Getting Political Parties to think about Open Government/Data

Next week the Liberals will be hosting a “Thinkers Conference” in Montreal. In preparation for the event the party has been hosting articles outlining ideas for Canada’s 150th anniversary. Because of my work around open government and open data they asked if I would pen a piece on the subject for them.

I agreed.

The odds of getting open data increase dramatically if politicians get behind the initiative (it certainly helped a great deal here in Vancouver with both the Mayor and Councilor Reimer being vocal advocates). So, since they asked, I wrote.

You can read the piece here (et, en francais, ici). More importantly, if you have a moment, please consider leaving a comment under the piece. Political parties react to what voters and citizens say matters – so having a number of people react to the piece would send a message that citizens want better, more open government, as well as a strategy for building a 21st century economy.

Also, my piece from yesterday ended up in the Globe in case you missed it.

10 thoughts on “Getting Political Parties to think about Open Government/Data

  1. Pingback: Getting Political Parties to think about Open Government/Data … | Chi 90

  2. Duff Conacher

    An interesting but not very convincing or compelling argument by Mr. Eaves, mainly because it is inaccurate in many ways. All the federal government’s information is not locked in government computers — if it was, then weather information would not be available. And in fact, hundreds of data sets are available and accessible from Statistics Canada, Environment Canada, Elections Canada and many other government institutions, and Parliamentary agendas and Hansard are already downloadable in the same way as weather reports.

    As well, you can already fairly easily search and find out on the parliament.gc.ca website which riding you stand in, the riding MP, and their voting record (which isn’t really useful given the pairing system in the House that means MPs are often justifiably absent for votes), email address and most recent quotations in the House (not as easily as it could be, but it is all there)

    As well, as Mr. Eaves points out, taxpayers are already paying for this information to be created by a person employed by the federal government person — it is not efficient in any way for another job to be created by someone re-selling that information, nor should taxpayers have to pay again for the information.

    So, what are the actual problems with secrecy in the federal government, and the benefitsof open government, and how should open government be achieved?

    Secret lobbying, secret donations, and secret meetings and communications (including not keeping a record of decisions and actions) are still legal in federal politics for unjustifiable reasons. This secrecy is a recipe for corruption, waste and other abuses of the public interest, and so must be made illegal.

    Loopholes in the federal Access to Information Act allow for many documents to be kept secret that the public has a clear right to see, and for which disclosure is in the public interest.

    As well, information management systems are not uniform and as easily accessible as they could be across the federal government, and as a result some of the data sets are not available online in various formats that are useful for various users.

    Finally, the federal Information Commissioner lacks the power that some provincial commissioners have to order the release of information if it is in the public interest and no one’s health or safety would be endangered by the disclosure.

    Make these changes and thousands of jobs will not be created, but many efficiencies (mainly in the federal government) will be achieved and Canada’s democracy strengthened.

    To see the list of all the changes needed to close all of the undemocratic and accountability loopholes in the federal government, go to:
    http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/SummaryOfLoopholes.html

    Hope this helps,
    Duff Conacher, Coordinator
    Democracy Watch

    Duff Conacher, Coordinator
    Democracy Watch

    P.O. Box 821, Stn. B
    Ottawa, Canada
    K1P 5P9
    Tel: (613) 241-5179
    Fax: (613) 241-4758
    Email: dwatch@web.net
    Internet: http://www.dwatch.ca

    Since 1993, making governments and corporations more accountable to you,
    and changing Canada into the world’s leading democracy

    Reply
  3. Duff Conacher

    An interesting but not very convincing or compelling argument by Mr. Eaves, mainly because it is inaccurate in many ways. All the federal government’s information is not locked in government computers — if it was, then weather information would not be available. And in fact, hundreds of data sets are available and accessible from Statistics Canada, Environment Canada, Elections Canada and many other government institutions, and Parliamentary agendas and Hansard are already downloadable in the same way as weather reports.

    As well, you can already fairly easily search and find out on the parliament.gc.ca website which riding you stand in, the riding MP, and their voting record (which isn’t really useful given the pairing system in the House that means MPs are often justifiably absent for votes), email address and most recent quotations in the House (not as easily as it could be, but it is all there)

    As well, as Mr. Eaves points out, taxpayers are already paying for this information to be created by a person employed by the federal government person — it is not efficient in any way for another job to be created by someone re-selling that information, nor should taxpayers have to pay again for the information.

    So, what are the actual problems with secrecy in the federal government, and the benefitsof open government, and how should open government be achieved?

    Secret lobbying, secret donations, and secret meetings and communications (including not keeping a record of decisions and actions) are still legal in federal politics for unjustifiable reasons. This secrecy is a recipe for corruption, waste and other abuses of the public interest, and so must be made illegal.

