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HALIFAX (CP) _ Nova Scotia's NDP leader says his party is still committed to introducing public auto insurance, but it's a little further down the pecking order this campaign.

Auto insurance was a dominant issue in the 2003 campaign, when voters were outraged over sky-high premiums.

NDP Leader Darrell Dexter spent the first week of that campaign talking about it and promised to set up a public system, something the party's campaign material said wouldn't take long.

Public auto insurance is also in the 2006 platform, but Dexter hasn't been talking about it.

He says that he doesn't know when it would be set up if his party wins the June 13 election.

Dexter says ``you can't snap your fingers overnight and make it magically appear.''

``There would have to be legislation that would have to go forward. That would have to be drafted. So we would do that in a reasonable, straightforward fashion.''

Dexter said the issues change from campaign to campaign. He said he does still hear from people about insurance rates.

``You respond to those political initiatives that are top of mind to people; that's what political campaigns do,'' he said. ``But at the same time, this is a good program. It's a program that would provide the lowest and fairest auto insurance in the country.''

Dexter said the new system could be set up at no cost to taxpayers because premiums would cover the costs.

A committee of MLAs in New Brunswick in 2004 estimated the startup costs for a public system there would be $82 million. PricewaterhouseCoopers questioned that report and estimated startup costs in the range of $120 million to $190 million.

Don Forgeron, Atlantic spokesman for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said premiums have dropped 20 per cent since 2003.

(Halifax Chronicle-Herald)

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