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Firm paid to train MPI staff for hearing

Tories call $16,000 contract waste of ratepayers' cash

CEO Marilyn McLaren authorized training.

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CEO Marilyn McLaren authorized training. (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES)

Manitoba Public Insurance paid $16,000 in 2012 to a Toronto consulting firm to coach four of its staffers who were about to appear for the first time before a provincial regulator.

The training fee was paid in four instalments to The Humphrey Group, a national company that provides communication services to managers and executives.

The training was authorized by then-MPI CEO Marilyn McLaren, who paid for it and claimed it on her expenses, documents obtained by the Conservatives show.

McLaren, with decades of experience at MPI, did not participate in the training, which was held during four days in Winnipeg, MPI spokesman Brian Smiley said Tuesday, after the Conservatives raised the issue in the legislature.

Sources have told the Free Press MPI will seek a rate increase of about five per cent when it submits its application to the Public Utilities Board next month. The request follows a harsh winter in which collision claims soared. (The corporation says it is still preparing its rate application, and it's too early to say what it will request.)

Smiley confirmed four employees, including the chief financial officer, participated in the training. They were to testify at a PUB rate-application hearing for the first time.

"For someone who has never participated in these hearings, they can be extremely daunting," Smiley said. "This training is very important to assist these new people to provide very clear and concise testimony to the PUB board members. It's absolutely critical to get the information across in a very concise and understandable way."

MPI -- and the Selinger government -- has been criticized for the hiring of recently retired McLaren on a $50,000 contract, in large part, to assist in its rate application this year.

The corporation will make a written submission to the PUB next month. In the fall, it will appear before the board to justify its request. The hearings may take weeks.

Smiley said MPI has sought such coaching expertise in the past. He said Manitoba's counterpart in B.C., the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, has also made use of such training.

Conservative house leader Kelvin Goertzen said his party discovered the training fee when it asked for and received several years' worth of expense claims by McLaren, who retired in February.

"I always thought the fundamental of testifying was to tell the truth. Apparently, it's more involved," Goertzen said of the coaching fee.

He wondered why MPI could not have provided the training in-house.

Goertzen said if MPI is to seek a hefty rate increase from the PUB this year, as reported, it should first ensure it is doing everything it can to keep its costs down.

But the evidence, he said, suggests it isn't doing that.

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