A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Seeking the Truth from Government

This week has been particularly frustrating for the Canadian public to separate the spin from the facts both federally and provincially. It is generally VERY hard to find links to the FACTS as government tries to hide its mistakes and the opposition tries to make political hay out of any perceived error or questionable action. As I mentioned in passing a couple of weeks ago there are several citizen initiatives to bring as much government information as possible into the public eye. One such group which I will highlight in this post is Visible Government who are developing a number of tools to help us have easy access to such information. Please support them, and other similar initiatives, in any way you can because one thing you may be sure of is that government will NOT be making access to information easier any time soon!

Here is a quick overview of some of their current projects…..

Expense Visualizer (In Development)

As the result of a federal government directive, Travel and Hospitality Expenses have been published on the web in Canada since 2004. This information is currently spread across 124 different department sites, all publishing the data in subtly different formats. This project scrapes these expenses from the federal websites into a common format, so that this data can be supplied via an API to external tools and projects interested in using this information.

Access to Information Tracker (In Development)

Website for filing and tracking Access to Information requests.
Filing a federal Access to Information Request in Canada currently requires sending a $5 check, by mail, to one of over 100 different departments. Following the example of the UK site WhatDoTheyKnow, this project will allow Canadians to file Access to Information Requests, track their outstanding requests, and share the results of the request online.

I Believe In Open is a national movement to increase government transparency in Canada. We're organizing citizens to push politicians to make five commitments:

1. Support reforms that increase government transparency and accountability.
Citizens have a right to know what their government is doing.
In honouring this pledge, Members of Parliament will support reforms that increase the transparency of these institutions, allowing citizens to know what is happening inside their government.

2. Make campaign promises specific and measurable, and report progress on promises and their metrics at least semi-annually.
In honouring this pledge, Members of Parliament must publish a timeline for achieving their promises, along with specific metrics that can be used to judge whether or not a promise has been kept.

3. Publish the content of his or her daily schedule, including meetings with lobbyists and special interest groups.
We believe that, like ordinary citizens who use a punch clock at work, members of parliament should have to account for their time. When making this pledge, candidates promise to publish their daily official work schedule on the Internet, within 24 hours of the end of every work day.

4. Support reforms allowing free access to scientific and survey data gathered by government institutions.
In honouring this pledge, the candidate will support reforms that abolish access fees for scientific and survey data gathered by government institutions (at taxpayers expense).

5. Support reforms that make it easier for Canadians to obtain government information they have a right to know.
In honouring this pledge, Members of Parliament will support reforms that make the Access to Information process faster and more efficient. The member will support reforms that mandate publishing government information not restricted by citizen privacy issues by default, avoiding the Access to Information process altogether.

Disclosed.ca (Launched)
Aggregates federal government contract disclosures.
Disclosed.ca collects contract disclosure information from over a hundred different federal government websites, and makes them easily searchable.
Contracts can be listed by agency or by vendor.
There are currently almost 250,000 contract listed that can be searched by department or content.

As has been pointed out before, Australia, to some extent Great Britain and now the United States have made a concerted effort to improve their openness and accountability by improving both the sort of information provided via the internet and the means to locate and read it. Meanwhile our government is doing just the opposite, with the result that even our Parliamentary Budget Officer is having difficulty in locating the information necessary to do his job. This make projects such as the above even more important, go to I Believe In Open and sign up or give them your support by providing a link on your web site. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

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