    Loopholes in the federal Access to Information Act allow for many documents to be kept secret that the public has a clear right to see, and for which disclosure is in the public interest.

    As well, information management systems are not uniform and as easily accessible as they could be across the federal government, and as a result some of the data sets are not available online in various formats that are useful for various users.

    Finally, the federal Information Commissioner lacks the power that some provincial commissioners have to order the release of information if it is in the public interest and no one’s health or safety would be endangered by the disclosure.

    Make these changes and thousands of jobs will not be created, but many efficiencies (mainly in the federal government) will be achieved and Canada’s democracy strengthened.

    To see the list of all the changes needed to close all of the undemocratic and accountability loopholes in the federal government, go to:
    http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/SummaryOfLoopholes.html

    Hope this helps,
    Duff Conacher, Coordinator
    Democracy Watch

    Duff Conacher, Coordinator
    Democracy Watch

    P.O. Box 821, Stn. B
    Ottawa, Canada
    K1P 5P9
    Tel: (613) 241-5179
    Fax: (613) 241-4758
    Email: dwatch@web.net
    Internet: http://www.dwatch.ca

    Since 1993, making governments and corporations more accountable to you,
    and changing Canada into the world’s leading democracy

    Reply
  4. David Eaves

    Dear Duff Conacher,Your response saddened me on three levels:First, your response lacks vision. I completely agree with you that open data will make democracy better and find efficiencies in government. Indeed, we are allies in this cause (part of why your aggressively critical response took me aback). But you offer nothing to suggest that my analysis that wealth will not be created. Indeed, I might suggest picking up the February 27th edition of the Economist in which both the cover, lead story and the entire 15 page special review is about how data (and open data) is changing industries and is the new driver of growth in the economy.Second, contrary to your claim, data is not accessible. Yes there are a handful of datasets the government makes somewhat available. Almost none of these can be found in machine readable format (essentially rendering them useless for analysis – please jump on over to the 3 Laws of Open Government Data). Yes, you can search and read things – but this does not make the data usable. The sites created by groups like The Sunlight Foundation rely on open structured data. I don't go into all the techno jargon of API's, webhooks and open standards as frankly, most readers won't care. But these are what make data (such as the one open data set we do get from government… voting records) open.Finally, even if I (and the Economist, and IBM, and Google, and pretty much everyone else online) were wrong about the economy… why attack me? What do you gain? We both want greater transparency from our government. We both want a more efficient and effective government. Indeed, we are aligned in almost every way. You are correct that there are indeed still more challenges than I enumerated, especially around the number of secret documents, the completely broken ATIP request system (something I speak about regularly – such as at the Privacy Commissioner's Right to Know Week event for parliamentarians) and most ominously, the increasingly prevalence of public servants being ordered to not take notes in a meeting (something I've written about for the Globe here). But that was not the point of my piece. Moreover, nothing I was arguing for detracts from those concerns, indeed, it may help address them.We are allies Duff Conacher – but you don't make it easy and we all suffer as a result.Best,Dave

    Reply
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  7. Duff Conacher

    David,We are allies, which is why there is no need to assume a tone to my constructive criticism — it was not aggressive, or intended to be aggressive, in any way, nor was I attacking you.The moderator of the Can150.ca site obviously didn't view my post as an attack because they posted it (and they have an explicit rule against posts that states “we ask that users keep their comments on topic, non-partisan, use language that is civil and respectful, and refrain from attacks of any kind. We reserve the right to remove or not post any comments or information that do not meet these requirements.”Many of your statements were inaccurate, and therefore not convincing — I can't understand why you can't take that as constructive criticism if you actually have a concern (as you express in your message below) with truth-telling (unless you think that only governments should have regard for the truth?).It is simply not true that all government data is locked up in government computers, which is exactly what you claimed.Now you have switched to “a handful” of datasets being available — I am not sure what your definition of “a handful” is, but it can't include Statistics Canada data (which dozens of economists use daily), and the dozens of other datasets that are available. Sure (as I acknowledged in my response) many datasets can be made available in more formats, but if you think exaggeration is going to convince any policy-maker to change their ways, I can tell you from 20 years of citizen advocacy experience it won't, it will just insult them and get their backs up.As well, as several reporters have done (in particular Glen McGregor at the Ottawa Citizen) and others, if you request most datasets in machine-readable format you can get them in that format.I didn't attack you about the economy in any way — don't know where you get that?And your point about wealth creation is at least highly questionable if not inaccurate, if someone re-formats and re-sells government data to taxpayers (both businesses and individuals) that taxpayers have already paid for, that does not create wealth, it takes away from wealth (because everyone is paying twice). Far better to have government make the data available in all formats for free so no one has to buy it again (which governments can do by working not harder, but simply smarter).As for the new claim in your message below that there is an “increasing prevalence of public servants being ordered to not take notes” — how do you know it is an increasing prevalence? Anyone who knows inside details of the history of the federal ATI Act and provincial laws knows that the failing to take notes began to occur in all jurisdictions as soon as the laws were passed, as the easiest and legal way to avoid the Act's accountability intent.And reading the piece you refer to in the Globe raises many other questions which overall add up to — Do you really have any evidence that the ruling party politicians today have less regard for truth-telling, and less respect for public servants, than past ruling party politicians? I don't think you could come close to proving that claim because, simply, there are many, many examples of exactly the same behavior by past ruling party politicians. Just read the following Democracy Watch news release for many examples from the past 15 years alone:http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/RelsNov0707.htmlDo you really think things were more open, truthful and public servants better respected before the federal whistleblower protection law of 2007, the federal Lobbyists Registration Act of 1988, the federal ATI Act of 1983, or during the Korean War or World War II?Any activist who is interested in being an effectivist (effective at winning changes, not just active on an issue), should be open to constructive criticism about how they are framing arguments, and making arguments. Why? Because more effectively framed, accurate (and non-partisan) arguments are more likely to win changes because they are more convincing to voters and policy-makers.If you examine why and how Democracy Watch has won more changes to federal laws than any other citizen group in Canada in the past 15 years, you would see that effectively framed, accurate and non-partisan arguments have been the key to this winning record.As an ally, I was offering such constructive criticism — I really don't understand why you took it as an aggressive attack.Take care and bye for now,Duff

