Manitoba's Opposition Conservatives are questioning the Workers Compensation Board's decision to donate $500,000 to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in a year when the Crown corporation posted an operating loss of $30 million.
The WCB's 2008 annual report, released in April, came under renewed scrutiny yesterday during a meeting of the Manitoba legislature's Crown corporations committee.
The Tories took aim yesterday at the WCB's quiet half-million-dollar contribution to the human rights museum last fall, which they suggest was not the wisest move given the WCB's latest financials, and which they suspect may not have been the WCB's preferred move.
"I'm not opposed to Crown corporations being good corporate citizens and donating to worthy causes, but at a time when you're losing a lot of money it would seem more prudent to protect your own interests," said Mavis Taillieu, the Tory WCB critic.
According to the WCB's annual report, the corporation posted a $30-million operating loss in 2008 due mostly to lower-than-expected investment income and a large increase in claim payouts.
The corporation's reserves declined from $258 million to $62 million in 2008, while its charitable donations increased from $80,000 in 2007 to $579,000 in 2008, thanks in large part to the $500,000 museum gift.
"Obviously the board thought it was a reasonable amount to give," said WCB communications director Warren Preece, who noted the gift will not affect the premium rates the corporation charges employers.
"Stuff like this doesn't come along very often. It's not a normal situation. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing to have a museum of this stature built in your community."
Preece added that the WCB has a connection to human rights as it has long been a supporter of people who are injured.
In April 2008, Premier Gary Doer came under fire from the Tories for having "encouraged," but not ordered, the province's four other major Crown corporations -- Manitoba Lotteries, the MLCC, MPI and Hydro -- to donate $1 million each to the museum.
Taillieu suggested the WCB's arm was twisted to make the donation, which it never publicized.
"If you're not taking some credit for making a half-million dollar donation it makes you wonder if you're doing it against your wishes," she said.
Preece dismissed the suggestion. "This was a board decision. WCB is part of Manitoba's community. This is an important community development and we're happy to be a part of it," he said.