alcohol from the legislative precinct without accounting for it and kept a wood splitter and its trailer under his personal control, in the face of clear consensus that there is no reason for the equipment not to be at the legislature.

McLachlin’s report only looked at the administrative allegations made by Speaker Darryl Plecas in a report he released in January.

The Speaker alleged that Lenz and James engaged in inappropriate spending on personal items and foreign trips. His report also alleged inappropriate vacation payouts and retirement allowances.

An RCMP investigation continues with the help of two special prosecutors.

James said in a statement that he has been in public service for more than four decades and has fond memories of his time at the legislature, but he has now “had enough.”

“I have been publicly ridiculed and vilified. My family has been deeply hurt and continues to suffer humiliation. In an effort to put an end to that, I have decided to retire, and reach a settlement with the legislative assembly,” he said.

He added that when the allegations were disclosed to him, he provided detailed written submissions and supporting documents to the legislative assembly, but many of them are not referred to or addressed in McLachlin’s report.

“I believe the public has a right to see those submissions and documents, so they can know and understand the whole picture and judge the truth of these matters for themselves,” he said.

Lenz told a news conference that McLachlin’s report cleared him of misconduct allegations and he asked to be reinstated but was told he is still the subject of a police investigation.

“I greatly respect the fair and independent process that has been in place. I am confident there will be no findings of wrongdoing,” he told reporters gathered in his backyard.

Lenz said he holds no ill will for what has happened over the past seven months, but added it has been “brutal.”

“It was devastating,” he said.

He has yet to be interviewed by police but Lenz said he’ll answer the questions they have.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” Lenz said.

Plecas said he was happy with the conclusions of the report.

“I think it says that the issues I had raised were accurate. I mean, of course, it’s not everything. But I’m reminded that her terms of reference were very narrow. So there’s a number of things which weren’t considered.”

Farnworth told the legislature that McLachlin noted several policy areas that it needs to consider. The three party house leaders accepted all of her recommendations and Farnworth said he has tabled a status report detailing “considerable efforts” already undertaken by staff to address those issues.

McLachlin’s report says there was a lack of clarity over who had the authority for the administrative matters at the legislature. The legislation indicates the office of the Speaker has control, but in practice, the clerk seems to hold that authority, it says.

The report says vacation entitlement policies and practices, expenses, travel and benefits all need to be clarified for staff, and the legislature may also want to put a formal policy in place for the management of alcohol purchases.

Edited for ILSTV

Slip and Fall Claim Succeeds After Plaintiff Injured on Wet Boardwalk

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing fault and damages for a fall a Plaintiff sustained while walking on a wet boardwalk.

In today’s case (Owens v. Steveston Waterfront Properties Inc.) the Plaintiff fell and broke her right kneecap in an incident described as follows:

the plaintiff was walking on a part of a boardwalk in Steveson, of which the defendant is the occupier, when she slipped and fell (the “Incident”).  She was walking on the boardwalk after having a meal (a soup and one beer) at the Restaurant.  The plaintiff was 61 years old at the time of the Incident.  She had followed her husband, Mr. Owens, who was also in his sixties, down a ramp with a small incline that was just outside the Restaurant to the boardwalk.  Although the wooden planks of the boardwalk looked dry, she slipped, landing on her knee.  She testified that, had there been a sign warning of a slipping hazard, she would not have tried to walk down the ramp to the boardwalk.

The Court found she fell due to the slipperiness of the boardwalk and that it did not appear wet.  The court noted the Defendant could have placed a warning sign or, at relatively low cost, installed strips to increase the friction for patrons walking on the boardwalk.  In finding the Defendant liable Madam Justice Maisonville provided the following reasons:

[110]     I find that the risk respecting the boardwalk was unreasonable. The defendant has a positive duty to take reasonable care to make the boardwalk safe to be walked on. Although evidence of local practice is not determinative, having considered that occupiers for the neighbouring boardwalks had mounted signs warning of the potential slipping hazard, I am persuaded that the facts that the boardwalk could be slippery when wet and that this wetness would not always be visually noticeable to visitors, amounts to a recognizable risk that required some positive action on the part of the defendant.

[111]     I do not accept the defendant’s characterization that wetness was an “inherent risk” of such a nature that the plaintiff should have been aware of it being slippery, given she had considered this potential and indeed looked for evidence of that risk. Given no visual clues arise from the wood itself I find that a sign should have been erected at the top of the ramp to warn that it could be slippery given the variable weather conditions at the site.

