Category Archives: Open Government

Remembering Lives Lost and Uncounted

Remembrance Day is a time to reflect on the sacrifices made by serving members of the armed forces in duty to their Commonwealth countries. This includes dedicated careers, the deterioration of mental and emotional health, and loss of lives. While the stated reasons for these sacrifices have varied according to governing parties, November 11 is a time to recognize that individuals chose (and continue to choose) to make sacrifices for the sake of improving society as a whole. To this end, the League of Nations (LON) and United Nations (UN) were established to prevent the horrors and losses of the First and Second World Wars from happening again.

However, the LON and UN created more than an era of relative peace: they initiated a system of comparative international statistics. The 20th century marks our first opportunity to reliably compare indicators of health, finance, labour, education, and gender across nations. Over time, these statistics have shown us which programs alleviate poverty and which do not.

Naturally, this system is only as good as the statistical capacity of its member governments. For many years, Canada was considered a leader in this area, with our statisticians playing key roles in the development of programs that came to define organizations like the United Nations Development Programme. This standing and capacity has been all but destroyed over the past ten years under Harper’s Conservatives. For many, the death knell of Canada’s reputation for statistical capacity was marked by the cancellation of the long-form census in 2011.

Happily, the Liberals have announced the return of the long-form census. This is a common sense response to the deeply flawed and much more expensive National Household Survey that was introduced by the Conservatives.

We should be grateful for this reinstatement of sanity, but we should also remember what was lost. Thousands were uncounted in 2011, making it difficult and often impossible for organizations from all sectors to make informed decisions about their programs and services (this damage is well documented elsewhere: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/cities-footing-the-bill-for-data-gap-after-long-form-census-scrapped/article22695286/). Moving forward, these five years will remain a black hole for comparable statistics from and for Canada.

Perhaps more importantly, we should remember why the 2011 census was lost. The census was lost because Canadians elected a government that placed the needs of the individual, as well as an uninformed obsession with frugality, above the needs of society as a whole. It demonstrates a lack of respect for the social contract underlying governance in a liberal democracy. Serving members of the armed forces understand the need for individuals to make sacrifices for a greater good. Let’s make sure they have leaders that understand this too.

Never again.

For more commentary on the return of the long-form census in Canada, see:

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy
http://news.sciencemag.org/policy/2015/11/canada-expected-reinstate-mandatory-census

The Liberals Just Restored Canada’s Long-Form Census. Here’s Why That Matters
http://www.desmog.ca/2015/11/05/liberals-just-restored-canada-s-long-form-census-here-s-why-matters

 

Renaming Federal Research Libraries after Harper a Fitting Tribute

Since the defeat of the Conservative government on Oct. 19, there has been extensive discussion around the government’s legacy, and particularly that of its leader, Stephen Harper. One early suggestion (facing significant opposition) is to rename the Calgary airport after Harper (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/renaming-calgary-airport-duelling-petitions-1.3291241).

While naming the airport after Harper would follow a tradition (e..g Pearson in Toronto or Trudeau in Montreal), there are far more fitting federal institutions that could and should bear Harper’s name. In particular, the remaining federal libraries would be an ideal set of institutions to name after Harper. Given the Harper government’s penchant for closing and consolidating federal libraries (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/research-library-s-closure-shows-harper-government-targets-science-at-every-turn-union-says-1.3199761) those that remain deserve a particular mark and moniker to demonstrate their ability to withstand the trend of federal library collections being moved from buildings to dumpsters. In addition, naming the federal libraries after Harper would likely serve as a means to ensure that future Conservative governments would carefully consider closing any more federal libraries as they bear the name of the former party leader. Perhaps the government could also restore the estimated 1.55 million government websites to be eliminated as part of the Treasury Board’s ROT plan (http://plgedmonton.ca/information-policies-under-the-harper-government-part-4-treasury-boards-reduce-redundant-outdated-and-trivial-rot-web-content/) under a special section of the Canada.ca website known as the “Clement Collection.”

Indeed there would seem to be no shortage of federal information services and institutions that could be renamed as fitting reminders to the dark decade.

Harper Signs on to Draconian Copyright Provisions… Tells Canadians Nothing about Them

In light of today’s announcement PLG Edmonton is re-posting an information sheet and presentation by then University of Alberta student Cari Postnokoff, originally posted in February 2014, regarding the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

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The Trans Pacific Partnership is a trade deal currently under negotiation behind closed doors. It has the potential to profoundly affect Canadian intellectual property laws. PLG Edmonton member Cari Lynn Postnikoff has put together this information sheet on the Trans Pacific Partnership. Get informed and share it around. You can also see her presenting on the topic at the 2014 Forum for Information Professionals at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta below.

