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MPI Explains Departures of Senior Executives

June 6, 2023 2:52 PM | The Canadian Press

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Ward Keith

Ward Keith, board chair of Manitoba Public Insurance, speaks to reporters Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Steve Lambert)

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s Crown-owned vehicle insurance corporation offered more details Tuesday on recent turmoil that has seen the departure of  senior executives and a big jump in the cost of technology upgrades.

Ward Keith, who took over as board chair of Manitoba Public Insurance this spring after his predecessor’s resignation, explained last week’s departure of the corporation’s chief information and technology officer, Siddharta Parti.

Parti was living in Ontario and the corporation was paying his travel costs to Manitoba, Keith said.

“Based on an arrangement that was made between this individual and the former CEO, travel costs to and from Manitoba were charged back to the company. That was another reason why I found this not to be an acceptable arrangement,” Keith said.

A corporation official later said Parti received a total of $19,021 in travel expenses over nine months, including commuting travel and  business-related trips.

Parti was asked to relocate to Manitoba but chose last week to resign instead, Keith added. The Canadian Press was unable to reach Parti for comment.

That resignation came shortly after the departure of chief executive officer Eric Herbelin. MPI said last month Herbelin was dismissed by the board after a review of his workplace conduct.

Herbelin did not respond to an interview request. Keith offered few additional details Tuesday, other than to say the review covered more than just his interactions with employees.

“Based on the results of that investigation, the board met and determined that there was sufficient concern to terminate his employment with cause,” Keith said.

Manitoba Public Insurance has faced questions over the last two years, mainly over a plan called Project Nova, aimed at upgrading its various technology platforms. The project includes plans to let the public buy automobile insurance online.

The forecast cost of the project has jumped from $106 million to $290 million. Its timeline has been extended to five years from three.

Keith said Tuesday the newer price tag includes $60 million in contingency funds and he is confident the project cost is now under control.

“To date, virtually none of that contingency has been utilized,” he said.

The corporation has also faced controversy over plans it submitted to hire 420 people — a 21 per cent increase from staff levels before the COVID-19 pandemic. Many new staff would be linked to Project Nova.

That prompted a warning from the Public Utilities Board, the provincial regulator, in January. The board said the hiring seemed imprudent and that Project Nova lacked adequate management control.

There were also questions about untendered contracts. Kelvin Goertzen, the minister responsible for MPI, cited that as one reason he ordered an external review of the corporation this spring .

That review is expected in December.

In the meantime, MPI is preparing to file its plans for the 2024-25 fiscal year with the utilities board. That plan is to include a freeze on its overall rate revenues, although some categories of motorists could see small increases or decreases, Keith said.

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