[112]     There was ease in avoiding the risk by either putting a frictional surface such as a metal grate on the boardwalk to reduce the slipperiness that wetness would cause, or even erecting a sign, warning visitors of the invisible danger. The costs of reducing the risk of slipperiness would have been minimal. As such, in all the circumstances, I find that the defendant breached its duty under the OLA to the plaintiff in failing to take any steps to reduce or eliminate the risk posed by the boardwalk becoming slippery when wet…

[121]     The breach of duty by the defendant, accordingly, is its failure to put up a caution sign. But for there being a sign visible to someone approaching the boardwalk, the Incident would not have occurred. Therefore, I find the plaintiff has established on a balance of probabilities that the defendant is liable for any damages flowing from the Incident.

Provinces asking feds for $138 million to help buy out flooded properties

By Jordan Press

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ Flood-ravaged provinces are asking the federal government to provide almost $138 million to move or buy out homeowners affected by previous years’ inundations, according to new data that gives a glimpse into the national costs of helping residents leave floodplains.

Calculations based on previous experience suggest that the total cost of giving up on 100,000 of the most endangered structures could run into the billions.

Only four times in the past decade have provinces turned to the federal treasury for help to move homes twice in New Brunswick, and once each in Quebec and Yukon.

In New Brunswick’s case, the federal government picked up more than 80 per cent of the $1.8 million spent to buy out a combined 36 properties after flooding in 2008 and 2010.

Public Safety Canada says provinces and territories have asked for $137.9 million in federal money to help cover costs related to 10 floods, but the dollar figure is only an estimate and doesn’t include this year’s.

The department says it expects to get more requests for financial help to relocate homes as the frequency of extreme flooding increases and wants to know how much provinces and territories have spent on it without federal help.

All that data will feed into a debate governments are having about whether it’s better to move people off floodplains rather than repeatedly pay for repairs.

Federal help for disaster relief kicks in once costs surpass what lower levels of government could reasonably be expected to cover on their own.

Within the program, called the “Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements,” is a provision that allows provinces to claim the cost of relocating residents to areas less prone to floods or other disasters. Federal funding can also be used to buy out affected homeowners and dismantle damaged buildings.

How much gets doled out depends on the design of the buyout program, which has become a point in discussions between Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and his provincial and territorial counterparts.

A program could provide money up to a pre-set maximum, which is what Quebec’s government is offering this year up to $200,000 to anyone with severe damage to their homes. Or it could pay the full estimated value of a home before it was flooded, as Alberta did after flooding there in 2013.

In that case, about one-third of homeowners who were offered buyouts took them within a year of the offer, costing the province $81 million in 2014. Alberta covered the bill itself, without federal assistance.

Based on the data available, the federal government has paid, on average, about $41,000 for each property owner who accepted previous buyouts in New Brunswick.

This year, New Brunswick is offering up to $160,000 for each home where damage exceeds 80 per cent of its pre-flood value. Owners can sell their buildings and have them demolished and levelled but retain their land. They can also sell out entirely, or take up to $160,000 to use on repairs in exchange for giving up any future disaster aid.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates about 100,000 homes out of the 14 million dwellings Statistics Canada counted in the 2016 census _ are at the highest risk of repeat flood damage. A buyout program for those properties could cost the federal treasury hundreds of millions of dollars based on the limited information available about previous federal disaster help, in addition to what provincial governments put up.

“No government bailout program or insurance program is going to be able to deal with those repeated cases where you’re going to have repeated claims in a short period of time. That’s where you may focus buyouts,” said Craig Stewart, vice-president of federal affairs with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

“In our view, the calculation is buy out a few and then protect and insure the rest.”

Mehda Joshi claims Allstate wanted to deny insurance to visible minority drivers in Brampton, Ont.

Read more

Roadblocks ahead for Alberta drivers trying to get insurance

Alberta drivers are being cautioned about a possibly bumpy road ahead when it comes to insurance coverage.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) said due in part to a five per cent cap on auto insurance rate increases implemented by the previous NDP government, insurers are being forced to make some changes.

An IBC spokesperson told Global News that while the cap — which is still in place — may have seemed like a good idea to protect consumers, it has caused significant problems.

“Right now we have a very unhealthy market here in Alberta,” said Celyeste Power, IBC vice president of Western Canada.

“Claims costs have been spiraling out of control for the past few years. Insurers are losing up to $0.30 on every single dollar that they’re bringing in.”

