• The Harper administration has been repeatedly criticized by the press and the opposition for its secrecy — despite its commitment to strengthen public access to government information.
Nevertheless, according to an opinion poll conducted by Nanos Research for Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, just 36 percent of those polled disagreed with the statement that we have “more access to government information now then they ever had before.”
Meanwhile, 18 percent somewhat disagreed with that statement, while 43 percent agreed or somewhat agreed with it. The telephone poll, which surveyed 1,000 Canadians, was conducted between March 6-12 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
• Canada’s NDP has “practical proposals” to improve government transparency and accountability, according to a news release distributed last month. But many of those proposals and their details have yet to be revealed.
During a news conference last month, the NDP — which earlier introduced a bill to strengthen Canada’s Access to Information Act — also committed to develop a standard that will be used to proactively release government research and data.
In an interview, NDP MP and Treasury Board critic Mathieu Ravignat compared that commitment to “what Obama did when he first came to power.” That’s a reference to United States President Barack Obama’s open government initiative, in which he promised to work to “ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration.”
Ravignat said the NDP doesn’t yet know what that proactive disclosure standard will look like “because what we were launching is the consultation process to come up with those standards with stakeholders in civil society and experts on data, as well as access to information.”
Ravignant also said that standard is “only one part of an entire open government package that we’ll be rolling out in the months ahead. There’s stuff on whistleblowers that we’ll be announcing and a few other pieces to enhance the transparency and accountability of government writ large.”
Such commitments are common among opposition parties and new governments but are also commonly broken. For example, the Obama administration has been criticized as being the most secretive presidency in American history.
Asked why Canadians should trust the NDP to act on its commitment to transparency and accountability Ravignant acknowledged, “That’s kind of the $100 million question.”
But he said his party has a track record of being a “strong principle voice” and is presently made up of “the least amount of career politicians ever elected in a single caucus in Canadian history.”
Moreover, Ravignant said NDP leader Tom Mulcair “came on record to say we would have an open data by default government so we can certainly keep him to his word. Canadians can keep him to his word for sure. And I think he’s proven to be a pretty principled individual.”
• Earlier, I mentioned how the United Kingdom has an annual audit of political engagement but Canada doesn’t — even though our country’s voter turnout plunged to 58.8 percent in 2008. But thanks to Samara, a Toronto-based charitable organization focused on improving political participation, that’s going to change later this year. This week, in a blog posting, the group mentioned its Samara Index — an open data tool measuring key areas of Canadian democracy — will be rolled out in November 2014.
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 end of semester commitments at Mount Royal University, I was unable to publish last week’s look at news about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada.