Open Government Advocacy: The Danger of Letting Narrative Trump Fact

So I loath making this the first post of the new year, but here we go.

Today Canada.com published a story “Tony Clement vows innovative new open government, but critics point to poor record.” In it,  Jason Fekete the journalist responsible for the story, quotes a Democracy Watch spokesperson who sadly gets the facts completely wrong despite the fact that I warned Democracy Watch about their error a month ago after their press release caused similar errors to appear in a CBC story. I’ll outline why this is problem later in the post. Bur first the error.

In the article Fekete reports

Democracy Watch said it will appeal to the international open government group to reject Canada’s entry because the federal government failed to keep one of its required commitments to consult Canadians. Ottawa announced its online consultation one day after the watchdog complained about it.

This is, in fact, not true. To date, the government has not failed to meet its commitment. As I pointed out in an earlier blog post (to which Democracy Watch responded as is aware) Democracy Watch accuses the government of failing because it believed consultations needed to be conducted before a November OGP meeting in Brazil. Unfortunately, the meeting in which Governments will be sharing their plans (and thus need to complete their consultations) will be taking place in Brazil in April. The OPG clearly states this on their website (under section 5). There was a meeting in November, so the confusion was understandable.

Of course, just to be safe, I did what the CBC and Postmedia should have done. I emailed the OGP secretariat to check. Within minutes they confirmed to me that the April meeting is the deadline for consultations and developing plans. What is more interesting to me is the no one from Democracy Watch, the CBC or Post Media bothered to simply email or call the OGP secretariat and confirm these facts. For the CBC and Postmedia this is a matter of laziness. For Democracy Watch, I’m not sure what is driving this willed blindness. Ultimately, I suspect that once they went public with their narrative, backing down would be seen as weakness and then government secrecy would win!

This is dangerous for two reasons.

The first is, it isn’t true. Government secrecy doesn’t win if Democracy Watch got its facts mixed up. I agree that this government has a lot to answer for around its willingness to disclose government documents. Be it documents around the procurement of the F-35 or the treatment of Afghan prisoners there are many cases where the lack of transparency has been blatant and, I believe, counter to the principles of democracy and open government. Conceding that the Government is still on track for its Open Government Partnership objectives does not diminish that fact. The only thing that misrepresenting the facts does is cause conservative leaning voters who believe in government transparency (an important constituency) to tune out of the debate and believe that Democracy Watch is simply out to score points against the government, not fulfill its mission.

The bigger reason I think it is dangerous is that it undermines the very thing that makes the Open Government Partnership an effective tool of open government advocates. I want to be clear. The Open Government Partnership is, in part, designed to empower advocates and help them compel their government’s to be more open. Used correctly it could be powerful. The fact that Canadian government signed on to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is a result, in part, of the fact that other OGP countries were signing on. We were able to use peer pressure to create an upward spiral. We can also use the timelines of the OGP to ensure the government carries out the pledges that it has made. And of course, there is an Open Government consultation that is currently taking place (please participate) that the government will have to share the results of with its partners – potentially giving us a way to verify that our input is being taken seriously. Indeed, participating OPG countries may even try to out do one another to demonstrate how seriously they are taking this input.

But when this tool is misused it gives the government license to ignore and write off critics. As someone who wants to use the OGP commitments as a carrot and stick to hold our government to account, stories like those I linked to above hurt our capacity to be effective.

This government does not have a great record of transparency. At the same time, there is a legitimate effort to create open government goals as part of the OGP, let’s let the process run its course (and criticize when they actually violate the process) and use the tools that are at our disposal constructively to maximize impact, rather than try to snare a quick headline that in the long term, could damage the open government movements credibility.

I certainly wouldn’t encourage Democracy Watch to petition the OGP to ask Canada to leave the partnership. I suspect the secretariat would be confused by the request. The deadline has not passed, indeed, most OGP countries are in the middle of their consultations right now.

 

 

3 thoughts on “Open Government Advocacy: The Danger of Letting Narrative Trump Fact

  1. Duff Conacher

    David, David, once again distorting the facts and failing to check what Democracy Watch actual said before you slander Democracy Watch — what a way to begin the new year.

    First, on the Open Government Partnership site you link to — http://www.opengovpartnership.org/new-country-guidance — under #1 it says “The consultation process should begin soon after the government has expressed its intent to join OGP”.  The Conservatives expressed that intent on Sept. 19th — http://www.opengovpartnership.org/countries/canada — but didn’t begin the consultation until Dec. 6th (which is not soon after Sept. 19th).  So the Conservatives broke that commitment.

    That was one day before the Dec. 7-8th OGP meeting in Brazil (it was in December, not November as you mistakenly claim) at which, under #4 on the above OGP website, it states that the Conservatives (and other governments) were expected to “Come prepared to share your draft commitments”.  The Conservatives have not prepared, nor released, draft OGP commitments because the public consultation doesn’t even end until Jan. 16th — so they broke that commitment.

