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Risk and insurance industries need to engage governments: Bryant

Elected officials need to be kept informed of issues facing the industry, says former attorney general for Ontario

Former attorney general for Ontario Michael Bryant gave the keynote address at the ORIMS professional development day in Toronto on March 9, 2011.

Stakeholders in the risk management and insurance industries need to establish and maintain regular relationships with elected officials at the provincial and federal levels to avoid unfavourable regulatory and legislative changes, says Michael Bryant, the former attorney general for the province of Ontario. He delivered the advice during a keynote speech at a professional development conference for risk managers hosted by the Ontario chapter of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (ORIMS) at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto on March 9.

MPPs in Ontario have very limited contact with the risk and insurance industries because issues affecting those industries so rarely come up on the government’s agenda, said Bryant.

“The good news is (that means) there is little chance of unwanted change to your industry. The bad news is there’s little chance of wanted change.”

Bryant suggested that industry representatives should pursue “a limited government relations strategy of détente,” so that elected officials gain familiarity with the industry. “It can be as simple as a few members of boards having volunteers who go and meet once a year and talk about what the issues are facing the industry.”

Bryant also talked about the widening prosperity gap between the richest members of society and everyone else, which in his opinion is the number one political issue facing governments of all stripes today. He observed that the prosperity gap has resulted in the manifestation of populist movements that seek change to the status quo such as the Tea Party movement in the U.S. and the election of Toronto mayor Rob Ford whose campaign slogan was “stop the gravy train.”

As a way of underscoring the importance of a thoughtful government relations strategy, Bryant pointed out that popular discontent with issues such as gas prices and electricity rates has lead to bad policy and market interventions in the past.

“If insurance rates or other costs related to risk management and insurance has the attention of the populace…if it’s an election year you might not get a good public policy result.”

Political Experience

Bryant also discussed his political career and his life after politics. Originally from Esquimalt, BC, where his father was once mayor, Bryant was first elected to the Ontario legislature in 1999 where he held several cabinet posts. In 2003, he became the youngest attorney general in the province’s history at age 37.

In terms of his own risk management experience, Bryant noted that how a cabinet minister deals with the issues that are not in the briefing books–what he called the “political black swans”–are what make or break their career. In his case, these included being subpoenaed by the Hell’s Angels, implementing a province-wide ban against pit bulls and grappling with the use of Sharia law in family law arbitration hearings

Bryant left politics in 2009. In September of that year he was involved in a traffic incident that resulted in the death of bicycle courier Darcy Allan Sheppard. Bryant was taken into police custody and charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death.

During his speech, Bryant gave a surprisingly open account of the incident and his thoughts at the time, including what went through his mind during the 15 hours he spent overnight in a jail cell.

One of his thoughts was that he knew there was a chance the charges would be dropped. In a bizarre twist of fate, during his time clerking for Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, Bryant had helped author the major Supreme Court of Canada decision from 1993 on the legal test for the two charges against him. The charges against him were, in fact, withdrawn in May 2010.

“In 28 seconds, everything can change,” he said. “There’s no way one can be prepared for these moments. They just happen.” Bryant said he will be affected by the incident for the rest of his life, noting that the worst part of the whole thing was that someone who was suffering from addiction and mental health issues was now dead.

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