Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Playing Phoenix politics

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Attorney General Andrew Swan has not much of a leg to stand on in delaying release of the inquiry report into the death of Phoenix Sinclair, a toddler murdered by her mother and stepfather but failed by a child welfare system that was supposed to protect her. The government says it expects to meet a scheduled "production deadline" of Jan. 31 for the report.

That schedule conveniently allows the NDP to avoid, until after two byelections, the difficult questions that will arise from an inquiry that found Phoenix was repeatedly failed by CFS agencies that were in massive turmoil at the time, bordering on a chaos the government was well warned about.

Mr. Swan has had the commission's recommendations for four weeks, ample time for the Family Services department and CFS agencies to have absorbed the results. Yet the government says the report's three volumes and some 1,000 pages are still being prepared for public release.

Further, the government insists it is precluded from releasing the report by the Election Financing Act, which restricts government publication and advertising in the weeks before an election -- the byelections are set for Jan. 28. But releasing an inquiry report can hardly be considered a misuse of public resources to the benefit of the governing party on the campaign. Indeed, the act provides exemptions for publication in the interest of public health and safety, the very essence of child welfare and family services.

Mr. Swan's release schedule protects his party's interest. The timing implies that he and his government view the inquiry's report proprietorially. The inquiry was called by the cabinet, and the commissioner must report to the minister, but its mandate serves the public interest, not partisan convenience.

The Election Financing Act's ban on advertising was never intended to rescue the government from facing accountability or to clip its obligation to Manitobans. That obligation demands that Mr. Swan release the inquiry's report now. He can save the predictable announcements of new spending and improved services until after the byelections.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2014 A8

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Updated on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 7:31 AM CST: adds image

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