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Trumped by Manitoba Lotteries

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Polls paid for by taxpayers are supposed to be public, according to a lot of crowing about the province's new-ish access to information act.

Except if you're Manitoba Lotteries and you've asked people some super-sensitive questions about which one-armed bandit they like best.

So much for that, then.

Here's the back story. A few years ago, the province made some very minor tweaks to its Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The only change I thought might come in handy was a new rule saying polling done by public bodies should be public.

That change was prompted by an ugly episode where the Ombudsman forced city hall to release a poll on the controversial Olywest plant. At the time, the Doer government said it normally released all its polling and made the policy official for all governments and agencies when it overhauled FIPPA.

Keep in mind, we're talking here about government polling on stuff like budget priorities, the effectiveness of public health campaigns, phosphorus reduction, that kind of thing. Not party polling on which leader Manitobans like best.

Anyway, I heard the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation was in the field. So I Fippa'd all their polling, thinking I'd get a nice pile of data that might make a couple of quick stories.

After two months of negotiation, Manitoba Lotteries has refused to even release the executive summaries of five different polls they did on everything from their corporate image to the quality of their rum and cokes. Here's the letter (pdf enclosed).

Turns out the polls would compromise Lotteries' competitive position, so they say they aren't obliged to release them, or any part of them. The new-ish FIPPA rules say government can't cite the "advice to government" clause to deny polling data. But there are bajillions of other loopholes they can still use, and Lotteries had no trouble finding one.

I will appeal to the Ombudsman. God love them, they take months to make decisions. It will take me so long to get the polls — IF I ever get them — Lady Gaga will be playing McPhillips Street Station and no one will care whether Manitobans thought Lotteries had a crappy corporate image way back in 2010.

Nicely played, Lotteries.

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About Mary Agnes Welch

Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first as a general assignment reporter and then covering city hall and the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter.

Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.

Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school, has won several Western Ontario Newspaper Awards and has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.

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