THE WEEK THAT WAS — APRIL 19, 2014

 

A new study will show whether Canada's government are violating or upholding your right to access their records. (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

A new study will show whether Canada’s governments are violating or upholding your right to access their records. (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

• Newspaper Canada’s next checkup on freedom of information in this country will soon be released following an attempt to ensure government officials don’t try to skew the results.

The audit, which has been led by King’s College journalism professor Fred Vallance-Jones, measures how fast our governments responds to freedom of information requests, as well as the cost and completeness of those responses.

In 2011 and 2012, that checkup was released to coincide with Canada’s Right To Know Week, which takes place at the end of September. But, this past year, that didn’t happen.

So, back in October, I asked Newspapers Canada, the industry association that commissions the review and represents the country’s newspaper publishers, about the status of the audit.

In response, Jason Grier — the association’s policy and public affairs senior advisor — stated in an email, “There have been some changes to the approach that are designed to help maintain the integrity of the audit.”

Specifically, “the changes will make it more difficult for information coordinators to guess that an inquiry is actually related to the audit” — potential resulting in that request being given preferential treatment.

“With each passing year, governments have become more aware of our annual FOI audit, increasing our risk that we will be detected.”

Grier went on to add, “We expect that the improvements will help ensure that the audit remains a strong barometer of how governments are performing when it comes to the right of access.”

The results of those improvements, according to 24 hours Vancouver’s Jeremy Nuttall, “will be released in the coming weeks.”

• Elections Canada has been supporting efforts to increase voter turnout among youth, aboriginals, immigrants, the homeless and seniors. But recent research into voting behaviour across the Atlantic suggests the agency might look into doing the same thing for lower income Canadians.

Last November, the Institute for Public Policy Research released a study reporting that, during the United Kingdom’s 2010 election, the wealthiest income group’s turnout rate was 22.7 percentage higher than that of the poorest income group.

By comparison, Elections Canada’s most recent research on voter turnout is less definitive about the relationship between the wage gap and the voting gap in this country.

But, in a May 2011 poll that surveyed 85,274 Canadians, the agency found employed individuals were nine percentage points more likely to vote than unemployed individuals. The survey, which did not ask about wealth, also found that home owners were 17 percentage points more likely to vote than renters. However, a 2010 study conducted by BC Stats found that, in British Columbia, income was “far and away the strongest single predictor” of turnout — except in the case of inconsistent voters.

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

 

THE WEEK THAT WAS — APRIL 12, 2014

In death, former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty may have become better known to Canadians than he was in life. (Photograph by Jason Ransom, Office of the Prime Minister)

In death, former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty may have become better known to Canadians than he was in life. (Photograph by Jason Ransom, Office of the Prime Minister)

• The death of former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty made front pages, headlines and broadcasts across the country. But it’s likely many Canadians didn’t even know who he was. In 2011, the Canadian Election Study asked 4,308 respondents to the name the country’s finance minister. Just 32 percent said Flaherty or an approximation of his name. By comparison, 68.1 percent didn’t know the identity of the Harper administration’s finance minister.

• The hacks may far outnumber the flacks in North America. But it’s somewhat different story across the Atlantic.

This past week, Ryerson University journalism instructor Ira Basen reported that, according to the 2011 National Household Survey, there were 4.1 self-identified public relations and communications professionals for every journalist in Canada. That’s similar to the United States where the Department of Labour found that, in May 2013, there were 4.6 public relations specialists for every reporter and correspondent.

By comparison, according to the Office for National Statistics, between April and June 2012, there were 1.7 journalists, newspaper and periodical editors for every public relations professional in the United Kingdom.

Like the statistics used in the United States and Canada, those calculations don’t include public relations managers or directors. Moreover, in a November 2012 column, the Independent’s Ian Burrell cited estimates indicating there were 1.5 public relations practitioners for every journalist in that country.

• When Liberal leader Justin Trudeau dropped an f-bomb at a charity event late last month, the Ottawa Citizen described that word as being “decidedly un-prime ministerial language.”

But Trudeau is far from the first elected official to have been caught swearing on an open microphone. Moreover, in my experience covering British Columbian politics, it’s not unknown for elected officials to swear when the microphones are off — having been the target of such expletives on one occasion.

So perhaps Trudeau’s f-bomb should have been described as language that is rarely seen or heard in the news media due to our own community standards and the self-censorship practised by politicians when they are speaking on the record with reporters?

• In Canada, anyone looking into the state of political engagement in this country has to rely on a patchwork of public opinion polls and other data. But in the United Kingdom, the Hansard Society has been conducting an annual audit of political engagement since 2004.

That audit — the latest of which is scheduled to be released at the end of April — measures everything from knowledge and interest in politics to the percentage of people who believe getting involved in politics makes a difference.

According to the society, the study was launched a decade ago “in response to growing concerns about low electoral turnout as particularly evidenced at the 2001 general election” where turnout was 59.4 percent.

By comparison, turnout in Canada’s 2011 federal election was 61.1 percent — up marginally from 58.8 percent in 2008. Which suggests it’s well-past time our country started doing something similar.

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

Author’s note: Due to illness, I was unable to publish last week’s look at news about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada.