Progressive Conservative party Leader Brian Pallister defended his relationship with insurance brokers on Tuesday after the NDP issued their latest criticism.
On Tuesday, the NDP released a list of Insurance Brokers Association of Manitoba officials and associates who have donated to the party over the past three years.
Included in this list were 26 people who donated a total of $59,213 to the Progressive Conservative party between 2016 and 2018.
Before an announcement in Brandon, Pallister said IBAM had previously endorsed the NDP government under former NDP premier Greg Selinger. He said IBAM members had also donated to the NDP at the time.
"The NDP can’t claim to be standing up for ratepayers. … To use recent donor numbers as an attempt to create a false impression that one industry group has an advantage over the ratepayer, when such is not the case, is a false allegation."
In a press release, the Manitoba NDP criticized Pallister for saying his decisions are not being influenced by IBAM, while at the same time affiliates of the group have donated nearly $60,000 to the party.
Pallister said the NDP has no right to criticize his government’s relationship with IBAM and claimed the NDP had an agreement with the agency that amounted to "hush money."
"The NDP gave hush money to the insurance brokers of over $1 million and signed an agreement just before the 2011 provincial election, which said that IBAM would agree not to issue communications of any kind without the approval of the government," he said in an interview.
"The relationship between the general insurance association, which I have never been a member of, and the NDP was one of them being paid ratepayers money to agree to be quiet. Over a 10-year period, the commissions paid to the MPI brokers tripled, versus the consumer price index under the NDP."
Pallister offered to send a copy of the agreement to The Brandon Sun but had not sent one by the end of the day on Tuesday.
He also defended members of IBAM making political donations in the first place, saying members have the right to be politically involved however they choose.
"You should be able to support any political party you wish and I applaud their involvement in the political scene. But to use recent donor numbers as an attempt to create a false impression that one industry group has an advantage over the ratepayer when such is not the case is a false allegation."
Pallister has received criticism after Manitoba Public Insurance considered a move to bring auto insurance sales online. Insurance brokers want control over the online sales so they can keep receiving royalties for selling MPI products, but MPI also wants full control over these sales. If MPI excludes brokers from online sales, it could save $237 million over five years, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. That could mean a 4.4 per cent reduction in basic auto insurance rates.
According to the Winnipeg Free Press, in the fall the provincial government pressed MPI to continue a remuneration deal with private brokers the corporation felt was too rich.
Pallister also criticized coverage of the issue in the Winnipeg Free Press, saying: "Of course I’m not in a conflict of interest."
"I have never placed an Autopac policy in my life, never been licensed to distribute Autopac and never been a member of IBAM. Those are personal attacks an innuendo and they’re false."
The premier himself previously operated an insurance agency, Pallister Insurance in Portage la Prairie. He said this has no bearing on his current relationship with IBAM.
In late July, the provincial government issued a directive to MPI to participate in conciliation with IBAM over how to offer driver’s licences and insurance services online.
Pallister used this situation as an opportunity to attack the NDP’s record, noting that his government is taking action where they wouldn’t.
"The NDP made no progress in 17 years of getting electronic services to Manitobans — none. We made more progress in recent months than they have in years."
Pallister said he takes offence to the idea that his decisions are being unduly influenced by an industry group.
"I don’t cater to special interests," he said. "I’m not for sale."
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