Tag Archives: data.gc.ca

Data.gc.ca – Data Sets I found that are interesting, and some suggestions

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the Canadian federal government’s open data portal. Over the past year government officials have been continuously adding to the portal, but as it isn’t particularly easy to browse data sets on the website, I’ve noticed a lot of people aren’t aware of what data is now available (self included!). Consequently, I want to encourage people to scan the available data sets and blog about ones that they think might be interesting to them personally, to others, or to communities of interests they may know.

Such an undertaking has been rendered MUCH easier thanks to the data.gc.ca administrators decision to publish a list of all the data sets available on the site. Turns out, there are 11680 data sets listed in this file. Of course, reviewing all this data took me much longer than I thought it would! (and to be clear, I didn’t explore each one in detail), but the process has been deeply interesting. Below are some thoughts, ideas and data sets that have come out of this exploration – I hope you’ll keep reading, and that it will be of interest to ordinary citizens, prospective data users and to managers of open government data portals.


A TagCloud of the Data Sets on data.gc.ca

Some Brief Thoughts on the Portal (and for others thinking about exploring the data)

Trying to review all the data sets on the portal is a enormous task and trying to do it has taught me some lessons about what works and doesn’t. The first is that, while the search function on the website is probably good if you have a keyword or a specific data you are looking for, it is much easier to browse the data in an excel than on the website. What was particularly nice about this is that, in excel, the data was often clustered by type. This made easy to spot related data sets – a great example of this when I found the data on “Building permits, residential values and number of units, by type of dwelling” I could immediately see there were about 12 other data sets on building permits available.

Another issue that became clear to me is the problem of how a data set is classified. For example, because of the way the data is structured (really as a report) the Canadian Dairy Exports data has a unique data file for every month and year (you can look at May 1988 as an example). That means each month is counted as a unique “data set” in the catalog. Of course, French and English versions are also counted as unique. This means that what I would consider to be a single data set “Canadian Dairy Exports Month Dairy Year from 1988 to present” actually counts as 398 data sets. This has two outcomes. First, it is hard to imagine anyone wants the data for just one month. This means a user looking for longitudinal data on this subject has to download 199 distinct data sets (very annoying). Why not just group it into one? Second, given that governments like to keep score about how many data sets they share – counting each month as a unique data set feels… unsportsmanlike. To be clear, this outcome is an artifact of how Agriculture Canada gathers and exports this data, but it is an example of the types of problems an open data catalog needs to come to grips with.

Finally, many users – particularly, but not exclusively, developers – are looking for data that is up to date. Indeed, real time data is particularly sexy since its dynamic nature means you can do interesting things with it. This it was frustrating to occasionally find data sets that were no longer being collected. A great example of this was the Provincial allocation of corporate taxable income, by industry. This data set jumped out at me as I thought it could be quite interesting. Sadly, StatsCan stopped collecting data on this in 1987 so any visualization will have limited use today. This is not to say data like this should be pulled from the catalog, but it might be nice to distinguish between datasets that are being collected on an ongoing basis versus those that are no longer being updated.

Data Sets I found Interesting

Just quickly before I begin, some quick thoughts on my very unscientific methodology for identifying interesting data sets.

  • First, browsing the data sets really brought home to me how many will be interesting to different groups – we really are in the world of the long tail of public policy. As a result, there is lots of data that I think will be interesting to many, many people that is not on this list.
  • Second, I tried to not include too much of StatsCan’s data. StatsCan data already has a fairly well developed user base. And while I’m confident that base is going to get bigger still now that its data is free, I figure there are already a number of people who will be sharing/talking about it
  • Finally, I’ve tried to identify some data sets that I think would make for good mashups or apps. This isn’t easy with federal government data sets since they tend do be more aggregate and high-level than say municipal data sets… but I’ve tried to tease out what I can. That said, I’m sure there is much, much more.

New GeoSpatial API!

So the first data set is a little bit of a cheat since it is not on the open data portal, but I was emailed about it yesterday and it is so damn exciting, I’ve got to share it. It is a recently released public BETA of a new RESTful API from the very cool people at GeoGratis that provides a consolidated access point to several repositories of geospatial data and information products including GeoGratis, GeoPub and Mirage. (huge thank you to the GeoGratis team for sending this to me).