IBC also said the industry is not turning a profit through its investments, although it didn’t explain exactly how much it’s losing.

It did, however, send a letter to the Alberta premier, outlining what it called significant issues that drivers, brokers and agents are facing.

“That’s something that we’re certainly concerned about,” Jason Kenney said in response to the letter. “I’d be happy to sit with the insurance bureau and discuss that.”

But insurers aren’t the only ones unhappy these days.

Calgarian Scott Ramsay was one of many motorists who contacted Global News after he received a lengthy renewal form from his auto insurer Aviva Canada.

“Just the way it was worded kind of ticked me off,” Ramsay said.

Not only did he feel he had to go through hoops to be renewed for coverage, he also was informed he’d have to pay his full premium up front.

Aviva Canada told Global News: “Fundamentally, we’re just working to make sure we have accurate and updated information so that we have a full understanding of our customers’ needs.”

Aviva added it’s doing this because, during the year, drivers can get into accidents or get tickets and the company can’t accurately rate or assess the risk, or determine the proper premium for renewal.

IBC said this doesn’t mean Alberta drivers won’t get insurance, but they may not get renewed automatically, be allowed to pay in installments or be covered for what’s considered optional coverage.

“What is becoming more difficult, and the longer we go on in this unhealthy market, is finding the non-mandatory coverage like theft or hail coverage for example,” Power said.

Power said IBC is optimistic a solution will be found for all sides, but that solution won’t necessarily mean lower rates.

According to IBC, Alberta drivers already pay the third highest insurance rates in Canada.

Ending Out-of-Country Medical Insurance Too Quickly May Put Ontario Consumers at Risk

The Canadian Association of Financial Institutions in Insurance (CAFII) warned today that the Ontario government’s decision to end OHIP coverage for emergency services for Ontarians travelling outside Canada could result in many people travelling abroad without adequate insurance coverage if the change is implemented too quickly and without sufficient communication.

The Government has set October 1, 2019 as the implementation date to end OHIP’s out-of-country coverage. But in order for consumers to continue to receive a high level of protection when traveling outside Canada, CAFII says more time is needed – at least a one-year transition period. This longer time frame would allow the Government to undertake a robust, multi-year communications campaign to inform Ontarians about the change and resulting implications. It would also give the industry more time to determine what the new premium rates will be, and to ensure its employees are ready to communicate about the changes and properly serve their customers.

According to CAFII, even under the current situation before the pending change, many Ontarians travel outside of Canada without adequate travel health insurance and without realizing they are at risk of incurring catastrophic financial costs. For example, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medical Services, the average cost of a three-day hospital stay in the United States is approximately US$30,000, and comprehensive care can run up costs of several hundred thousand dollars or more.

However, by allowing more lead time for the elimination of OHIP coverage for Ontarians travelling outside of Canada, it will provide an opportunity for the Government to inform consumers that OHIP will no longer cover them at all when they travel outside of Canada. It will also allow more time for both the Government and the insurance industry to address the dangerous misconception that private insurance is not necessary when consumers travel outside the country.

“We believe a robust communications campaign by the Government that supplements what the insurance industry is already doing will be critical in mitigating the risk to the travelling public of this change in insurance coverage,” says Keith Martin, Co-Executive Director of CAFII. “That communications campaign should emphasize to Ontarians the importance of having travel health insurance in place before travelling outside Canada, so that they and their loved ones will have immediate access to emergency medical care and related assistance, and can avoid exposure to potentially catastrophic and life-altering financial costs.”

At present, OHIP covers out-of-country inpatient services to a maximum of $400 per day, and up to $50 per day for emergency outpatient care. But when these amounts are no longer covered by OHIP, travel medical insurance will become even more important to have, and the cost will undoubtedly rise, says Martin.

About CAFII: 
The Canadian Association of Financial Institutions in Insurance is a not-for-profit industry Association dedicated to the development of an open and flexible insurance marketplace. CAFII believes that consumers are best served when they have meaningful choice in the purchase of insurance products and services. CAFII’s members include the insurance arms of Canada’s major financial institutions – BMO Insurance; CIBC Insurance; Desjardins Financial Security; National Bank Insurance; RBC Insurance; ScotiaLife Financial; and TD Insurance – along with major industry players Assurant; Canada Life; Canadian Premier Life Insurance Company; CUMIS Services Incorporated; and Manulife (The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company).

SOURCE CAFII

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