MPI boss defends both cash diversion for driver and vehicle licensing upgrades, threatening Free Press
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/01/2022 (262 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Top Manitoba Public Insurance officials are defending the use of surplus Autopac revenue to cover costs at driver and vehicle licensing as well as threatening a lawsuit against the Winnipeg Free Press.
During a two-hour Manitoba government committee meeting looking at MPI’s 2019-2020 annual report, the Crown corporation’s CEO and president Eric Herbelin said millions of dollars had to be transferred to pay the costs of driver and vehicle licensing, instead of providing rebates to vehicle owners because of shortfalls that occur every year.
“The DVA (Drivers and Vehicles Act) funding has been insufficient since MPI took over that line of business in 2004,” Herbelin said Monday.
“It was really never addressed properly… the merging of DVA (and MPI) has been beneficial for Manitobans. Better customer experience and cost efficiencies. Having a single point of access through brokers or the MPI service centres for driver and vehicle licensing services, as well as insurance.”
Herbelin said MPI is working with government on possible reimbursement for the future costs of running driver and vehicle licensing, so it can break even, but he didn’t rule out a cash transfer before that happens.
“We are hopeful a resolution will be found very soon, absent of which MPI’s management and board of directors will have to use their discretion within their authority to address this issue.”
The Free Press reported last October that instead of rebating $113 million in surplus vehicle insurance revenue, MPI instead transferred it to pay for operating costs and information technology upgrades at driver and vehicle licensing earlier in the year.
MPI has announced it will be rebating about $335 million in surplus revenue next month.
But after the Free Press published a column criticizing MPI’s use of Manitoba vehicle owner’s premiums to pay for those upgrades, a lawyer acting for MPI and Herbelin sent a letter to the newspaper giving notice it intended to sue for defamation unless a retraction and apology were published.
Despite repeated questions during Monday’s meeting from NDP Opposition Leader Wab Kinew and NDP MLA Mintu Sandhu, the party’s MPI critic, both Herbelin and MPI board chairman Dr. Mike Sullivan said very little about the lawsuit and whether Herbelin is paying his own legal costs.
“There were falsehoods in the article which defamed both MPI and myself,” said Herbelin. “It is appropriate for the media to report fairly on matters of public interest, to make fair comment based on facts, but it is not appropriate to use or publish false or inaccurate facts or to make comments based on such facts.”
Sullivan added: “When Manitobans are misled with statements that are not factual, it behooves MPI and myself to place a proper narrative of facts before Manitobans — that’s the simple long and short of it.”
Kinew said he doesn’t understand why MPI believes it needs to threaten a lawsuit against the newspaper.
“The people of this province own MPI,” he said. “Again, the starting point for most people is probably they don’t want to see a Crown corporation that they own engage in legal wrangling or threats with the newspaper of record in our province.
“I’d argue a Crown corporation must be held to a higher standard as it pertains to one of the most important democratic rights that we have in our society, which is freedom of the press.”
Herbelin refused to answer Sandhu’s question as to whether he was paying his own legal expenses.
Meanwhile, Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont called on MPI to pump more money into helping communities with road safety.
Lamont said MPI spent only $8.6 million towards road safety in 2020 compared to $14.5 million the year before, while rebating hundreds of millions of surplus dollars.
“Whether it is in Winnipeg or northern and rural Manitoba, our roads and highways are often treacherous and the municipalities are strapped for cash because of (Progressive Conservative) cuts and freezes,” he said at the committee meeting.
“MPI is already investing in road safety; the question is, why it is a paltry $8.8 million, because these investments could reduce costs for all Manitobans in the long run.”
Herbelin responded by saying the budget reduction was made because of uncertainty during the pandemic and isn’t intended to be long term.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.