Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government – A Critical Review

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My original plan this week was to post about March Madness which is the usual spending that seems to occur as the end of the government fiscal year approaches. That post will be released next week. This week, I want to address Canada’s Action Plan released by the Government of Canada as part of the Open Government Partnership being held in Brazil.

Photo credit: Jenn Gearey

The Canadian Government published its Action Plan on Open Government which is a document that lays out the goals of the Open Government initiative and fulfills the government’s pledge to create tangible goals on Open Government.

Canada still lags far behind Open Government leaders such as the United Kingdom and the United States. Does this document set the path to catch up and surpass these countries?

There are definitely aspects of the plan which offer some hope of Canada’s move to a more open and accessible government. For example, the document offers an interesting policy position that assumes that open data and open government as the default policy position of the government. This is a large departure from traditional public administration that is often secretive and protecting of information and it will be interesting to see how this policy is applied in government operations.

The document also addresses Access to Information which is an area I have a personal interest in. This document does not propose any modifications to the Access to Information Act which is disappointing but understandable considering the political risks that could bring. The Access to Information Act has needed a modernization overhaul for many years now and it is disappointing that this document wasn’t used to address that issue. However, one section was interesting. There is hope in the ATI world though as the government will be introducing an online request and payment service for ATI requests. This solves one common problem of accessibility to the ATI world as cheques are no longer the only acceptable method of payment for a request. In future years, the government will make ATI request summaries searchable online. This is definitely a step forward. There are still areas for improvement in the ATI system. For example, the website http://www.muckrock.com offers US citizens a simplified process for making Freedom of Information Requests. As described on its about page:

MuckRock makes it easy for you to quickly file Freedom of Information requests, taking out the hassle and only updating you with the results. No need to stamp an envelope, look up an agency address or learn how to properly draft a legal demand: Just type what you’re interested in, click submit and then receive your documents scanned, searchable and sharable. We’ll even help you analyze them.

MuckRock acts as a request proxy, e-mailing, faxing or even snail mailing the request on your behalf, with the documents returning to our offices to be prepared for your convenience.

However, as much as the document is encouraging and I am excited to see how it is implemented, I am also cautious about some items that are missing. Canada has a lot of work ahead to catch up to the leaders in the open government world such as the United States and the United Kingdom. For example, http://challenge.gov, a website that the United States government has established to engage citizens and leverage their knowledge and experience is an example of something I’d love to see Canada adopt.

At the end of the day, the action plan provided hopeful steps forward but not a giant leap forward. It’s a document of experiments and not risk taking. If the bureaucracy is to meet the needs of the 21st century world, we need risk takers. This document begins that process but there is still a lot of work to do.

Scott McNaughton, thenewbureaucracy.ca and govstories.tumblr.com

Edited: April 23 @3:30PM EST

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Profile Photo Neil McEvoy

Yes Scott, this seems to be a symptom of an overall weak ICT strategy capability of the Canadian govt. They’re lacking in all related areas, like not having a Digital Economy Strategy, etc.