    Reply
  8. Duff Conacher

    David,We are allies, which is why there is no need to assume a tone to my constructive criticism — it was not aggressive, or intended to be aggressive, in any way, nor was I attacking you.The moderator of the Can150.ca site obviously didn't view my post as an attack because they posted it (and they have an explicit rule against posts that states “we ask that users keep their comments on topic, non-partisan, use language that is civil and respectful, and refrain from attacks of any kind. We reserve the right to remove or not post any comments or information that do not meet these requirements.”Many of your statements were inaccurate, and therefore not convincing — I can't understand why you can't take that as constructive criticism if you actually have a concern (as you express in your message below) with truth-telling (unless you think that only governments should have regard for the truth?).It is simply not true that all government data is locked up in government computers, which is exactly what you claimed.Now you have switched to “a handful” of datasets being available — I am not sure what your definition of “a handful” is, but it can't include Statistics Canada data (which dozens of economists use daily), and the dozens of other datasets that are available. Sure (as I acknowledged in my response) many datasets can be made available in more formats, but if you think exaggeration is going to convince any policy-maker to change their ways, I can tell you from 20 years of citizen advocacy experience it won't, it will just insult them and get their backs up.As well, as several reporters have done (in particular Glen McGregor at the Ottawa Citizen) and others, if you request most datasets in machine-readable format you can get them in that format.I didn't attack you about the economy in any way — don't know where you get that?And your point about wealth creation is at least highly questionable if not inaccurate, if someone re-formats and re-sells government data to taxpayers (both businesses and individuals) that taxpayers have already paid for, that does not create wealth, it takes away from wealth (because everyone is paying twice). Far better to have government make the data available in all formats for free so no one has to buy it again (which governments can do by working not harder, but simply smarter).As for the new claim in your message below that there is an “increasing prevalence of public servants being ordered to not take notes” — how do you know it is an increasing prevalence? Anyone who knows inside details of the history of the federal ATI Act and provincial laws knows that the failing to take notes began to occur in all jurisdictions as soon as the laws were passed, as the easiest and legal way to avoid the Act's accountability intent.And reading the piece you refer to in the Globe raises many other questions which overall add up to — Do you really have any evidence that the ruling party politicians today have less regard for truth-telling, and less respect for public servants, than past ruling party politicians? I don't think you could come close to proving that claim because, simply, there are many, many examples of exactly the same behavior by past ruling party politicians. Just read the following Democracy Watch news release for many examples from the past 15 years alone:http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/RelsNov0707.htmlDo you really think things were more open, truthful and public servants better respected before the federal whistleblower protection law of 2007, the federal Lobbyists Registration Act of 1988, the federal ATI Act of 1983, or during the Korean War or World War II?Any activist who is interested in being an effectivist (effective at winning changes, not just active on an issue), should be open to constructive criticism about how they are framing arguments, and making arguments. Why? Because more effectively framed, accurate (and non-partisan) arguments are more likely to win changes because they are more convincing to voters and policy-makers.If you examine why and how Democracy Watch has won more changes to federal laws than any other citizen group in Canada in the past 15 years, you would see that effectively framed, accurate and non-partisan arguments have been the key to this winning record.As an ally, I was offering such constructive criticism — I really don't understand why you took it as an aggressive attack.Take care and bye for now,Duff

    Reply

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