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What the appeal court told the PUB

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Recently, the Manitoba Court of Appeal ruled in the case between the Public Utilities Board and the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation.

What the three-judge panel said in its ruling, written by Justice Holly Beard, is significant as it goes to the heart of how much we pay for our vehicle insurance.

Second, the PUB and Manitoba Hydro have a similar case currently before the appeal court. A decision is pending.

Both the Hydro and the MPI cases have been simmering for awhile. In the MPI case, the PUB wanted greater access to the Crown corporation’s books, particularly those books in which MPI competes against the private sector. The PUB wants that access so that it has a more rounded view of how MPI is performing financially when it sets basic Autopac rates.

MPI doesn’t agree. It says the PUB’s job is to set basic rates based on the financial information MPI submits on its basic line – nothing else matters.

MPI also says it’s the government’s job – not the PUB’s – to protect the public interest when it comes to its overall financial health. To allow the PUB to get access to non-basic finances would put the board in the position of second-guessing the government on the adequacy of the non-basic rates and future plans for MPI.

The PUB went to the court of appeal – without conducting its own special hearing into the matter -- to ask the high court if has the jurisdiction to delve more deeply into MPI’s business.

The court said under its own legislative authority, the PUB does have the power to order the disclosure of specific information and/or documentation from MPI, and that MPI is obligated to respond. In such a case, if there was an impasse and further proceedings were needed to settle it, then a case could be made in front of the appeal court.

"The question stated by the PUB in this case does not relate to specific documents or information in the context of a specific rate application, but rather asks this court to declare that it, effectively, has carte blanche to obtain any information from the MPIC related to the non-basic lines of business that it decides it needs," the appeal court said in its written decision, which is attached for you to read. "For the reasons set out above, the case before us raises serious questions as to the need for the PUB to have unfettered access to documents and information that, on the face, appear to be irrelevant to its limited mandate."

 

So. Did the PUB get what it wanted? Not exactly.

In fact, the court was critical of the PUB of stepping into areas that were none of its business. See paragraphs 42-43 of the decision (click here for a pdf of the decision).

The PUB interprets the decision differently.

In a Nov. 28 letter sent to the Free Press, PUB secretary and executive director Hollis Singh said the court pointed out that, "the PUB has authority to require that MPI disclose specific information in relation to a specific rate application." (Click here for a pdf of the letter.)

Singh also said the court stated that if the PUB were to exercise that authority, MPI would have to respond.

How MPI would respond, well, I think we already know that.

My issue with the PUB in this matter is that they knew, or at least should have known, that they had this authority before they went to the court of appeal. It is in The PUB Act, after all.

Then there’s this. The court also said the PUB has complained for years about not being able to sift through all of MPI’s finances, but the province (the NDP and the Tories) has not seen fit to expand their jurisdiction:

"Notwithstanding the fact that the PUB has made its concerns known to the government on an annual basis since 1989, the government has not made any changes to the PUB’s legislated mandate to expand its jurisdiction. Clearly, the government must be aware of the PUB’s concerns and, notwithstanding, is either satisfied with the PUB’s existing limited mandate or, at least to date, has chosen not to act on those concerns."

These two sentences are perhaps the most important in the appeal court’s decision.

If the PUB wants sharper teeth, their beef is with government, not MPI and Manitoba Hydro.

 

Bruce Owen / Under the Dome  / bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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