University of Manitoba ethicist Arthur Schafer is confused by the provincial government’s claim it doesn’t own the health-care sustainability information it paid KPMG $750,000 to gather.
"Why should that information belong to the consulting company? It boggles the mind," Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said Thursday. "We pay for it, and it belongs to them? Come on.
"It doesn’t add up, it doesn’t make sense. The government that’s spent three-quarters of a million dollars is obliged by accountability and transparency to make it public, full-stop."
Schafer challenged the province to prove it can’t reveal the information.
"State the clause in the contract that prohibits you from releasing the entire report," he said.
Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen refused to do that in a scrum with reporters Thursday.
The consulting firm declined to discuss its insistence it has proprietary ownership of the information in the massive report.
"Consistent with our professional standards, and to maintain third-party independence, KPMG’s policy is to decline comment on client matters," KPMG’s national communications director Tenille Kennedy said from Toronto.
Premier Brian Pallister’s government has refused to release the report — and another KPMG report commonly referred to as a value-for-money audit — after promising to do so with redactions to protect privacy. Instead, the four-page synopses of each contained in last week’s budget papers will have to suffice, both Goertzen and Finance Minister Cameron Friesen have said.
Goertzen has said much of the information contained in the health-care sustainability report is "proprietary" and counts as advice to cabinet.
Reminded the Progressive Conservatives campaigned for office last year on a promise to run an open and transparent government, Goertzen said, "My expectation is that we’re going to adopt the vast majority of the KPMG report. So you’ll have the ability to digest the vast majority of it."
Pallister was in Brandon on Thursday delivering a speech to the chamber of commerce, but that didn’t stop the NDP from taunting his empty chair during question period.
"The premier made a promise, which he has now broken," interim leader Flor Marcelino said, adding Pallister boasted about reviewing a draft copy of the report while vacationing in Costa Rica.
"The premier of the province looked the public in the eye and said 97 per cent of the report would be made public," NDP finance critic James Allum told Friesen. "There are 29 minutes left in question period — why doesn’t the minister of finance pop down to his office and get the report and come clean?"
Friesen didn’t address the questions and instead attacked the NDP’s record during their 17-year reign.
Friesen has also cited proprietary and other reasons for not making available copies of the value-for-money audit, a project completed several months ago. He insisted no promises were made earlier that the report be released.
"We talked about the process. We talked about the advice that’s led directly into some of the budgetary processes. And we think we’ve been responsible to Manitobans," he said.
On Tuesday, the NDP showed reporters a copy of a request for proposals the government issued when it tendered the contract for the value-for-money audit. The RFP stated the government would retain all proprietary rights to the information obtained by the winning bidder for the consulting contract.
Pressed in February to release copies of KPMG’s interim report on health-care sustainability, a government spokeswoman said it would not be distributed "at this time" because it was being used to "inform decisions related to Budget 2017." The provincial budget was delivered April 11.