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Stephen Harper's Secret Open Data Survey

Shhhhh. Don't tell anybody, but the Harper government is 'consulting' Canadians on Open Government. Well, sort of. There has been no press release about the consultation program. No ad campaign, either. And the program was quietly started in the middle of summer, while everyone was on vacation. It's almost as if Harper doesn't want anyone to know about it. Crazy talk, right?

Shhhhh. Don't tell anybody, but the Harper™ government is 'consulting' Canadians on Open Government. Well, sort of.

There was no press release announcing the consultation when the notice popped up on the federal government's Open Data website late last month, and the deadline is this Monday, September 9. At least we have until midnight Pacific time to submit our thoughts.

Of course if you don't really want to hear from people about open government, a good strategy is to bury the announcement deep on the Treasury Board web page in August, don't let the media know about it, and make sure the consultation happens when lots of people are on holiday or getting themselves (or maybe their kids) ready to go back to school.

For those who did spot the consolation announcement, the three questions the government would like answers to are as follows:

  • How do you think we did in meeting our year-1 commitments within the Action Plan? (e.g. Open Government Licence, Modernizing the administration of Access to Information, new site, etc.)
  • Of the 12 Action Plan commitments, which do you think still require the most attention to achieve the objectives identified, and why?
  • Are there any other comments or suggestions you would like to make pertaining to the Government of Canada's Open Government initiative?

Clear as mud? A bit of explanation is in order.

Canada has joined an international organization called the Open Government Partnership, which requires member states to make commitments to openness and to also to consult with their people about transparency issues.

The Harper™ Government's 12 commitments are largely related to posting information on government websites. Despite a letter from every Information Commissioner in the country asking for amendments to the seriously outdated Access to Information Act, no action has been forthcoming from the government.

There are only two government commitments relating to ATI, and they aren't much.

One is a pilot project to allow Canadians to make ATI requests online. This is an improvement over the current system, which requires a letter and a five dollar cheque payable to the Receiver-General for Canada, and which former Information Commissioner Robert Marleau said cost the federal government more than $50 to process. Of course the major problem isn't in how fast we get our requests to the government, it's the endless delays once they cash our cheques.

In fact, one government body doesn't even acknowledge receiving ATI requests anymore. The RCMP, the national law enforcement body, has decided that it is just too busy, and doesn't even let people know that their request has been received. Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault is not impressed, at least not favourably.

The other commitment, also useful, is to post summaries of information released through ATI requests, once someone has gone to the trouble, cost and delay of beating it out of the government in the first place.

These small improvements fall far short of the changes that are necessary. Due to space limitations, I can't provide a list of even the last six months worth of anti-transparency moves by the federal government. But it is important to make a point of reminding our leaders in Ottawa that we have not forgotten, even if there are only have a few days left to do it.

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