    The OGP meeting in April is to set out final, not draft, OGP commitments in an Action Plan.

    As for the Jason Fekete article, you cite a paragraph in which no one from Democracy Watch is quoted.  Any possibility that Fekete summarized Democracy Watch’s position incorrectly?  In your haste to slander Democracy Watch once again you ignored that possibility — strange given that you could have easily called or emailed Democracy Watch to check, or simply read the Democracy Watch news release you cited in your Dec. 13th blog post.

    Does that news release say that Democracy Watch is petitioning the federal Conservatives to leave OGP, as you claim?  No.  Does that news release say that Democracy Watch will appeal to the OGP Steering Committee to reject Canada’s entry into OGP because the Conservatives failed to consult with Canadians (as Jason Fekete claimed and you blindly cited without checking?  No.

    What the news release actually says (at the end of it) is that “Democracy Watch’s Open Government Coalition, Government Ethics Coalition and Money in Politics Coalition will continue to push the federal Conservatives to fulfill all of their Open Government Partnership OGP commitments in their final action plan, and if they don’t will appeal to the OGP Steering Committee to reject the Conservative government’s membership in OGP.”

    If you work with an organization, please have them consider joining the many groups already in the 3 coalitions linked above — details are on the pages linked above.

    I know it takes time to read through the news release (which sets out in detail the actual facts concerning what countries joining the OGP are required to do and to commit to in their Action Plan).  But really David, you should check your facts before you slander Democracy Watch.  Here is the link to the news release to make it easy for everyone to check the facts — http://dwatch.ca/camp/RelsDec0511.html

    As is made clear from all of the above, you are the one who is dangerously distorting the facts David, as you did in your last blog posting on Dec. 13th.

    Once again, will you do the right thing and apologize for slandering Democracy Watch (I am still waiting for an apology for your slanderous statements in your Dec. 13th post)?

    And finally, in case anyone is wondering if anything David wrote about Democracy Watch has any credibility, it doesn’t.  Democracy Watch is very credible — that is why Democracy Watch was quoted or interviewed in more than 1,200 articles, TV and radio interviews in 2011 (and averages 1,000 media appearances each year)  — See list at: http://dwatch.ca/news.htm.  

    And the credibility of Democracy Watch (along with its proven ability to build movements and coalitions and work with many others (it organized and has coordinated 5 nation-wide coalitions for more than a decade)) are the main reasons Democracy Watch has won more than 110 changes to federal and provincial laws in the past 18 years, more than any other citizen group in Canada — see details at: http://dwatch.ca/history.html.

    Reply
  2. Duff Conacher

    David, David, once again distorting the facts and failing to check what Democracy Watch actual said before you slander Democracy Watch — what a way to begin the new year.

    First, on the Open Government Partnership site you link to — http://www.opengovpartnership.org/new-country-guidance — under #1 it says “The consultation process should begin soon after the government has expressed its intent to join OGP”.  The Conservatives expressed that intent on Sept. 19th — http://www.opengovpartnership.org/countries/canada — but didn’t begin the consultation until Dec. 6th (which is not soon after Sept. 19th).  So the Conservatives broke that commitment.

    That was one day before the Dec. 7-8th OGP meeting in Brazil (it was in December, not November as you mistakenly claim) at which, under #4 on the above OGP website, it states that the Conservatives (and other governments) were expected to “Come prepared to share your draft commitments”.  The Conservatives have not prepared, nor released, draft OGP commitments because the public consultation doesn’t even end until Jan. 16th — so they broke that commitment.

    The OGP meeting in April is to set out final, not draft, OGP commitments in an Action Plan.

    As for the Jason Fekete article, you cite a paragraph in which no one from Democracy Watch is quoted.  Any possibility that Fekete summarized Democracy Watch’s position incorrectly?  In your haste to slander Democracy Watch once again you ignored that possibility — strange given that you could have easily called or emailed Democracy Watch to check, or simply read the Democracy Watch news release you cited in your Dec. 13th blog post.

    Does that news release say that Democracy Watch is petitioning the federal Conservatives to leave OGP, as you claim?  No.  Does that news release say that Democracy Watch will appeal to the OGP Steering Committee to reject Canada’s entry into OGP because the Conservatives failed to consult with Canadians (as Jason Fekete claimed and you blindly cited without checking?  No.

    What the news release actually says (at the end of it) is that “Democracy Watch’s Open Government Coalition, Government Ethics Coalition and Money in Politics Coalition will continue to push the federal Conservatives to fulfill all of their Open Government Partnership OGP commitments in their final action plan, and if they don’t will appeal to the OGP Steering Committee to reject the Conservative government’s membership in OGP.”

    If you work with an organization, please have them consider joining the many groups already in the 3 coalitions linked above — details are on the pages linked above.

