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'We're about to see a major brouhaha here'

Provincial government clashes with yet another Crown corp. board as Tories battle MPI over online services

WFP Exclusive

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/3/2019 (443 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Pallister government is on a collision course with another Tory-appointed board of a Crown corporation -- this time with the overseers of Manitoba Public Insurance.

MPI management and its board have been planning to allow customers to perform certain basic transactions -- such as renewing a driver's licence or auto insurance -- online.

Those plans are being opposed by insurance brokers through their association, which, sources say, have the ear of senior levels of government, including the premier.

The Crown corporation's board of directors is so concerned with the push back MPI has been receiving from the Pallister government for its service modernization plan that it solicited a legal opinion to clarify the role and responsibilities of the board.

"We're about to see a major brouhaha here. The board is so concerned about this that they're just besides themselves," a source said.

Mass resignations possible: source

He said the concern is so great that mass resignations are possible -- not unlike what occurred last year with the Manitoba Hydro board. In that case, all but one director (a government MLA) resigned over the board's inability to meet directly with Premier Brian Pallister to resolve "a number of critical issues," including the corporation's staggering debt load.

An MPI board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said if the corporation is able to go ahead with its plans, the need for services by insurance brokers could decline. But there would still be a substantial requirement for brokers for the foreseeable future.

The board director said "It's implausible" that the corporation would not consider ways to better meet customer needs and improve its bottom line through new technologies.

The director said it is understandable that the Insurance Brokers Association of Manitoba (IBAM) is concerned with the effect of the potential changes on its members and that the transition to a new service delivery system is fair to everyone.

Asked if the entire board is poised to resign, the director said: "There are limits to what each director is prepared to accept and I trust their individual judgment to respond as they see fit."

The board member noted that IBAM "is a formidable lobbying force at every level of government."

That includes the premier, who used to own an insurance business in Portage la Prairie.

'It's tense'

The director said the board is very well qualified and has worked extremely hard for three years to improve an organization "that was brutally manipulated by political interests in the NDP regime." The new president and CEO, Benjamin Graham, is "probably the single most gifted public servant in the province," the director said, adding that both the board and senior management are on the same page about the proposed service changes.

However, the fear is that government will step in at the behest of IBAM and scuttle some of the proposed reforms.

"It's complicated. It's tense. But in Manitobans' interests, it better land in the right spot," the director said of the tug of war that is going on right now.

Similar to situation faced by MLL board

Sources said the MPI situation is similar to that faced by Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries under PC appointee Polly Craik and her board. Craik was recently removed as chair and board member by the government before her term was set to expire. She said her removal came after she objected to government bypassing her board and providing "financial direction" directly to the Crown corporation's management.

The Free Press asked for an interview with Crown Services Minister Colleen Mayer, but received a statement instead.

Colleen Mayer, Minister of Crown Services

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Colleen Mayer, Minister of Crown Services

"We expect Manitoba Public Insurance and insurance brokers in this province will work together to modernize service delivery including, but not limited to, online services," the statement said. "Our government is firm in our belief that issues between the Insurance Brokers Association of Manitoba and Manitoba Public Insurance be worked out between these two organizations as brokers play an important role in the service network Manitobans rely on to purchase vehicle insurance."

Attempts Thursday to reach MPI board chair Michael Sullivan for comment were unsuccessful.

Grant Wainikka, CEO of IBAM, said his organization has been in discussions with MPI about online services but it has yet to receive a "road map" on any planned changes.

"We think it's very important for consumers to get the advice they need and to understand the risks that are before them before making purchasing decisions around auto insurance," he said in an interview.

Rather than being fearful of changing technology, Wainikka said, brokers embrace it. But they believe that any online transaction should go through an insurance broker, which would benefit everyone, including purchasers.

"Everyone of these transactions is far more complex than it might appear on the surface," he said.

IBAM said other jurisdictions with public auto insurance, such as Saskatchewan and British Columbia, "have a very clear and unqualified commitment to the broker channel and they understand that the broker channel serves them exceedingly well," Wainikka said.

Graham, MPI's CEO, said in a statement to the Free Press: "Both Manitoba Public Insurance and the Insurance Brokers Association of Manitoba are committed to providing exceptional service and coverage to Manitobans. Discussions are being held on how this customer service model will evolve over time to meet the changing needs of our customers. MPI is committed to working with IBAM and I believe both organizations are going to move in the right direction for the benefit of Manitobans."

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.

Read full biography

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