The Three CEOs

I have been employed by a large firm that went through a dramatic restructuring. I will not tell you which one, though some of you know and some will guess, but I can tell you that we were a publicly traded company operating in a duopoly environment, meaning there was limited competition.

I was hired under the tenure of what we’ll call CEO 1. CEO 1 was a passive leader who was relatively well liked by the staff, union and non-union, because he didn’t rock the boat. Though status quo ruled the day and the stock price was going nowhere, it was still profitable because of the particular business environment that it operated in.

Many investors, however, saw wasted potential, so they kicked out CEO 1 and brought in CEO 2.

CEO 2 was a hard-ass. He immediately started chopping jobs (including mine, but I was able to stay on long enough to find another position) and over-turning apple carts. He scrapped boutique customized labour agreements, trimming the number of collective agreements from the ‘000s to several hundred, and he completely restructured the business.

He made few friends in the company. I thought about quitting a couple of times myself. The unionized crews almost universally despised him — except perhaps those that hung onto their company shares, which quickly grew to become worth 3 times what they were when he took over.

Here’s the thing: CEO 2’s tenure wasn’t sustainable for the long term. He came, he restructured, he left, and he was replaced by CEO 3.

Strategically, CEO 3 was in the same mould as CEO 2 but had a different approach to leadership. He made amends with some of the unions, he loosed a few rules, and his whole leadership had a different tenor. Morale is now generally good, the company is recognized as an industry leader, and the stock price is now 8 times what it was when CEO 1 left.

Manitoba needs a CEO 3

The previous NDP government had an aversion to making difficult decisions. Vast amounts of money were thrown at health care without any general improvement in health outcomes (and without ever fulfilling the first promise they ever made — to end “hallway medicine”) to the point where health care spending consumed 40% of the provincial budget* when Greg Selinger (CEO 1) unceremoniously left office. Kids were stored in hotel rooms for lack of repaired social services. Billions of dollars were wasted on a less efficient, less reliable, energy wasting, farm disrupting, endangered caribou-herd displacing west-side Bipole III route in order (it is suspected, as reasons are still unclear) to avoid unpleasant negotiations with First Nations on the east side of the Lake Winnipeg. The list goes on.

Manitoba needed a CEO 2 to get things back on track, budgetary and otherwise.

Was Pallister the CEO 2 we needed? The difference between CEO 2 at my company and Brian Pallister is that my CEO 2 knew what he was doing. He spent a life time in the industry and had a wealth of experience and a precise vision.

Pallister had some broad strokes correct. Manitoba health care desperately needed reform. Even Greg Selinger knew that, as the NDP commissioned the report that ostensibly formed the basis of Pallister’s eventual restructuring. Manitoba Hydro is buried in debt and our provincial debt was clocking upwards unsustainably.

The problems with Pallister are numerous, but among them: he charged into his reforms like a bulldozer in the Brazillian rainforest without enough knowledge or patience to correctly implement them. A lack of knowledge is not a particular problem if the premier is willing to take advice and adjust plans based on the advise of experts, or if circumstances change — if for example …. oh I don’t know … a global pandemic strikes. He had his plan and he was going to stick to it, damn the consequences.

So we have gone from one extreme to another. From unsustainable government to reckless government. In a couple years Manitobans will need to decide if they trust Wab Kinew to manage the province responsibly, or if they trust the new PC leader to do a better job than the previous one.

Who will be our CEO 3?

We know a few things about Wab Kinew’s character. We don’t know a lot about his policies, though if he wants to create a new provincial crown corporation for fulfilling a federal promise, it’s fairly clear that fiscal responsibility is not among them.

The job the Manitoba PC party has now is to select a leader — a potential CEO 3 — who is capable of building bridges, restoring some measure of goodwill with the voters, and repairing some of the damage done by Pallister’s carelessness while maintaining the spirit of the reforms: particularly sustainable and efficient delivery of heath care, and fiscal responsibility.

I agree with Dan Lett when he says the PC’s need an anti-Pallister. The new leader has to look different, act different and be perceived as different. Preferably female — it is long overdue that we had a female Premier and it would be highly advantageous to the PCs; preferably from Winnipeg where most of the swing votes are; and preferably a different generation. Also, of course, somebody capable of making sound decisions and building those bridges I mentioned earlier.

There are a few different people who check most if not all of those boxes. However, Internal party mechanics may result in a new leader who does not. If that happens, the PC party is doomed. The future of the province is riding on who the party chooses.

*StatsCan Table: 10-10-0024-01

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