04/09/2014 10:00 EDT | Updated 06/09/2014 05:59 EDT

New Brunswick's justice minister contradicts insurance advocate on closure

FREDERICTON - New Brunswick's justice minister says there's been no decision to eliminate the province's consumer advocate for insurance at the end of the year, contrary to what the legislative officer says.

But Troy Lifford won't guarantee the position will exist as of Dec. 31, saying the government is looking at a number of options to ensure that the public has a voice speaking on its behalf on insurance issues.

Lifford said those options include a recommendation from former ombudsman Bernard Richard in 2011 to assign the duties of the consumer advocate for insurance to the ombudsman, and another that would assign the advocate's duties to the Financial and Consumer Services Commission formed last year.

"At the end of the day, what we can assure New Brunswickers is that they will continue to have a means to have access to education and information on insurance and there will continue to be some form of advocate there for New Brunswickers to use," Lifford said Wednesday.

Ronald Godin's 10-year term as the consumer advocate for insurance expires at the end of the year. On Tuesday, Godin said he had been informed by the Speaker's Office that his office would be eliminated on Dec. 31, a statement he repeated Wednesday while releasing his annual report.

"It will be one less body out there watching the situation," Godin said.

"You don't know what will happen when you take one element out of the equation."

Liberal member Donald Arseneault said he thinks the government should leave the position alone.

"I think Mr. Godin has done a tremendous job over the years since his position has been in place in order to take the concerns of New Brunswickers in terms of auto insurance," Arseneault said.

In releasing his annual report earlier Wednesday, Godin said drivers continue to benefit from competition among close to 50 insurance companies as the average amount they paid to insure their cars last year fell by about $16.

Godin said the average insurance rate of $704 for passenger vehicles in 2013, down from about $720 the year before, is the lowest in Atlantic Canada.

While no records are kept for average home insurance premiums, Godin said rates are on the rise because of increased claims for storm and water damage, and a move by insurance companies to provide coverage for the replacement value of homes.