Documentation can be found here (and in french here) and a sample search client that demonstrates some of its functionality and how to interact with the API can be found here. Formats include ATOM, HTML Fragment, CSV, RSS, JSON, and KML. (So you can see results – for example – in Google Earth by using the KML format (example here).

I’m also told that these fine folks have been working on geolocation service, so you can do sexy things like search by place name, by NTS map or by the first three characters of a postal code. Documentation will be posted here in english and french. Super geeks may notice that there is a field in the JSON called CGNDBkey. I’m also told you can use this key to select an individual placename according to the Canadian Geographic names board. Finally, you can also search all their Metadata through search engines like google (here is a sample search for gold they sent me).

All data is currently licensed under GeoGratis.

The National Pollutant Release Inventory

Description: The National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) is Canada’s public inventory of pollutant releases (to air, water and land), disposals and transfers for recycling.

Notes: This is the same data set (but updated) that we used to create emitter.ca. I frankly feel like the opportunities around this data set, for environmentalists, investors (concerned about regulatory and lawsuit risks), the real estate industry, and others, is enormous. The public could be very interested in this.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Program

Description: The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Program (GHGRP) is Canada’s legislated, publicly-accessible inventory of facility-reported greenhouse gas (GHG) data and information.

Notes: What interesting here is that while it doesn’t have lat/longs, it does have facility names and addresses. That means you should be able to cross reference it with the NPRI (which does have lat/longs) to be able to plot where the big greenhouse gas emitters are on a map. Think the same people as the NPRI might be interested in this data.

The Canadian Ice Thickness Program

Description: The Ice Thickness program dataset documents the thickness of ice on the ocean. Measurements begin when the ice is safe to walk on and continue until it is no longer safe to do so. This data can help gauge the impact of global warming and is relevant to shipping data in the north of Canada.

Notes: Students interested in global warming… this could make for some fun visualization.

Argo: Canadian Tracked Data

Description: Argo Data documents some of the approximately 3000 profiling floats were deployed around the world. Once at sea, the float sinks to a preprogrammed target depth of 2000 meters for a preprogrammed period of time. It then floats to the surface, taking temperature and salinity values during its ascent at set depths. — The Canadian Tracked Argo Datadescribes the Argo programme in Canada and provides data and information about Canadian floats.

Notes: Okay, so I can think of no use for this data, but I just that it was so awesome that people are doing this that I totally geeked out.

Civil Aircraft Register Database

Description: Civil Aircraft Register Database – this file contains the current mark, aircraft and owner information of all Canadian civil registered aircraft.

Notes: Here I really think there could be a geeky app. Just a simple app that you can type an aircraft’s number into and it will tell you the owner and details about the plane. I actually think the government could do a lot of work with this data. If regulatory and maintenance data were made available as well – then you’d have a powerful app that would tell you a lot about the planes you fly in. At a minimum would be of interest to flight enthusiasts.

Real Time Hydrometric Data Tool

Description: Real Time Hydrometric Data Tool – this site provides public access to real-time hydrometric (water level and streamflow) data collected at over 1700 locations in Canada. These data are collected under a national program jointly administered under federal-provincial and federal-territorial cost-sharing agreements. It is through partnerships that the Water Survey of Canada program has built a standardized and credible environmental information base for Canada. This dataset contains both current and historical datasets. The current month can be viewed in an HTML table, and historical data can be downloaded in CSV format.

Notes: So ripe for an API! What is cool is that the people at Environment Canada have integrated it into google maps. I could imagine fly fisherman and communities at risk of flooding being interested in this data set.

Access to information data sets

Description: 2006-2010 Access to Information and Privacy Statistics (With the previous years here, here and here.) is a compilation of statistical information about access to information and privacy submitted by government institutions subject to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act for 2006-2010.

Notes: I’d love to crunch this stuff again and see whose naughty and nice in the ATIP world…

Poultry and Forestry data

No links, BECAUSE THERE IS SO MUCH OF IT. Anyone interested in the Poultry or Forestry industry will find lots of data… obviously this stuff is useful to people who analyze these industries but I suspect there are a couple of “A” university level papers hidden in that data set as well.

