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Open Government, Transparency: it’s what we need

As residents of Victoria British Columbia continue to struggle with a closed, secretive city council that (with the exception of one councilor, Geoff Young) prefers to do its business behind closed doors or from a lofty perch of Sonya Chandler- or Lynn Hunter-style “know-it-all-ism,” here’s a story from the local daily that illustrates just how far Canada (as a country) has to go before it reaches the level of transparency and open government that the people of the United States have come to expect from government: Washington leaves Campbell red-faced, by Times-Colonist reporter/ columnist Les Leyne.


On Jan. 4, the NDP opposition submitted two identical freedom of information requests. One went to the state of Washington, one went to the province of B.C.

The request was for records relating to joint cabinet meetings held a few months earlier, led by Gov. Christine Gregoire and Premier Gordon Campbell.

The B.C. government issued a fairly detailed news release after the October meeting headlined “B.C., Washington State Partner on Cross-Border Opportunities.”

But the NDP was curious about the framework and some of the intricacies of the various policies discussed.

On Feb. 3, the New Democrats got a note back from Gregoire’s office. It offered all the requested documents for a grand sum of $63.60.

The NDP paid the bill and on March 3, two months after filing the request, it got 300 pages of documentation from the state government.

The striking thing, for a B.C. observer, is that not a single page has been whited-out or censored.

The 10-centimetre stack of documents contain everything you’d want to know about the work that went into discussing Olympic readiness, climate-change initiatives, border issues, H1N1 plans and more.

There are e-mails, minutes of meetings and “confidential drafts for discussion purposes only.”

The governor’s response even includes the expenses of the state officials who worked on meetings leading up to the joint cabinet session.

What did the Opposition get from B.C. officials when they submitted exactly the same request?

Absolutely nothing.

In the US, data is owned by the people because the government is by the people, for the people, of the people. The people paid for the production of the data in the first place, and the people have a guaranteed right to access it. In Canada, data is not owned by the people. It’s owned by the Crown (the Queen), and we have to beg for it. Sure, we can have it, but the bureaucratic culture isn’t on board.


It’s scary to me just how backwards City of Victoria staff in particular and local politicians in general are when it comes to embracing openness and transparency – and genuine public engagement.

For a shining alternative example, click on image (above) – link goes to a great Youtube video with Anil Dash, currently with Expert Labs.

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