Documents obtained by the Free Press suggest the Pallister government was concerned that insurance brokers might publicly blast the Progressive Conservatives if their concerns about Manitoba Public Insurance's online service plans weren't addressed.
In an April 10, 2019 email from MPI president and CEO Ben Graham to Crown Services deputy minister Scott Sinclair, Graham informed the senior bureaucrat that his board chairman had reached out to Ryan Garriock, chairman and past-president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Manitoba.
IBAM had reiterated that they would hold back support for MPI's soft launch of online booking of Class 5 and 6 licence knowledge and road tests unless it received assurances from the Crown corporation that brokers would have complete control over future online insurance and licensing sales.
"He (Garriock) reiterated that they will not support 5/6 until they get their assurance on 100% and that they are considering a media campaign against MPI and Tories," Graham wrote to the deputy minister.
Grant Wainikka, IBAM's CEO, would not say Tuesday whether the organization ever contemplated a public campaign against the Crown corporation and the governing Progressive Conservatives.
"I have no knowledge of the details of this alleged conversation," he said in an email. "We have over 2,000 members in more than 300 small-business storefronts across the province. As you would expect, there is a wide range of opinion among our membership with regard to the scope and direction of our advocacy efforts."
While IBAM continued to seek assurances that it would play the dominant role in future online sales, MPI management had already been directed by government a month earlier to make that happen, according to an email from Graham to his board of directors.
IBAM, undoubtedly, has considerable political clout, especially in smaller communities where MPI does not operate its own service centres. With a provincial election in the offing, it has even more leverage. Pallister had mused for months about a 2019 vote before announcing last week that he intended to call an election Sept. 10.
Several members of the IBAM board are PC party donors. According to the Progressive Conservatives' annual financial statement to Elections Manitoba, Wainikka and five of 12 IBAM board members donated a total of $9,970 to the party in 2018. Wainikka's donation, at $4,872 was, by far, the largest of the group.
For some time there have been rumours that the premier — who made his fortune in the insurance and succession-planning fields — had been personally directing the government's handling of issues related to insurance brokers.
It appears that MPI's top brass also suspected he was calling the shots.
On Nov. 21, 2018, former MPI board chairman Brent VanKoughnet fired off an enigmatic one-line email to Graham, apparently referring to Crown Services Minister Colleen Mayer.
It read: "This is part of a test to see if she gets over ruled by the premiers (sic) office. She is trying to hold her ground. We will see."