As Tory politicians champ at the bit for an election, the decision by the Selinger cabinet to contravene public policy and keep former Manitoba Public Insurance CEO Marilyn McLaren "on the books" has left a sour taste in the mouth of PC party members and taxpayers alike in this province.
And rightfully so.
This move is in direct opposition to provincial conflict-of-interest laws that require a cooling-off period for those leaving public-sector management to seek public-sector employment.
This move also requires the NDP cabinet to meet and overrule the current legislation through an order of the cabinet by wrangling provincial legislation loopholes, something the Selinger government did in late March in deciding to keep its past CEO on in a consulting role to the tune of roughly $50,000 over the next year.
The move, which is considered by the NDP cabinet as a standard operating procedure when transitioning to new leadership, was quickly defended by Andrew Swan — who is coincidentally the minister responsible for MPI and the point man for this decision by the government.
When we look at the deal, which is quite appealing to say the least, it works out to about $50,000 in consultation contracts.
That’s a number that didn’t include a rumoured sizable severance package paid out to the former CEO, who retired in February.
This has outraged Progressive Conservative members like MLA Kelvin Goertzen, the PC critic for Manitoba Public Insurance, who was quick to denounce the decision as more of the same from a tired government.
Now I’m not often one who sides with the Progressive Conservatives, but moves like this one concocted by the NDP have more than a hint of fishiness, and Tories have some traction and the right to question the decision of Swan and his fellow cabinet members in offering up this opportunity.
Swan’s defence was that it is often the case with Crown corporations to resort to this when a CEO is retiring, a response that was rather quickly quashed when a rumoured rate hike was mentioned by a Winnipeg Free Press reporter.
To accurately break down the newfound consultant’s retirement numbers, it works out to roughly 22 hours of work a month at $3,900 and change. That breaks down to about $1,000 a week for approximately five and a half hours work, which is certainly lucrative.
In a time of fiscal restraint and increasing costs, it makes little sense to be offering up large salaries like this for consultation services, while at the same time going directly to the ratepayer to foot the bill for Crown corporations’ sweet retirement gigs.
The biggest slap of all is that this contract work is rumoured to be going towards the group paying its former CEO to
prep Manitoba Public Insurance for that very appearance before the Public Utilities Board to seek a five per cent increase for, you guessed it, the ratepayer.
Tory Leader Brian Pallister questioned this decision in the legislature and mused that it seemed odd for a government that is seeking an increase for a "cash-strapped" Crown corporation (after satisfying a busy winter of claims) to then go out and spend a large sum of money to help lobby for that ratepayers increase, all the while financing a very lucrative retirement income at the same time.
The NDP, at the very least, owes Manitobans an explanation as to why this is allowed to take place. Premier Greg Selinger put the government’s faith in the new president and CEO of MPI, Dan Guimond, back in February. Guimond is a longtime civil servant and lifer with Manitoba Public Insurance.
The Selinger government should allow the new CEO the leeway to execute the duties of the office he has been given and give Manitobans the opportunity to see value in their investment.
If this is the new norm for governing in Manitoba, then perhaps the same scenario should be put in play by the NDP in the political realm as well.
Perhaps we could see the premier remain around as a consultant to the government following a potential loss at the hands of Pallister and the Progressive Conservatives in 2016.
That’s something, although a bit humorous in its nature, we know would never, ever be the case.