Manitoba

Pallister government can release fiscal audit after all

Premier Brian Pallister said he couldn't release a consultant's fiscal performance review because the company owned it. That wasn't correct and now a decision by Freedom of Information decision shows it's his own cabinet that can make the decision to release the document.

Freedom of Information ruling leaves release in hands of cabinet

Premier Pallister promised the KPMG report would be released, then reneged on the pledge. Now it appears it is his to release. (CBC News)

Since April, Premier Brian Pallister has said he can't release the fiscal performance review because it contains proprietary information.

But when CBC News requested the document under the Freedom of Information Act, it was denied because it constitutes a cabinet confidence. 

A spokesperson for Manitoba's Ombudsman says, under the rules, the government may choose to disclose cabinet confidences. 

"The cabinet for which the record was created may give consent to disclose the record," wrote the spokesperson.

For months following the 2016 election Pallister and Finance Minister Cameron Friesen touted their fiscal performance review and the government subsequently hired consultant firm KPMG to carry out the work.

Both men promised repeatedly the public would get to see the work behind the recommendations that would follow.

Pallister was specific in his promise — 97 per cent of the results would be made public minus the names of civil servants who had been canvassed for their opinions.

But the premier did an about-face in April, telling the press that he could not release the material because it wasn't his to hand out.

"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.

In fact, the tender documents that KMPG responded to in order to get the contract stated anything the company produced for the government became the government's property.

The request for proposal for the development of the Fiscal Performance Review outlines that ownership of all materials is owned by the Government of Manitoba. (Government of Manitoba)
A Freedom of Information request sent to Manitoba Finance requesting a copy of the Fiscal Performance Review was denied as the report is deemed to be a cabinet confidence. (CBC News)

NDP MLA James Allum called the refusal to let the public see the KMPG audit a "deliberate attempt to mislead the people of Manitoba," and said Pallister has been making excuses that simply aren't true.

NDP MLA James Allum: 'It's getting to the point where you can't believe anything [Pallister] says." (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"He certainly could release it and if he doesn't he needs to make better reasons for doing so rather than fabricating reasons, all in an effort to hide the austerity agenda that has yet to be revealed," Allum told CBC News.

Allum said the refusal appears to be an attempt to hide the government's "austerity agenda," and said Pallister talks a lot about transparency and accountability but doesn't practice it.

A request for an interview with Pallister or comment on the issue was declined "for now" by a spokesperson.

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