May 24, 2018

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Tories taking measured approach to board appointments: Cullen

RUTH BONNEVILLE  /  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Half of the posts on Manitoba Hydro's board are being left vacant on purpose, despite a long list of fully-vetted candidates eager to serve, according to Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen.

The Tory government led by Premier Brian Pallister is awaiting the new board's report back to the province detailing what skills and talents it lacks in its current membership and what it needs moving forward, Cullen told New Democrat MLA Tom Lindsey last week, during his ministerial estimates hearing.

The Hydro board -- with the exception of Tory MLA Cliff Graydon -- quit in March, saying Pallister had not having met with the board for the past 16 months to discuss the electrical utility's financial problems. Two days later, cabinet named five new directors.

Cullen said the government intentionally left half the seats vacant, so the new board could self-identify any needs to be addressed in future appointments.

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Half of the posts on Manitoba Hydro's board are being left vacant on purpose, despite a long list of fully-vetted candidates eager to serve, according to Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen.

The Tory government led by Premier Brian Pallister is awaiting the new board's report back to the province detailing what skills and talents it lacks in its current membership and what it needs moving forward, Cullen told New Democrat MLA Tom Lindsey last week, during his ministerial estimates hearing.

The Hydro board — with the exception of Tory MLA Cliff Graydon — quit in March, saying Pallister had not having met with the board for the past 16 months to discuss the electrical utility's financial problems. Two days later, cabinet named five new directors.

Cullen said the government intentionally left half the seats vacant, so the new board could self-identify any needs to be addressed in future appointments.

"We said: you go and take your time and see what you need in terms of a skill set. So then we can come back and we can go back to our pool of resources and see if we can match up a individual that would fill that skill set that's required at the board. You know, whether that be human resources or whether that be in accounting or a legal background, or something to that effect," said Cullen.

The minister said there is a long list of fully-vetted Manitobans eager to serve the province. Yet, thus far, the province has yet to choose a board of directors that will then hire a chief executive officer and kick-start the new Efficiency Manitoba Crown corporation intended to reduce energy consumption.

"We have, you know, lots of individuals on our lists that are willing to let their name stand for the various agencies, boards and commissions that we have," Cullen said in estimates. "So, clearly, there's a lot of individuals that are competent to take on some of these roles, and we appreciate that. So we would have resumés on file."

Lindsey was skeptical.

"So, on the one hand, the minister says he's got this pool of people sitting out there just (champing) at the bit, waiting to get on boards. Then, on the other hand he says... we have to really study what skill sets people have to sit on this Manitoba Hydro board. And we have this new entity, this Efficiency Manitoba, that needs a board, that they have to go through an extensive vetting process to get on that board," Lindsey said.

"So I'm getting somewhat confused — that either you have this whole big pool of people out there... or you don't. And the vetting process takes some time or doesn't, because you've got all these people that are pre-vetted to sit on a board, but you're not sure what their skill sets are and you're not sure how they'd fit into a board," the Flin Flon MLA said.

Cullen told Lindsey his deputy minister is overseeing some preparation for Efficiency Manitoba, but could not say when cabinet will name its board. Nevertheless, he promised the new Crown corporation, which will replace Hydro's PowerSmart programs, will be operating in 2018.

"The agency will be certainly up and running, you know, this fall, for sure," Cullen said.

Cabinet will issue Efficiency Manitoba a mandate letter of what government wants it to do, but won't hire the CEO, the minister said. "The board of directors will be responsible for hiring a CEO."

Cullen said his deputy minister is working on a proposed budget as well as "material, information and technology, programming — all of those sort of things that the new board will need once they hit the ground."

"So there's publicly no budget set, and, certainly, that's a discussion, I think, that will happen when the board of directors meet, as well. Obviously, they will have the advantage of knowing what the previous budget was with the PowerSmart program," he said.

Cullen said cabinet does not intend to appoint an MLA to the Efficiency Manitoba board. He told Lindsey it would be hypothetical to speculate on government's naming any MLA other than Graydon to a Crown board.

Gimli Tory MLA Jeff Wharton was on the Manitoba Public Insurance board before becoming municipal affairs minister, Cullen pointed out.

The Crown services minister previously said in estimates there are no rules requiring government MLAs to report back about the public boards on which they sit, and would not say whether Graydon has been reporting to cabinet and the premier.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Nick Martin.

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