Building Permits

There is tons on building permits., construction.. Actually one of the benefits of looking at the data in a spread sheet, easy to see other related data sets.


It really is amazing how much Statistic Canada data there is. Even reviewing something like the supply and demand of natural gas liquids got me thinking about the wealth of information trapped in there. One thing I do hope statscan starts to do is geolocate its data whenever possible.

Crime Data

As this has been in the news I couldn’t help but include it. It’s nice that any citizen can look at the crime data direct from StatsCan too see how our crime rate is falling (which is why we should build more expensive prisons) Crime statistics, by detailed offences. Of course unreported crime, which we all know is climbing at 3000% a year, is not included in these stats.

Legal Aid Applications

Legal aid applications, by status and type of matter. This was interesting to me since, here in BC there is much talk about funding for the Justice system and yet, the number of legal aid applications has remained more or less flat over the past 5 years.

National Broadband Coverage data

Description: The National Broadband Coverage Data represents broadband coverage information, by technology, for existing broadband service providers as of January 2012. Coverage information for Broadband Canada Program projects is included for all completed projects. Coverage information is aggregated over a grid of hexagons, which are each 6 km across. The estimated range of unserved / underserved population within in each hexagon location is included.

Notes: What’s nice is that there is lat/long data attached to all this, so mapping it, and potentially creating a heat map is possible. I’m certain the people at OpenMedia might appreciate such a map.

Census Consolidated Subdivision

Description: Census Consolidated Subdivision Cartographic Boundary Files portrays the geographic limits used for the 2006 census dissemination. The Census Consolidated Subdivision Boundary Files contain the boundaries of all 2,341 census consolidated subdivisions.

Notes: Obviously this one is on every data geeks radar, but just in case you’ve been asleep for the past 5 months, I wanted to highlight it.

Non-Emergency Surgeries, distribution of waiting times

Description: Non-emergency surgeries, distribution of waiting times, household population aged 15 and over, Canada, provinces and territories

Notes: Would love to see this at the hospital and clinic level!

Border Wait Times

Description: Estimates Border Wait Times (commercial and travellers flow) for the top 22 Canada Border Services Agency land border crossings.

Notes: Here I really think there is an app that could be made. At the very least there is something that could tell you historical averages and ideally, could be integrated into Google and Bing maps when calculating trip times… I can also imagine a lot of companies that export goods to the US are concerned about this issue and would be interested in better data to predict the costs and times of shipping goods. Big potential here.

Okay, that’s my list. Hope it inspires you to take a look yourself, or play with some of the data listed above!

Sharing ideas about data.gc.ca

As some of you may remember, the other week I suggested that on its one year anniversary we hack data.gc.ca – specifically, that people share what data sets they find most interesting on the website, especially as it is hard to search it.

Initially I’d uploaded a list of all the data sets on the catalog to buzzdata. However the other day the data.gc.ca administrators added a data set that is a list of all the data sets available on the site (meta, I know). This new list is, apparently, an even more robust and up to date list than the one I shared earlier and is available in both official languages.

If you do end up finding data you think is particularly interesting, creating a list of your favourite data sets, doing a mash up or visualization or (most ambitiously) creating a better way to search data.gc.ca please send me your results, a link, or at least an email. I’ll be posting what I find interesting tonight or tomorrow morning and would love to link to anything anyone else has done too!


Calculating the Value of Canada’s Open Data Portal: A Mini-Case Study

Okay, let’s geek out on some open data portal stats from data.gc.ca. I’ve got three parts to this review: First, an assessment on how to assess the value of data.gc.ca. Second, a look at what are the most downloaded data sets. And third, some interesting data about who is visiting the portal.

Before we dive in, a thank you to Jonathan C sent me some of this data to me the other day after requesting it from Treasury Board, the ministry within the Canadian Government that manages the government’s open data portal.

1. Assessing the Value of data.gc.ca

Here is the first thing that struck me. Many governments talk about how they struggle to find methodologies to measure the value of open data portals/initiatives. Often these assessments focus on things like number of apps created or downloaded. Sometimes (and incorrectly in my mind) pageviews or downloads are used. Occasionally it veers into things like mashups or websites.

