Province, MPI in talks to solve online expansion dispute ‘respectfully’ to brokers: Pallister

Premier Brian Pallister says "dialogue" is the solution to a rift between his government and Manitoba Public Insurance over the auto insurer's plans to modernize how customers purchase services.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/04/2019 (1449 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Premier Brian Pallister says “dialogue” is the solution to a rift between his government and Manitoba Public Insurance over the auto insurer’s plans to modernize how customers purchase services.

In his first public comments on the issue, Pallister acknowledged the disagreement Monday, arguing there have been relatively few points of contention between his administration and the boards it appoints.

“There’s a discussion underway on how to deliver (MPI) online services most effectively for Manitoba consumers,” he told reporters.

“When we have the opportunity, as a government, to stand up for Manitobans, which is our responsibility, we do that.”

In an exclusive story 10 days ago, the Free Press reported that the Progressive Conservative government was on a collision course with MPI’s board of directors over the introduction of the online services. MPI has been planning to allow customers to perform basic transactions, such as renewing a driver’s licence or auto insurance on the internet. That would have reduced the need for broker services.

The plans have been opposed by brokers through their association, which, sources say, has the ear of the government, including the premier, who made his fortune in the insurance and wealth-management fields. Pallister still owns an insurance business but it doesn’t sell Autopac.

The Insurance Brokers Association of Manitoba says it’s not opposed to MPI customers purchasing services online, but they should still have to go through a broker to do so.

MPI’s PC-appointed board was so concerned about the pressure it was receiving from the government over the issue that it sought a legal opinion to clarify its rights and responsibilities. A source told the Free Press that concern among board members was so great that mass resignations were possible. Last week, Crown Services Minister Colleen Mayer played down that possibility saying she was not expecting resignations from the MPI board.

Pallister said Monday that auto insurance services can be purchased online in other provinces, “and that’s clearly the direction we need to go.” But he said it must be done “respectfully.”

He likened the situation facing brokers to a hypothetical expansion of online sales of cannabis “right after people have invested literally millions of dollars in stores all over the province.”

There would need to be discussion about such an expansion because “it has an impact on people who put capital at risk and are creating jobs in our province,” the premier said.

He said the same thing applies to the hundreds of “mostly family owned small businesses” that sell auto insurance to Manitobans.

“They have a massive stake in this, and it’s important to understand that we have to be respectful of them,” he said.

In a scrum with reporters, Pallister did not specifically say what outcome he favoured. Under Manitoba law, the minister responsible for Crown services can issue a directive to the corporation on policy matters, but she must make the order public within 30 days. So far, the government has denied that it has taken this official step.

Pallister said the government is in agreement with its “close to 200 agencies, boards and commissions on 99.9 per cent of issues.”

He listed only two disagreements: a decision by the government to cancel a $67.5 million land-entitlement deal between Manitoba Hydro and the Manitoba Metis Federation; and a plan by Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries to expand the Club Regent casino.

Manitoba Hydro’s board — save for then-PC MLA Cliff Graydon — resigned en masse a year ago, citing an inability to meet with the premier to resolve a number of “critical issues,” including the corporation’s massive debt load.

Liquor & Lotteries chairwoman Polly Craik was removed from her board by the PCs earlier this year before her term was up. She said the issue was her objections to the government bypassing her board and providing “financial direction” directly to the Crown corporation’s management.

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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