PC government won't disclose contents of KPMG audit, review reports

Despite countless promises to release key data used to produce its recent budget, Manitoba's PC government says it will not make that information public.

Tories now claim information gathered by consulting firm for budget is 'proprietary'

The Progressive Conservative government paid consulting firm KPMG $740,000 for a fiscal performance audit. Last spring, Premier Brian Pallister promised 97 per cent of the results in the audit would be made public. (CBC News )

For months, the Progressive Conservative government boasted of the methods it is using to restore fiscal order to Manitoba's finances and reduce wait times in hospitals.

Premier Brian Pallister and some of his key ministers also promised repeatedly to release the data behind their decisions.

On Wednesday, Pallister said the information gathered is owned by the company that did the reviews and it would be illegal to release it.

'Options for government are proprietary,' Finance Minister Cameron Friesen said Tuesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
The PC government paid consulting firm KPMG $740,000 for a fiscal performance audit. Last spring, Pallister promised 97 per cent of the results in the audit would be made public, minus the names of civil servants who had been canvassed for their opinions.

"My understanding wasn't that a lot of this information would be proprietary at the outset. And now I understand that it is legally my responsibility to protect the integrity of the process that was used... It's owned by the company that helped guide us," Pallister said.

That contradicts the government's own request for proposals to conduct the fiscal performance review that KPMG ultimately won a contract to complete.

Issued in May, 2016, the RFP states that all information, data, research, reports and other material produced by the consultant "shall be the exclusive property of Manitoba."

When asked to explain why the information should be kept from the public, Pallister defended the company's business practices.

"Out of respect for the company and for future tendering processes I think it's important they have a manner of going about their business they've developed over many years and spent a great amount to develop that they want to protect, so that's part of the problem in releasing that information," Pallister said. 

When asked in January when the report would be released, Finance Minster Cameron Friesen told reporters, "We're certainly collecting, we are aggregating, we are organizing, and we'll present to Manitobans in a coherent way at the proper time."

Back then, Friesen suggested that it wouldn't be prudent to release the information before the budget is tabled, as it could give the Tories' political opponents an advantage.

"You are talking about the lead-up to the budget right now, which will be sometime in the spring. So it would be silly to think that today's the time to drop that on the desks of our opponents," Friesen said at the time.

Now, the government appears reluctant to drop the information on the desks of Manitobans. Friesen says the data it is willing to share was made available in the recent budget documents.

Information from the $740,000 KPMG review was amalgamated into four pages in an appendix called Fiscal Performance Review. It says the consultant interviewed more than 140 senior managers in the bureaucracy and identified 11 key areas where there is an opportunity to save more than $100 million. But there are few specifics.

Reducing communications expenses and tax credits, justice reform and asset management planning and rationalization were among the recommendations.

'Proprietary' content, options in report

Friesen said the KPMG report enabled the government to develop a number of options — options the Tories are not willing to share with the public.

"Those options and the content of the report are proprietary; it has been received as advice to government and that is a common practice for governments to have," Friesen said.

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said "issues [in the health-care review] that aren't proprietary will be released and discussed publicly." (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
He told reporters on Tuesday his government is "comfortable with what it has shared with Manitobans."

Friesen was asked if the government's refusal to release the rest of the information contained in the audit report is in breach of the Progressive Conservatives' campaign promise to be open and accountable.

"We feel on this, we have been accountable to Manitobans," he replied.

"We told them right away of our intention to undertake this work, we told them there would be value in it for all Manitobans, and we stand by our word that there is value in this exercise."

Health-care review proprietary as well

The government also engaged KPMG to review ways to eliminate waste in Manitoba's health-care system and improve its efficiency and responsiveness.

But now, the health minister says much of that information will likely not be made public.

"It was advice for cabinet listed in the tender. They [KPMG] are obviously the kind of company that does this kind of work in other jurisdictions. Probably wants to do other sorts of work in other jurisdictions. I am sure they would consider some of the work to be proprietary," said Kelvin Goertzen.

Goertzen, who had received the second section of the KPMG report recently, said the media and the public would be able to see the vast majority of what's in the document when the recommendations are implemented.

NDP MLA James Allum calls the lack of information being released by the government "a double standard." (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
When asked how the public would be able to measure the report's recommendations against the decisions the government will make, Goertzen told reporters, "Well, just ask me."

Goertzen said there will be changes to Manitoba's health-care system coming from the KPMG review.

"It's not over yet. There will be a lot of changes and decisions that will be made," he said.

Members of the opposition NDP say they aren't surprised the government is backing away from releasing the information.

"Well, there's a shocker," said NDP MLA James Allum. 

"The premier said that 97 per cent of this information would be made available to the people of Manitoba, and now they are telling us it won't be released at all? There's a double standard if ever there was one."

About the Author

Sean Kavanagh

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sean has had a chance to live in some of Canada's other beautiful places (Whistler, B.C., and Lake of the Woods, Ont.) as well as in Europe and the United States. In more than a decade of reporting, Sean has covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections, including a stint as the civic affairs reporter responsible for city hall.