However, one fairly tangible value of open data portals is that they cheaply resolve some access to information requests –  a point I’ve tried to make before. At the very minimum they give scale to some requests that previously would have been handled by slow and expensive access to information/freedom of information processes.

Let me share some numbers to explain what I mean.

The Canada Government is, I believe, only obligated to fulfill requests that originate within Canada. Drawing from the information in the charts later in this post, let’s say assume there were a total of 2200 downloads in January and that 1/3 of these originated from Canada – so a total of 726 “Canadian” downloads. Thanks to some earlier research, I happen to know that the office of the information commissioner has assessed that the average cost of fulfilling an access to information request in 2009-2010 was $1,332.21.

So in a world without an open data portal the hypothetical cost of fulfilling these “Canadian” downloads as formal access to information requests would have been $967,184.46 in January alone. Even if I’m off by 50%, then the cost – again, just for January – would still sit at $483,592.23. Assuming this is a safe monthly average, then over the course of a year the cost savings could be around $11,606,213.52 or $5,803,106.76 – depending on how conservative you’d want to be about the assumptions.

Of course, I’m well aware that not every one of these downloads would been an information request in a pre-portal world – that process is simply to burdensome. You have to pay a fee, and it has to be by check (who pays for anything by check any more???) so many of these users would simply have abandoned their search for government information. So some of these savings would not have been realized. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value. Instead the open data portal is able to more cheaply reveal latent demand for data. In addition, only a fraction of the government’s data is presently on the portal – so all these numbers could get bigger still. And finally I’m only assessing downloads that originated inside Canada in these estimates.

So I’m not claiming that we have arrived at a holistic view of how to assess the value of open data portals – but even the narrow scope of assessment I outline above generates financial savings that are not trivial, and this is to say nothing of the value generated by those who downloaded the data – something that is much harder to measure – or of the value of increased access to Canadians and others.

2. Most Downloaded Datasets at data.gc.ca

This is interesting because… well… it’s just always interesting to see what people gravitate towards. But check this out…

Data sets like the Anthropogenic disturbance footprint within boreal caribou ranges across Canada may not seem interesting, but the ground breaking agreement between the Forest Products Association of Canada and a coalition of Environmental Non-Profits – known as the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) – uses this data set a lot to assess where the endangered woodland caribou are most at risk. There is no app, but the data is critical in both protecting this species and in finding a way to sustainably harvest wood in Canada. (note, I worked as an adviser on the CBFA so am a) a big fan and b) not making this stuff up).

It is fascinating that immigration and visa data tops the list. But it really shouldn’t be a surprise. We are of course, a nation of immigrants. I’m sure that immigration and visa advisers, to say nothing of think tanks, municipal governments, social service non-profits and English as a second language schools are all very keen on using this data to help them understand how they should be shaping their services and policies to target immigrant communities.

There is, of course, weather. The original open government data set. We made this data open for 100s of years. So useful and so important you had to make it open.

And, nice to see Sales of fuel used for road motor vehicles, by province and territory. If you wanted to figure out the carbon footprint of vehicles, by province, I suspect this is a nice dataset to get. Probably is also useful for computing gas prices as it might let you get a handle on demand. Economists probably like this data set.

All this to say, I’m less skeptical than before about the data sets in data.gc.ca. With the exception of weather, these data sets aren’t likely useful to software developers – the group I tend to hear most from – but then I’ve always posited that apps were only going to be a tiny part of the open data ecosystem. Analysis is king for open data and there does appear to be people out there who are finding data of value for analyses they want to make. That’s a great outcome.

Here are the tables outlining the most popular data sets since launch and (roughly) in February.

