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.
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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Oxymoron - Open Government

Apparently there has been an “Open Government Consultation” conducted by Treasury Board over the last couple of weeks. Whilst I am not up on such 'consultations' David Eaves is very much so, I will then hand it over to him in these extracts from a recent post at Eaves.ca. He tells us that you can explore on the Treasury Board website and also that Tracey Lauriault has tracked some of the submissions on her website.

As part of the Open Government Partnership commitments it would be great for the government to commit to guarantee that every request for information made of it would include a digital version of the document that can be searched.
Second, the government should commit that every document it publishes be available online. For example, I remember in 2009 being told that if I wanted a copy of the Health Canada report "Human Health in a Changing Climate:A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity" I had to request of CD, which was then mailed to me which had a PDF copy of the report on it. Why was the report not simply available for download? Because the Minister had ordered it not to appear on the website. Instead, I as a taxpayer and to see more of my tax dollars wasted for someone to receive my mail, process it, then mail me a custom printed cd. Enabling ministers to create barriers to access government information, simply because they do not like the contents, is an affront to the use of tax payer dollars and our right to access information.
Finally, Allow Government Scientists to speak directly to the media about their research.
It has become a reoccurring embarrassment. Scientists who work for Canada publish an internationally recognized ground break paper that provides some insight about the environment or geography of Canada and journalists must talk to government scientists from other countries in order to get the details. Why? Because the Canadian government blocks access. Canadians have a right to hear the perspectives of scientists their tax dollars paid for – and enjoy the opportunity to get as well informed as the government on these issues.
Thus, lift the ban that blocks government scientists from speaking with the media.”

I think by now we all realize that its not just a particular minister who blocks access to unfavorable reports but that this practice is in fact now the standard practice for the current Regime. Whilst I suspect that this 'consultation', as with so many other initiatives from the Harper Regime is nothing more than smoke and mirrors to keep folks happy whilst they go about doing exactly as they intended in the first place, David has submitted a number of suggestions and whilst I urge you to read his entire post here are a few of them which indeed make a lot of sense.

Redefine Public as Digital: Pass an Online Information Act
a) Any document it produces should be available digitally, in a machine readable format. The sham that the government can produce 3000-10,000 printed pages about Afghan detainees or the F-35 and claim it is publicly disclosing information must end.
b) Any data collected for legislative reasons must be made available - in machine readable formats - via a government open data portal.
c) Any information that is ATIPable must be made available in a digital format. And that any excess costs of generating that information can be born by the requester, up until a certain date (say 2015) at which point the excess costs will be born by the ministry responsible. There is no reason why, in a digital world, there should be any cost to extracting information - indeed, I fear a world where the government can't cheaply locate and copy its own information for an ATIP request as it would suggest it can't get that information for its own operations.
Use Open Data to drive efficiency in Government Services: Require the provinces to share health data – particularly hospital performance - as part of its next funding agreement within the Canada Health Act.
Finally before we leave Dave and examine the other side of the coin he points out how far behind Canada is in providing open data to its citizens.

Open Budget and Actual Spending Data
For almost a year the UK government has published all spending data, month by month, for each government ministry (down to the £500 in some, £25,000 in others). More over, as an increasing number of local governments are required to share their spending data it has lead to savings, as government begin to learn what other ministries and governments are paying for similar services.
It is interesting to see that even as they take submissions about improving access to data they are actively doing exactly the opposite. The Sixth Estate points out:-

......it’s increasingly difficult to find any Royal Commission reports online anymore, thanks to the government’s inexplicable practice of taking down their websites and hiding backup copies on a National Archives server which blocks Google from indexing its contents.

Presently, the Harper regime’s Minister of Graft, the Dishon. Tony Clement, is busy looking for symbolic measures to promote the idea that Canada has “open government.” Restoring full, indexed, and easily accessible Commission reports would be a good first step towards that goal.”

To cap it all off and to reinforce that the Harperites have no intention of letting their citizens know what is going on Poggi gives us this little snippet of information:-

The House of Commons gets back to work next week and that means that parliamentary committees resume as well. In fact the Standing Committee on Health will meet tomorrow afternoon.
Kady O'Malley, as @kady on Twitter, was kind enough to link to this page which provides the schedule of upcoming meetings. O'Malley also took note of the number of padlocks associated with the entries which indicates that a meeting will be held in camera — closed to the public.
Of the ten meetings currently listed, eight of them will be held in camera. Admittedly this isn't something I've kept track of but that seems high. It's worth noting that aside from preventing the press and public from viewing the proceedings, taking the meeting behind closed doors automatically binds the participants — including opposition MPs — to secrecy.
Eight out of ten would certainly suggest one of two things: either something is in the works that a lot of us won't like or keeping the public in the dark about what goes on in committees has become the default position of this government. Either way, democracy loses.”

So not only can we or the media not examine the workings of these committees but our elected representatives are not allowed to speak of such 'debates' with their constituents or the media.
This should not come as a surprise to anyone following the steady reduction of anything other than “approved” spin from this regime and the ever increasing suppression of any reports or views that do not closely follow their ideological agenda. So whilst I thank David and all the others who have submitted ideas and comments to this 'consultation' I do hope that none of them are expecting a positive outcome from it.
Seems that the public is doomed to be just like Schults from Hogans Heros by the time the next election comes around “I see NOTHING! I know NOTHING!” and have blind faith in Herr Harper.
Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers


Ari from Finland said...

I have been a member of the board of the Finnish Alliance. In one meeting I heard in my own ears, when chairman Heikki Tala told the board that Helsinki District Court was ready to ban our organization! An official had told this threat to our chairman in a meeting in the Ministry for Internal Affairs.

This happened before the New York Times interviewed our chairman and published an article about Finland on December 25, 2005. This article mentioned our organization.

As far as I have understood, president Halonen, Prime Minister Vanhanen and other leading politicians were behind this threat to ban the Finnish Alliance - without any reason!

A government's threat to ban a peaceful organization (because of its opinions) violates the principles of democracy.

Rural said...

Whist we here concentrate upon threats to our Canadian Democracy the gradual decline of democratic principals seems to be word wide as governments seek to control both the message and the citizens.

Ms. M said...

Yes, it is becoming clear to me that this is not a national issue at all - it's scope is as big as the world.