MPI review finds instability, confusion among leaders steering Manitoba’s public insurer off-track

Manitoba’s public insurer is top heavy, contending with instability from leadership changes and goals that are unclear and overly ambitious.

That’s according to an external review of Manitoba Public Insurance released Friday, which says the Crown-owned auto-insurer needs to consider addressing those issues as it crafts a new corporate strategy.

The report by consulting firm Ernst and Young says MPI has “a relatively high number of managerial layers,” and 30 per cent of management roles have three or fewer people reporting to them directly.

EY found “numerous organizational changes have hindered MPI’s ability to create, implement and monitor an effective long-term vision” and that has led to “confusion amongst leadership.”

Carmen Nedohin, who was appointed as MPI’s board chair in October, called the review a “blueprint” for how to move forward

“I was surprised by some of it,” she said during a news conference Friday.

“But the message that I got from the report was while the organization is a very good organization … it really lacked the direction of a strategic plan and obtainable goals and key performance indicators.”

A woman with short dark hair and a black long-sleeve shirt speaks into a microphone at a lectern.
Carmen Nedohin was appointed MPI board chair in October in the weeks after the NDP was elected. (CBC)

The report states MPI executives found a previous five-year strategy, focused on digital modernization of systems, to be “misaligned and overly ambitious.”

The report said it wasn’t always clear who was responsible for which business initiatives, and that 20 organizational changes at the corporation over two years have created instability.

As a result, the review calls for minimizing the number of changes to organizational structure and clarifying roles to “help reduce frictions” across divisions with overlapping mandates.

There are also calls to enhance how data is managed and used to inform decisions to “reduce persistent errors and … inefficiencies created by data management and storage being scattered across the organization.”

One part of the review looked at a technology overhaul, dubbed Project Nova, which significantly overshot cost projections. As of late last year the budget had reached about $290 million — roughly three times the original figure.

Some of those expenses are linked to a lack of clear responsibilities among leaders, according to the review.

It says Project Nova is mostly managed as a distinct business “with its own strategy, governance and workforce planning.”

It “dominates and consumes” discretionary resources while solving only 40 per cent of aging applications that need to be renewed.

Crowds gather on the steps of a government legislature as part of an ongoing strike.
Crowds gathered on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature on Aug. 30 in a rally calling for better wages for unionized employees on strike at MPI and the provincial land titles office. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The review was launched in April 2023 by the former Progressive Conservative government to look at expenditure management, forecasting reporting and organizational structure.

That came after MPI awarded contracts without open bidding and tried to hire a few hundred more staff.

The corporation’s board dismissed the chief executive officer in the spring, and the NDP government replaced most board members as one of its first moves after it was elected in October.

About two weeks later, MPI workers who had been on strike since August signed a new four-year collective bargaining agreement and went back to work.

Signs of PC ‘mismanagement’: minister

NDP Justice Minister Matt Wiebe, who is also in charge of the MPI file, said the review suggests “mismanagement” by the PC government “had a serious effect” on MPI, and numerous changes at the top also created a lack of stability.

“The connection is the dysfunction that was created by the [Heather] Stefanson PC government,” said Wiebe, adding numerous senior leadership changes was also a factor.

“I think that has created … a situation where the corporation didn’t have a clear focus.”

A man in a dark suit with a dark tie and white shirt stands in an office.
Matt Wiebe, the minister who oversees MPI, said Friday the report points to ‘dysfunction’ from the previous PC government. (CBC)

MLA Doyle Piwniuk, the PC critic for MPI, accused the NDP of trying to “scare Manitobans” about the state of the public insurer, which he suggested is “fiscally strong with stable rates.” 

“The external review was important as the former government reviewed management structure to keep MPI on a path to success,” Piwniuk said in a statement. 

“The NDP has inherited a strong Crown corporation and Manitobans are hoping they don’t mess it up as they have before.”

CBC News asked Wiebe if he thinks MPI should have fewer management positions.

“There’s no question there needs to be a shakeup,” he said.

‘Leadership crisis’

The report said there are 20 leaders at MPI “with no direct reports” or staff, and another 84 with fewer than four, out of a total 349 leadership positions, and that “this warrants further investigation.”

Those figures caught the eye of the Consumers’ Association of Canada’s Manitoba branch “and not in a good way,” said Byron Williams, director of the Public Interest Law Centre, which represents the association at hearings of the Public Utilities Board.

“It does echo long-standing concerns our clients have raised and the Public Utilities Board has raised about MPI not being run in a prudent and reasonable fashion, and of course that hurts consumers who are subject to an MPI monopoly,” Williams told CBC Up to Speed host Faith Fundal. 

“It’s a leadership crisis, but it’s something that can be turned around and turned around in relatively short order.”

Up To Speed7:24Report says MPI is facing instability and leadership issues

A new report from review firm Ernst and Young says that MPI has experienced “numerous organizational changes have hindered MPI’s ability to create, implement and monitor an effective long-term vision.” Host Faith Fundal speaks to Byron Williams about what was in the report and also what it means for Manitobans.

Need for long-term strategy

The EY review also said one of MPI’s strengths is the dedication of the people who make up its workforce.

The review concludes MPI is under pressure to produce a multi-year strategic vision — and soon — with clear benchmarks and more clearly defined responsibilities for senior leadership.

“It is no secret that the chain of trust between MPI and its stakeholders has been fractured. MPI must demonstrate progress in the next six months underpinned by robust financial and operational data to regain the confidence of MPI’s stakeholders,” reads 

“It is vital that MPI ensures that it sets a clear long-term corporate strategy, defines its goals and assigns accountability to guide the way forward.”

Nedohin said the board will announce MPI’s new CEO next week, who will be tasked with drafting “the bones” of a new strategic plan within 30 days.

Province tries to steer MPI in right direction after review finds major faults

The next CEO of Manitoba Public Insurance will be tasked with addressing recommendations from a report that considers the corporation top heavy and contending with instability from various leadership changes.