  Top 10 most downloaded datasets, since launch

1 Permanent Resident Applications Processed Abroad and Processing Times (English) Citizenship and Immigration Canada 4730
2 Permanent Resident Summary by Mission (English) Citizenship and Immigration Canada 1733
3 Overseas Permanent Resident Inventory (English) Citizenship and Immigration Canada 1558
4 Canada – Permanent residents by category (English) Citizenship and Immigration Canada 1261
5 Permanent Resident Applicants Awaiting a Decision (English) Citizenship and Immigration Canada 873
6 Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) – City Page Weather Environment Canada 852
7 Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) – Weather Element Forecasts Environment Canada 851
8 Permanent Resident Visa Applications Received Abroad – English Version Citizenship and Immigration Canada  800
9 Water Quality Indicators – Reports, Maps, Charts and Data Environment Canada 697
10 Canada – Permanent and Temporary Residents – English version Citizenship and Immigration Canada 625

Top 10 most downloaded datasets, for past 30 days

1 Permanent Resident Applications Processed Abroad and Processing Times (English) Citizenship and Immigration Canada 481
2 Sales of commodities of large retailers – English version Statistics Canada  247
3 Permanent Resident Summary by Mission – English Version Citizenship and Immigration Canada 207
4 CIC Operational Network at a Glance – English Version Citizenship and Immigration Canada 163
5 Gross domestic product at basic prices, communications, transportation and trade – English version Statistics Canada 159
6 Anthropogenic disturbance footprint within boreal caribou ranges across Canada – As interpreted from 2008-2010 Landsat satellite imagery Environment Canada  102
7 Canada – Permanent residents by category – English version Citizenship and Immigration Canada  98
8 Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) – City Page Weather Environment Canada  61
9 Sales of fuel used for road motor vehicles, by province and territory – English version  Statistics Canada 52
10 Government of Canada Core Subject Thesaurus – English Version  Library and Archives Canada  51

3. Visitor locations

So this is just plain fun. There is not a ton to derive from this – especially as IP addresses can, occasionally, be misleading. In addition, this is page view data, not download data. But what is fascinating is that computers in Canada are not the top source of traffic at data.gc.ca. Indeed, Canada’s share of the traffic is actually quite low. In fact, in January, just taking into account the countries in the chart (and not the long tail of visitors) Canada accounted for only 16% of the traffic to the site. That said, I suspect that downloads were significantly higher from Canadian visitors – although I have no hard evidence of this, just a hypothesis.


•Total visits since launch: 380,276 user sessions

Let's Hack data.gc.ca

In just under two weeks data.gc.ca will celebrate its one year anniversary. This will also mark the period that the pilot project is officially supposed to end.

Looking at data.gc.ca three things stand out. First, the license has improved a great deal since its launch. Second, a LOT of data has been added to the site over the last year. And finally, the website is remarkably bad at searching for data and enabling a community of users.

Indeed, I believe that a lot of people have stopped visiting the site and don’t even know what data is available. My suspicion is that almost none of us know what is actually available since a) there is a lot, b) much of it is not sexy and c) it is very hard to search.

Let’s do something about that.

I have managed to create, and upload to buzzdata, a list of all the data sets in data.gc.ca – both geographic and non-geographic data sets.

I’m proposing that we go through the data.gc.ca data sets and find what is interesting to each of us, and on March 15th, find a way to highlight it or talk about it so that other people find out about it. Maybe you tweet about it (use the hashtah #gcdata) or blog about it.

Even more interesting would be if we could find a way to do it collaboratively – have a way of collectively marking what data sets are interesting (in say, a piratepad somewhere). If someone had a clever proposal about how to go through all the datasets, I’d love for us to collectively highlight the high value datasets (if there are any) available in data.gc.ca.

Speaking with the great community of open data activists in Ottawa, we brainstormed about organizing an event after work on the 15th where people might get together and do this. We could call it “The Big Search” – an effort in any city where people are interested to gather and comb through the data. All with the goal of signaling to developers, non-profits, journalists and others, what, if any, data in data.gc.ca might be of interest for analysis, applications, or other uses. In addition, this exercise would also help us write supportive and critical comments about the government’s open data trial.

Finally, and most ambitiously, I’ve heard some people say they’d like to design an alternative data portal – I’m definitely game for that and am happy to offer up the datadotgc.ca url for that too.

So, I’m throwing this out there. If there is interest, please comment below. Would love to hear your thoughts and hope we can maybe organize some events on March 15th, or at least posts data sets in blogs, on facebook and on twitter, that people think are interesting.