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This article was published 14/3/2019 (444 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The new government-appointed chairman of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries once sued a casino the Crown corporation supervises for wrongful dismissal, saying he felt "disrespected, humiliated and intimidated" while working there.
The appointment of Randy Williams, who succeeded Polly Craik as MLL’s chair last month, raises questions about whether the new board chairman’s history with the casino might be perceived as a conflict.
Williams left a longtime career with Manitoba Lotteries Corp, a forerunner to MLL, to accept a senior management position with South Beach Casino in Scanterbury in September 2010.
According to an amended statement of claim filed in Court of Queen’s Bench in December, 2011, Williams said he accepted the position of vice-president at South Beach with the understanding that he would be employed a minimum of three years with a starting salary of $160,000.
He said he was recruited on the understanding he would succeed the company’s chief executive officer, Faysal Tur, when Tur retired — a statement the casino denied in a statement of defence.
In his statement of claim, Williams said he was given to believe he would be in charge of all gaming and casino-related activities at South Beach, but the company changed its reporting structure when he got there so that South Beach employees no longer answered to him. He said the casino removed all duties and responsibilities from him except for the role of dealing with governmental agencies.
Williams said his employment was terminated in July 2011 "without just cause," an allegation denied by the company in its statement of defence. By then, the work environment at South Beach "had become poisonous," and Williams said he felt "disrespected, humiliated and intimidated." He said in his lawsuit that his professional reputation had been "compromised," which prevented him from finding a new job in the Manitoba gaming industry.
The lawsuit was settled out of court, according to a document filed with Court of Queen’s Bench in January 2014.
Williams was appointed to the MLL board in November and was elevated to chairman when the Pallister government terminated Craik from the position a few months before her term was set to expire.
According to MLL’s 2017-18 annual report, the Crown corporation "maintains conduct and management authority over First Nations casinos" and supplies gaming equipment to South Beach.
The casino, which began operations in 2005, is located in Brokenhead Ojibway Nation and owned by Brokenhead and six other First Nations.
Repeated attempts to interview Crown Services Minister Colleen Mayer were turned down. In a statement, she said Williams brings "a wealth of experience" to his role as MLL chair.
"Given that this matter was resolved, we have no concerns regarding his continued place on the board going forward," Mayer said. "We expect all board members of our Crown corporations to recuse themselves on all matters where they may have a real or perceived conflict of interest."
Williams could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for Mayer said in an email, "Mr. Williams will not be commenting at this time on this matter."
Tur, who remains at the helm of South Beach Casino, could not be reached for comment.
A spokeswoman for South Beach said the casino deals with MLL management and "does not have any ongoing relationship" with board members. "South Beach will support whomever the government chooses to appoint to any of the board positions," she said.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said, regardless of Williams’ qualifications, "it’s a little odd" that he would have been appointed to the MLL board, given his history with South Beach.
"I don’t think it’s a reflection of his character in any way. But there are lots of people who could probably fill that position. And if you’re going to find a chair of Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, it probably should be somebody who hasn’t sued a casino over employment issues in the past."
However, an expert in corporate and not-for-profit governance, said he doesn’t believe Williams is in a conflict of interest.
Richard Powers, an associate professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, noted that the lawsuit occurred several years ago. And, as one member of a sizable board, Williams has limited power to use his position against the casino even if he wanted to.
"He’d have to corral nine or 10 other board members if he wanted to try to get back at them or do something to limit their mission. I just don’t think it’s realistic," he said.
Powers, in town to moderate a U of M forum on business ethics, said Williams was likely chosen because of his experience and the skills he brings to the role.
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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