Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 4, 2014
Just as fortunes began to look up for Premier Greg Selinger, a revelation by Progressive Conservative MLA Kelvin Goertzen has left the NDP cancelling its order for rose-coloured glasses while the Tories smell blood in the proverbial political waters.
Following a standing committee meeting on Manitoba Public Insurance this week, news broke that MPI’s former CEO, Marilyn McLaren, has been “on the books” for what the board had deemed consultant fees to the tune of $24,000.
These fees came after a nearly $500,000 retirement compensation package that McLaren received from the Crown auto insurer in February.
It turns out McLaren was doing no work for her consulting fees — they were basically a retainer paid by MPI to keep her around so she could step in should new CEO Dan Guimond drop the ball, quit or get sick while at the helm of the corporation.
As I said back in a column in May, there comes a time when Manitobans feel tapped out financially, and the timing of this contract could not have been worse.
Until this revelation, the somewhat maligned provincial NDP had been enjoying a bit of a bump in popularity. But this is bad news for Selinger, who also this week had to share the news his government is no further ahead in slashing the deficit — despite the increased revenue from the hike in the provincial sales tax.
It’s also bad news for Andrew Swan, the minister responsible for MPI, who was left with egg on his face over his answer to challenges from Goertzen.
Swan was quick to state the fact McLaren was getting paid for the consulting work was “news to him” — which somewhat contradicts his stance back in May when the news first broke that she would be a consultant for the corporation.
Back then, Swan was quoted as saying it was “very common” for a public corporation to hire a CEO for a consulting gig following his or her retirement, and that McLaren’s work would be used to help MPI in lobbying the Public Utilities Board for future rate increases.
It is worth noting that Swan and the Selinger government overrode provincial conflict-of-interest rules in May to have McLaren take the position of a consultant.
Swan spent the latter part of the week in damage control over the statement and looking for answers as to how to best manage the potential fallout over the news.
As the government, the NDP should have knowledge of the workings of MPI. And the fact the minister responsible for the Crown corporation did not know where and when the funds were being doled out on a highly controversial case seems a bit suspect, even to the most casual observer.
As for the new CEO, you have to feel for Guimond in a professional capacity. Goertzen’s challenge put him in a position to “spill the beans” as to the inner workings of the organization he is heading.
Also, Guimond’s twice being put in the position to defend MPI’s “insurance policy” against him has to sting a bit.
As a ratepayer of this province, one hopes the MPI board of directors chose the right person for the job in Guimond, and he should be allowed to carry forward as he and the board see fit.
For the record, McLaren has now cancelled her consulting contract with MPI and can ride off into the sunset.
As for the $24,000 in fees paid out to her since the spring, Swan noted that does not have to be refunded.
Dents in the armour are never good in politics. Scandals are even worse, and this one has the markings of both for the NDP. In the grand scheme of things, $24,000 is not a lot of money for a multimillion-dollar organization. But in Manitoba, where our governing party’s actions are being ever more closely scrutinized, it may end up being a costly corporate “cup of coffee” come election time.
Editorial Note: Following the run of this column in the paper former CEO Marilyn McLaren returned funds to Manitoba Public Insurance.