If the Info Sheet isn’t appearing, you can download it here.

Information Policies Under the Harper Government Part 3: Cancellation of the Long Form Census

One Line Description: Despite living in the so-called ‘information age’ the Harper Government has decided to make the Government of Canada vastly less informed on its own country by eliminating the long-form census.

Short Description: The government’s 2010 decision to eliminate the long-form census in 2011 and all subsequent censuses under the guise of strengthening privacy[1] greatly limits the ability of the government to effectively plan for programs and services such as benchmarking the Labour Force Survey and calculating regional unemployment rates for the EI program.[2] The replacement of the long-form census with the voluntary National Household Survey has introduced the pervasive risk of sampling bias and underrepresentation of minority groups into government planning.[3]

Details: The government’s claim of protecting privacy by eliminating the threat of jail time was a spurious defence at best as Canadians already face the prospect of incarceration for refusing to complete two other Census (the short form Census and the Census of Agriculture).[4] Furthermore, over the past several decades there have been only a handful of complaints to the Privacy Commissioner’s Office about the claimed intrusiveness of the survey. The elimination of the mandatory long-form census and its replacement with a voluntary survey has met near universal criticism from a wide range of Canadian individuals and organizations. Datalibre.ca has compiled a list of proponents and opponents of government’s decision. Only a handful of organizations and individuals have spoken out if favour of abandoning the long-form census including The National Citizens Coalition, The Frasier Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Nearly 500 groups and individuals have gone on record against the move including three provinces (Ontario, Quebec and PEI), over 40 cities and a broad range of civil society and professional organizations.[5] Now, several years after the cancellation of the long-form census the impacts are starting to be felt most heavily. Harvey Low, manager of social research at the City of Toronto has stated that Canada’s largest city is now “less sure” about the characteristics of communities it is serving, has “huge gaps” in assessing health trends in the nation’s largest city, and ultimately ends up costing the city more for lower quality data.[6]

[1] Tony Clement. “Statement on the 2011 Census.” http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=547529

[2] Statistics Canada, Methodology of the Canadian Labour Force Survey, Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 71-526-X: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/71-526-x/71-526-x2007001-eng.pdf ;and, David A. Green and Kevin Milligan, “The Importance of the Long Form Census to Canada,” Canadian Public Policy, 36(3), (2010), 386.

[3] Ivan Fellegi, Evidence before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, 40th Parl. 3rd Sess., (27 July 2010): http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=4648017&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3  

[4] Marc Garneau. Evidence before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, 40th Parl., 3rd Sess., (27 July 2010).

[5] Datalibre.ca, “Census Watch: List of Organizations Against and Supporting the Government’s Position on the cancellation of the Long Form of the 2011 Census,” (23 Dec. 2010): http://datalibre.ca/census-watch/

[6] Harvey Low, as quoted in, Tavia Grant. “Damage from Cancelled Census as Bad as Feared, Researchers Say.” The Globe and Mail, 29 Jan. 2015. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/cities-footing-the-bill-for-data-gap-after-long-form-census-scrapped/article22695286/

Information Policies Under the Harper Government Part 2: Market Forces Orientation of Telecom Policy

One-Line Description: Harper Government Believes Shareholders of Bell, Rogers, Telus, Shaw and other Media Companies should Decide Canadian Telecommunications Policy

Short Description: In 2006 the Harper Cabinet directed the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada’s national telecommunications regulator, to effectively not regulate and to “rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible as the means of achieving the telecommunication policy objectives”[1]

Details: Not even a full year into its first minority mandate, the Harper Government used an Order in Council (basically a decision of Cabinet that, unlike legislation, does not have to be approved by Parliament) to direct the CRTC to rely on market forces to the maximum extent possible while using regulation “to the minimum extent necessary.”[2] In 2007, Industry Canada, which has both policy and regulatory responsibilities for the wireless sector adopted the same approach in its Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada which stated, “Market forces should be relied upon to the maximum extent feasible.”[3] While the Canadian Telecommunications Policy, contained in section 7 of the Telecommunications Act, does carve out a role for market forces, these are balanced against several other policy objectives.[4] Not only does such policy direction demonstrate a lack of leadership in a key sector (particularly for a country the size of Canada where telecommunications plays a key role in connecting Canadians and communities), it is particularly poor policy in country where the five largest companies capture 86% (or $38.5 billion) of all telecommunication sector revenues.[5] Furthermore, it does little to advance the interests of rural and remote Canadians who live in areas where market forces don’t exist since it does not encourage the deployment of high quality, affordable and reliable telecommunications services in their areas.

