Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tell city officials they don't govern

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Senior officials at the City of Winnipeg need a course on the meaning of open government, transparency and accountability. Judging by the way they responded to a request under freedom of information legislation, it's clear they don't have a clue. They also appear to be seized by the mistaken idea they are the government.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation had asked for a traffic study for the new Route 90 fire hall, but the information was denied twice for invalid reasons.

Civic officials initially denied the request because they wrongly believed Shindico Realty, which built the fire hall, had a right of refusal. The company did not want it released.

The taxpayers federation appealed to the Manitoba Ombudsman, which said Shindico had no such rights.

Then the city turned down the request because it was deemed to be advice to government. Again, the ombudsman ruled the city was wrong.

If that wasn't bad enough, two councillors on a civic committee considering the issues, including a former member of executive policy committee, said they weren't even aware a traffic study had been conducted. That means most of council was kept in the dark, too.

Some information in the study has still been withheld, including an analysis of traffic flows at the Route 90 site, and conclusions and recommendations about the merits of building in that location.

There's no good reason why this information should be withheld. The city routinely conducts and releases traffic studies to council, which needs the information to make decisions.

The city does not have a great reputation for transparency, and some of its decisions have been downright bizarre, such as the refusal several years ago to give a citizen a list of planned street repairs, despite the fact the same list had been released to the news media a week earlier.

It also demands exorbitant fees for simple facts, including a case two years ago when it demanded $26,000 to tell journalism students how many children had been injured on playgrounds owned by the city.

Other levels of government can be tight-fisted with information, too, but the city has too often exhibited signs it either does not understand freedom of information legislation, or just doesn't care.

The Manitoba Ombudsman should organize a seminar for civic officials to educate them on the basics of transparent government.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 6, 2014 A10

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