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Ousted MLL chair disputes premier’s story, says province overstepped

Premier Brian Pallister says Polly Craik's removal as chairwoman of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries was the result of a dispute over a proposed expansion of the Club Regent casino.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/02/2019 (1433 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Premier Brian Pallister says Polly Craik’s removal as chairwoman of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries was the result of a dispute over a proposed expansion of the Club Regent casino.

But Craik begs to differ.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Pallister said he was standing up for Manitobans’ best interests in opposing the expansion favoured by his hand-picked MLL board of directors.

Polly Craik says she was ousted as chairwoman of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries after objecting to government bypassing the board of directors and providing financial direction to the Crown corporation. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“We’ve taken the position that it wouldn’t be wise to proceed with massive capital investments in gambling facilities while we’re reviewing the gaming policy in the province of Manitoba,” he said.

“The buck stops with me and my office.”

But Craik, a high-profile Tory, said the premier has it wrong. In an interview with the Free Press she said she was ousted after objecting to government bypassing the board of directors and providing “financial direction” directly to the Crown corporation’s management.

The direction came from a former deputy minister, Grant Doak, and treasury board, a committee of cabinet that oversees spending, she said.

She said it is one thing for senior levels of government to speak directly to Crown corporation management on operational issues, but the Pallister administration took it a step further.

“When it comes to the financial direction of the corporation, that needs to come from the board,” she said, adding that the proper protocol is for government to communicate its wishes to the corporation through the board.

Craik was ousted, by provincial cabinet order on Feb. 13, although the news didn’t come out until late last week. A press release issued late Thursday, naming a new board member and a new board chair, made no reference to Craik.

At one point Tuesday, Pallister suggested to reporters that it was Craik’s decision to leave the MLL board.

Premier Brian Pallister says the government says it wouldn't be wise to proceed with massive capital investments in gambling facilities while reviewing the gaming policy in the province. (Mikaela Mackenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Craik said that’s incorrect; she was planning to finish her term, which was to expire in May.

“I’m not sure where he’s getting his information… as it relates to my leaving, but he’s clearly been misinformed,” she said, adding she sent a letter Feb. 20 to Crown Services Minister Colleen Mayer to reiterate past concerns and to give notice that she would not seek an extension of her term.

“On that same day, I was contacted and informed that I was removed from the board the previous week,” Craik said.

The Progressive Conservative government announced in last November’s throne speech that it was placing a “pause” on further expansion of provincial gaming pending a review of its gaming strategy.

Craik said she had questions about the review. The government has not provided any information on its scope, when it would occur and who would conduct it.

MLL had not intended to add VLTs or expand gaming per se, she said, but it wanted to ensure that needed investments were made in its facilities to ensure continued financial growth. The government had, however, placed a pause on all capital investments, she said.

“You need to invest in your assets and your businesses,” she said.

Meanwhile, Pallister on Tuesday tried to play down the conflict he’s had with Crown corporation board members over the past year.

Brian Pallister says he was standing up for Manitobans' best interests in opposing the expansion favoured by the MLL board of directors. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

He said while reporters “are in the business of covering conflict,” they should consider that “99.9 per cent of the time” the government works hand-in-hand with the board members on the province’s nearly 200 boards, agencies and commissions.

He noted two occasions when government disagreed with the “predominant board view,” including the dispute with the former Manitoba Hydro board, led by businessman Sandy Riley. In the latter case, all directors except for a PC MLA resigned from the Hydro board, citing an inability to meet with the premier for more than a year to resolve “a number of critical issues.”

Despite the disagreement over the casino expansion, Pallister said, Craik and her board had done “a tremendous job” during a “tumultuous time” that included the legalization of cannabis. MLL is the province’s wholesale supplier of cannabis.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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Updated on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 7:34 PM CST: Minor clarifications

Updated on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 8:24 PM CST: fixes typo

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