Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Manitoba Public Insurance - the NDP's Piggybank

Via the Neepawa Banner written by Jeff Niederhoffer:

In the wake of media reports a month ago, Manitoba motorists undoubtedly were interested to learn that the Doer government is using Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) premiums to pay for non-MPI programs and to pay the salaries of non-MPI bureaucrats.

Our Premier and his Cabinet apparently see MPI as a slush fund. From a taxpayer's standpoint, this diversion of MPI monies is a questionable arrangement in its own right, but the situation becomes even cloudier once you 'follow the money'. The Doer government seems to be going to great lengths to encourage an unusually cozy relationship between MPI and other government agencies. The provincial Justice Department is a case in point. This year alone, MPI funds have been used to pay the salaries of fourteen probation bureaucrats, two Crown Attorneys and even a member of Attorney General Gord Mackintosh's executive staff. In other cases, MPI monies are used to underwrite government programs and even the existence of whole agencies. The Doer government funnels MPI monies into such agencies as the Public Utilities Board (PUB), the Automobile Injury Compensation Appeal Compensation Appeal Commission and the Claimant Adviser Office, as well as the entire Winnipeg police auto-theft unit.

It is striking the extent to which the Doer government seems to view MPI as an all-purpose piggy bank. What is even more striking is the extent to which the Doer government is turning a blind eye to the serious conflicts of interest generated by this arrangement. PUB approves MPI's rate increases; the Automobile Injury Compensation Appeal Commission hears appeals of MPI decisions. Is anybody going to seriously dispute there is something amiss in allowing MPI formal control over the budgets of the agencies which oversee and regulate it?

Although an important question, the more important question is why the Doer government would choose such an awkward, questionable and frankly unnecessary means by which to fund salaries, programs and agencies.
Nobody disputes the need, for instance, for a PUB or for an Automobile Injury Compensation Appeal Commission. Nobody disputes the need to have these agencies fully funded, and Doer & Co. would have no problem securing funding for them through Treasury Board, if they were so inclined. So why the need to have these agencies funded through MPI, unless, arguably, the purpose is to give MPI subtle leverage vis a vis these agencies?

This question is unlikely to be answered anytime soon, as both Attorney General Mackintosh and representatives of MPI predictably are staying mum. Their silence is deafening. The lack of a vigorous defence from the provincial government speaks to the fact that having MPI directly fund programs and agencies is, ultimately, indefensible. Opposition Leader Stuart Murray has called the Doer government's raid on MPI funds "outrageous". It is difficult to disagree, just as it is difficult to escape the conclusion the provincial government is not leveling with taxpayers. In the wake of these revelations, MPI ratepayers are no longer innocent. If nothing else, we now know that, while our premiums may go to MPI, they will not necessarily remain there.

Jeff Niederhoffer is a Winnipeg lawyer and political activist.

1 comment:

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