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Government introduces changes to MPI

If you wipe out in a cart on a golf course, don't count on Manitoba Public Insurance paying out for any injuries.

The same goes if you crash your high-performance car racing on a closed track.

The province tabled amendments Thursday that would close these loopholes that have already seen the Crown auto insurer pay out claims in both these circumstances. The changes and other new provisions are contained in the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation Amendment Act introduced by Justice Minister Andrew Swan.

The proposed changes come as MPI prepares its general rate application for next year -- it's expected to be filed with the Public Utilities Board (PUB) in June -- and deals with the higher number of collision claims made this winter, the coldest since 1898.

MPI recorded nearly 60,000 claims for December, January and February, up from about 39,000 a year earlier. To deal with the increased payouts for collision and injury claims, it's expected MPI will ask the PUB for a single-digit rate increase. The PUB-approved MPI rate increase of 0.9 per cent for 2014-15 took effect March 1. MPI had asked the PUB for a 1.8 per cent rate increase. Any impact of the current collision rates wouldn't be factored into MPI's rate application until 2015-16.

MPI general counsel and corporate secretary Kathy Kalinowsky said some of the legislative changes relate to recent court decisions that found MPI owed benefits to injured golfers and racers. Golf carts are not registered with MPI, although three cases are currently before the courts seeking benefits from MPI.

The exclusion of golf carts from MPI's personal injury protection plan will also include electric bikes, Segways (a two-wheeled, self-balancing, battery-powered electric vehicle) and children's battery-powered cars, unless they are involved with a collision with a vehicle registered with MPI.

As for racers, Kalinowsky said drivers who want to race their high-performance cars can buy insurance from a private provider.

"That is not the type of thing that a universal public auto insurer covers," she said.

Kalinowsky said MPI and the province will set up new fraud penalties against people caught lying about their claims. The new provincial offence will be created for claimants who knowingly provide false information or mislead MPI on a claim. Previously, people caught lying about a claim were charged with fraud under the Criminal Code. Under the amendments, the maximum fine for an individual would be $50,000 and $500,000 for a corporation.

The amendments also include MPI's ability to support the government's low-cost winter tire incentive program.

The Selinger government said in its recent budget it wants to introduce a low-cost loan program to make it easier for drivers to buy the cold-weather tires.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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