Canada’s economy is slowing, Manitobans are being buffeted by dramatic interest rate hikes and are worried about impacts on the economy and employment. Policy makers hope that higher interest rates will reduce Canada’s high inflation rate as people respond to higher costs for housing and basics like groceries.
And, here in Manitoba, Manitobans also find themselves in the midst of what could turn out to be a severely tumultuous political changeover, with an uncertain future. The New Democratic Party, led by Wab Kinew, defeated the PC party in last month’s election, ending the rule by the PC government since 2016.
Kinew’s limited experience in legislative politics mirrors those of most of his colleagues in the legislature. So, it won’t be surprising that his government will make bold moves, some of which backfire.
One quick move right after the election was the Kinew government’s sudden turfing of MPI ‘s board of directors, with all but by one MPI director removed. No surprise that the replacement directors were chosen for being loyal compadres to the Kinew government first – certainly not for their knowledge and experience with insurance and matters of policy that impact MPI.
Before the election and the election of the Kinew government, the then MPI board of directors were dealing with a lengthy strike of MPI’s unionized employees (MGEU members, local 62-68).
By election day, the strike had been going on towards two months, severely hampering MPI’s operations with approximately 1700 unionized workers off work. The strike began on August 28, with MPI’s employees walking off the job seeking ‘better’ wages. MPI services were operated on a very limited basis by the few hundred other remaining non-union employees.
The stakes were high for both sides – the union trying to get as much as possible from walking out, and for the board of directors, wanting not to make changes and adjustments difficult to agree to. The union had an opportunity to end their strike in mid-September, when the MPI’s board agreed putting the result with an mediator. But, instead, the union stretched the strike out for another month, and then another fifteen days. In the end the union was rewarded for waiting – when the government changed.
Since the strike began, a backlog of 11,000 accident claims and 16,000 needed road tests has developed, as the walkout and continued strike shut down MPI’s critical operations.
Malcolm Bird, a University of Winnipeg political science professor who studies Manitoba Crown corporations has suggested that Crown corporation boards are partisan and politicized, and new Manitoba governments don’t trust a board appointed by another party.
Bird has noted that it is not the standard practice of provinces or the federal government to overhaul Crown corporation boards when there is a change in government. He observes that those sitting on a Crown corporation board are supposed to have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization itself, and think about the long-term holistic of the institution itself. Yet, in this case, Bird was not surprised that MPI directors were turfed.
In the end, the union’s members won, to get about 17% pay adjustments over four years, plus lump sum payments of worth another say $5,000. As well, MPI cannot layoff union members for the time of the agreement.
Were Manitobans served?
Graham Lane had a 40 year career as an executive in both the private and public sectors, including a stint as MPI’s Acting CEO. He is a retired CPA CA and PUB Chair. He sits on the expert advisory panel of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.