[1] Order Issuing a Direction to the CRTC on Implement the Canadian Telecommunications Policy Objectives.1(a)(i). SOR/2006-355. Dec 14, 2006. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2006-355/page-1.html

[2] Order Issuing a Direction to the CRTC on Implement the Canadian Telecommunications Policy Objectives.1(a)(ii). SOR/2006-355. Dec 14, 2006. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2006-355/page-1.html

[3] Industry Canada. Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada. p. 9. https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/smt-gst.nsf/vwapj/spf2007e.pdf/$FILE/spf2007e.pdf

[4] Telecommunications Act. s. 7. (S.C. 1993, c. 38). http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/t-3.4/page-2.html#h-6

[5] Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Communications Monitoring Report 2014. p. iv. http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/publications/reports/PolicyMonitoring/2014/cmr.pdf

Information Policy Under the Harper Government Part 1: Cuts to LAC/Caron’s Leadership

Cuts to LAC/Caron’s Leadership

One Line Description: Terrible Management and Significant Underfunding Crippling our National Library and Archive

Short Summary:  Through a combination of poor management (former LAC Head Daniel Caron) and significant budget cuts (from $117 million in 2012-2013 FY[1] down to $93 million in FY 2015-16[2]), the Harper Government significantly reduced LAC’s ability to play a leadership role in the Canadian library and archival communities and for the organization to carry out core functions.

Details:  In 2009 the Harper Government appointed career bureaucrat Daniel Caron to head LAC, despite the fact he held no background in either library and information science or archival studies. Caron consistently demonstrated little understanding of the two professions suggesting in 2010 that both may become irrelevant, and urging that a complete reinvention of information professionals dismissing the long and evolving history of both.[3]  Further indicating his lack of understanding, in 2012 in testimony before a Parliamentary Committee, Caron suggested that the work of cataloguing materials including archival materials had become unnecessary.[4]  Under Caron’s dismal leadership of LAC was coupled with severe budget cuts eliminating roughly 20% of the organization’s budget in 2012 and causing staffing levels to fall from 1,117 in FY 2012-13[5] to 8,67 in FY 2015-16.[6]  The budget and staff cuts have left LAC unable to carry out core functions.  50% of its digitization staff was eliminated, and one estimate suggested that it would take 300 to 700 years for the organization to digitize its holdings.[7]  In 2013, LAC was unable to make available the 1921 Census data without partnering with a private company (Ancestry.ca).[8]  If LAC can’t, on its own, make available a 90 year old Census document, how will the organization play a key role in the country’s sesquicentennial – a role the Harper Government has consistently suggested it will play.[9]

[1]  Library and Archives Canada. Report on Plans and Priorities 2012-13, p. 15. http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/rpp/2012-2013/inst/bal/bal-eng.pdf

[2]  Library and Archives Canada. Report on Plans and Priorities 2015-16. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/about-us/report-plans-priorities/rpp-2015-2016/Pages/rpp-2015-16.aspx

[3]  Daniel Caron. “Memory Institutions in the 21st Century: The Need for Convergence and Collaboration.” http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/news/speeches/Pages/Memory-Institutions-in-the-21st-Century-The-Need-for-Convergence-and-Collaboration.aspx

[4]  Daniel Caron. Evidence before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages. 41st Parl. 1 Sess., Nov. 6, 2012.

[5]  Library and Archives Canada. Report on Plans and Priorities 2012-13, p. 15. http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/rpp/2012-2013/inst/bal/bal-eng.pdf

[6]  Library and Archives Canada. Report on Plans and Priorities 2015-16. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/about-us/report-plans-priorities/rpp-2015-2016/Pages/rpp-2015-16.aspx

[7]  Save Library and Archives Canada. “Digitization.” http://www.savelibraryarchives.ca/issues-digitization.aspx

[8]  LAC. “Census of Canada 1921 Now Available to Researchers.” http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/news/Pages/2013/08-1921-census.aspx

[9]  LAC. Report on Plans and Priorities 2014-15. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/about-us/report-plans-priorities/rpp-2014-2015/Pages/rpp-2014-15.aspx#_Toc378592486

 

PLG Edmonton Stands Against Bill C-51

PLG Edmonton is deeply concerned about the impact that Bill C-51 will have on public privacy and freedom of speech in Canada.    The Act puts the privacy of the personal information of Canadians at risk, and could also be used as a tool to limit freedom of expression in Canada.

