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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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ottawa’s war on data

Macleans recently published an article outlining the failure of the Harper regime to not only collect information on the true state of Canada's citys, towns and villages and economy but failure to KEEP historical data. Whilst touting better access to information by digatalizing information and 'centralizing' and combining various websites the precise opposite has been happening. Much historical information both in print and online has been destroyed in the name of 'efficiency' and 'cost savings' to the point where authors of scientific, social and financial papers cannot even access their own work let alone find new data to counter or confirm assertions by the various political spinmasters.

The article is a long one and clearly lays out how vulnerable we and our democracy are to to such historical revisionism and information suppression and I will not attempt to summarize it here but simply publish a few 'teasers from the piece and urge you to go read it all.

The Census
According to Sask Trends Monitor, the high non-response rate in the province resulted in “no socioeconomic statistics about the populations in about one-half of Saskatchewan communities.” Nationally, we’re missing similar data on 20 per cent of StatsCan’s 4,556 “census subdivisions,” making a fifth of Canada’s recognized communities statistical dead zones.

Lost Data
Physicist Raymond Hoff, who published more than 50 reports on air pollution in transport and toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes—including pioneering work on acid rain—at Environment Canada between 1975 and 1999, doesn’t seem to exist, either. “Nothing comes up when I type my name into the search engine on [Environment Canada’s] website,” says Hoff, now a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland. Also gone are internal reports on the oil sands experiments of the 1970s. “That research was paid for by the taxpayer. Now, the people who need to protect Canada’s environment can’t get access.”

Destroyed Data
Protecting Canadians’ access to data is why Sam-Chin Li, a government information librarian at the University of Toronto, worked late into the night with colleagues in February 2013, frantically trying to archive the federal Aboriginal Canada portal before it disappeared on Feb. 12. The decision to kill the site, which had thousands of links to resources for Aboriginal people, had been announced quietly weeks before; the librarians had only days to train with web-harvesting software.

That Centralized website
The need for such efforts (to privately save data) has taken on new urgency since 2014, says Li, when some 1,500 websites were centralized into one, with more than 60 per cent of content shed. Now that reporting has switched from print to digital only, government information can be altered or deleted without notice, she says.

Accountability & decision making
Isla Jordan and Ulla de Stricker describe a country “without access to large parts of its institutional memory, and leaders without access to the information needed for strategic decision-making.” Toni Samek, a professor at the school of library and information studies at the University of Alberta, puts it more succinctly. Canada is facing a “national amnesia,” she says, a condition that will block its ability to keep government accountable, remember its past and plan its future.

Garbage in, garbage out
Voluntary surveys also create biased data, says Sheikh: Response rates from the very rich, the very poor, rural areas, immigrants and Aboriginal communities tend to be far lower—so these groups are not well-represented. “People who do not respond well to a voluntary survey are the very people social policy tries to help,” he says. “So if you were to base policy on data received, you’d say, ‘Gee, we don’t have a poverty problem in this country.’ ”

Financial comparisons lost
Gordon expresses alarm that 20 years of data history between 1960 and 1980 vanished in 2012 due to changes in the way national accounts, GDP and other data were compiled: “It’s now impossible to have a clear picture of the Canadian economy since the Second World War,”

Operating in the dark
Government, too, is operating in the dark, as evidenced last year when StatsCan was unable to provide auditor general Michael Ferguson with job data during the contentious debate over proposed reforms of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The Department of Finance was relying on data from the online classified service Kijiji to back its position.

As a result, economic decision-making is compromised, as a July ScotiaBank report points out. It claimed it would be “ill-advised” for the Bank of Canada to make rate-cut decisions based on StatsCan data, because it’s “stale”:

The vanishing of Canada has created a counterinsurgency—scientists, researchers, economists, civil rights groups, librarians and artists marshalling resources and their own time to monitor, expose, protest and create a new literature of knowledge loss. Li, for one, has taken preservation of national records into private hands by spearheading an effort with universities across the country dubbed LOCKSS—“Lots of copies, keep stuff safe”—to archive federal websites, an exercise not unlike trapping fireflies in a jar: “Without that or a print record, there’s no way of tracking change.”

Bottom line, if you find data on a government website that reflects poorly on the Harper regime or positively on former non conservative governments save it for it may be gone tomorrow. If you want information on the environment, scientific research, the state of the economy past or present etc etc, you had best rely upon private sources, for much of the data on government websites is now unreliable or missing!

A tip of the hat to Montreal Simon for this one

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