    I know it takes time to read through the news release (which sets out in detail the actual facts concerning what countries joining the OGP are required to do and to commit to in their Action Plan).  But really David, you should check your facts before you slander Democracy Watch.  Here is the link to the news release to make it easy for everyone to check the facts — http://dwatch.ca/camp/RelsDec0511.html

    As is made clear from all of the above, you are the one who is dangerously distorting the facts David, as you did in your last blog posting on Dec. 13th.

    Once again, will you do the right thing and apologize for slandering Democracy Watch (I am still waiting for an apology for your slanderous statements in your Dec. 13th post)?

    And finally, in case anyone is wondering if anything David wrote about Democracy Watch has any credibility, it doesn’t.  Democracy Watch is very credible — that is why Democracy Watch was quoted or interviewed in more than 1,200 articles, TV and radio interviews in 2011 (and averages 1,000 media appearances each year)  — See list at: http://dwatch.ca/news.htm.  

    And the credibility of Democracy Watch (along with its proven ability to build movements and coalitions and work with many others (it organized and has coordinated 5 nation-wide coalitions for more than a decade)) are the main reasons Democracy Watch has won more than 110 changes to federal and provincial laws in the past 18 years, more than any other citizen group in Canada — see details at: http://dwatch.ca/history.html.

    Reply
  3. Duff Conacher

    David, David, once again distorting the facts and failing to check what Democracy Watch actual said before you slander Democracy Watch — what a way to begin the new year.

    First, on the Open Government Partnership site you link to — http://www.opengovpartnership.org/new-country-guidance — under #1 it says “The consultation process should begin soon after the government has expressed its intent to join OGP”.  The Conservatives expressed that intent on Sept. 19th — http://www.opengovpartnership.org/countries/canada — but didn’t begin the consultation until Dec. 6th (which is not soon after Sept. 19th).  So the Conservatives broke that commitment.

    That was one day before the Dec. 7-8th OGP meeting in Brazil (it was in December, not November as you mistakenly claim) at which, under #4 on the above OGP website, it states that the Conservatives (and other governments) were expected to “Come prepared to share your draft commitments”.  The Conservatives have not prepared, nor released, draft OGP commitments because the public consultation doesn’t even end until Jan. 16th — so they broke that commitment.

    The OGP meeting in April is to set out final, not draft, OGP commitments in an Action Plan.

    As for the Jason Fekete article, you cite a paragraph in which no one from Democracy Watch is quoted.  Any possibility that Fekete summarized Democracy Watch’s position incorrectly?  In your haste to slander Democracy Watch once again you ignored that possibility — strange given that you could have easily called or emailed Democracy Watch to check, or simply read the Democracy Watch news release you cited in your Dec. 13th blog post.

    Does that news release say that Democracy Watch is petitioning the federal Conservatives to leave OGP, as you claim?  No.  Does that news release say that Democracy Watch will appeal to the OGP Steering Committee to reject Canada’s entry into OGP because the Conservatives failed to consult with Canadians (as Jason Fekete claimed and you blindly cited without checking?  No.

    What the news release actually says (at the end of it) is that “Democracy Watch’s Open Government Coalition, Government Ethics Coalition and Money in Politics Coalition will continue to push the federal Conservatives to fulfill all of their Open Government Partnership OGP commitments in their final action plan, and if they don’t will appeal to the OGP Steering Committee to reject the Conservative government’s membership in OGP.”

    If you work with an organization, please have them consider joining the many groups already in the 3 coalitions linked above — details are on the pages linked above.

    I know it takes time to read through the news release (which sets out in detail the actual facts concerning what countries joining the OGP are required to do and to commit to in their Action Plan).  But really David, you should check your facts before you slander Democracy Watch.  Here is the link to the news release to make it easy for everyone to check the facts — http://dwatch.ca/camp/RelsDec0511.html

    As is made clear from all of the above, you are the one who is dangerously distorting the facts David, as you did in your last blog posting on Dec. 13th.

    Once again, will you do the right thing and apologize for slandering Democracy Watch (I am still waiting for an apology for your slanderous statements in your Dec. 13th post)?

    And finally, in case anyone is wondering if anything David wrote about Democracy Watch has any credibility, it doesn’t.  Democracy Watch is very credible — that is why Democracy Watch was quoted or interviewed in more than 1,200 articles, TV and radio interviews in 2011 (and averages 1,000 media appearances each year)  — See list at: http://dwatch.ca/news.htm.  

    And the credibility of Democracy Watch (along with its proven ability to build movements and coalitions and work with many others (it organized and has coordinated 5 nation-wide coalitions for more than a decade)) are the main reasons Democracy Watch has won more than 110 changes to federal and provincial laws in the past 18 years, more than any other citizen group in Canada — see details at: http://dwatch.ca/history.html.

    Reply

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