Despite the intention of the federal government to protect Canadians from terrorism, the bill will expand the definition of security threats to actions that threaten public safety and ‘economic or financial stability of Canada’ (Stryker and Cheung, 2015). As a result the law could be used to target civil society organizations, protest groups, and other members of the public whose actions are viewed by the government as a threat to the economy, stifling debate and discussion around topics of concern to Canadians as a result.

The bill will also allow for easier sharing of Canadians’ personal information between federal departments and foreign agencies. The justification for this is that it will help police and security forces access important information they need to thwart potential terrorist acts. However, experts do not believe that the federal government has the proper infrastructure in place to ensure that the federal government can properly fulfill its responsibilities under the new law. Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien argues that under Bill C-51, there would be a lack of oversight and resources within his office to ensure that government agencies are not misusing this information (Beaulne-Stuebing, 2015).  Canadian anti-terrorist experts Craig Forcese and Kent Roach have said that Canada’s security review infrastructure lacks the essential resources it will need to review the work of CSIS as it assumes new security responsibilities (Forcese and Roach, 2014)

The privacy commissioner also believes that the bill could prevent the government from following correct records management practices.  He is concerned that as personal information is collected by various agencies, it could be retained for a longer period of time than it is needed. (Beaulne-Stuebing, 2015).

With the bill now having Royal Assent, we encourage repeal at the earliest possible juncture and demand that the federal government take into consideration the serious threats that this bill will pose to personal privacy and freedom of expression in Canada. We also encourage Canadians to remain vocal about Bill C-51 and its potential impact during the upcoming federal election campaign.

Beaulne-Stuebing, R. (23 Apr, 2015) Bill C-51 will strain my office’s resources: privacy commissioner. Retrieved from https://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/canada-politics/c-51-will-strain-my-offices-resources-privacy-215022028.html

Roach, K., Forcese, C. (2015) Canada’s Antiterror Gamble. Retrieved from:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/12/opinion/canadas-antiterror-gamble.html?_r=0

Stryker, A., Cheung, C. (March 11, 2015) 8 things you need to know about Bill C-51. Retrieved from:

https://bccla.org/2015/03/8-things-you-need-to-know-about-bill-c-51/

C-51 sees charter challenge from civil liberties, press freedom advocates

“In a joint statement, both the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression say sections of Bill C-51 violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ‘in a manner that is not justified in a free and democratic society.'”

For more information, please visit http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/c-51-sees-charter-challenge-from-civil-liberties-press-freedom-advocates-1.3161435

Edmonton shows national solidarity at C-51 protest

On March 14th Edmontonians protested the controversial C-51, which many academics and legal experts have argued violates Canadian’s intellectual freedom and freedom of speech. The protest was one of many that occurred across Canada – with Edmontontians joining the 78,000 protestors across the country. Protest organizer Doug Yearwood was interviewed by the Edmonton Examiner:

Some of the potential outcomes from this bill are far reaching…It gives CSIS the ability to share and collect information with other intelligence agencies, but it also allows them the ability to act on their own accord and commit what is otherwise known as disruption tactics, act on their own volition and create a secret police, so to speak.

The first thing everyone should do is start having a conversation with your MP. Even if you didn’t vote for them or don’t agree with them, one of the most important things you can do is let your MP know where you sit on this issue.

Source: http://www.edmontonexaminer.com/2015/03/18/edmonton-shows-national-solidarity-at-c-51-protest

Canadians can learn more about the bill at StopC51.ca.

 

Footage of the Bill C-51 Protest in Edmonton on March 14, 2015

Ready, Set, Democracy!

Quick! Only a few days left to comment on the draft of Canada’s Open Government Action Plan. Wait a minute… we only had a few days in the first place. So much for democratic process.

The Harper Government released a Draft Plan on Open Government on October 9, 2014: http://data.gc.ca/eng/canadas-draft-action-plan-open-government-20

But you only have until October 20 to provide comment. And there’s already a Directive on Open Government posted on the Treasury Board Secretariat Policy Suite (effective October 9, 2014): http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?section=text&id=28108

Hmm…. here’s a little inspiration for filling in that comment form:

Jim Bronskill, writing for the Canadian Press, points out that the Plan has missed the elephant in the room — it does not include much-needed changes to the outdated Access to Information Act: http://metronews.ca/news/canada/1180419/open-government-plan-silent-on-updating-law/

Can’t remember why the Act needs to change? Let the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression remind you: https://cjfe.org/resources/features/your-right-know-dwindling-right-canada

Here’s hoping we see more press coverage on this topic soon. Please add any links you find.