One of the potential activities listed is: Providing support to developing countries to advance their Open Data activities. As an international organisation that works to globally to promote transparency, CLD is a major supporter of efforts to assist developing countries in this area. However, this type of commitment does not belong in Canada’s OGP Action Plan.
Action Plan commitments are supposed to focus on improving openness and transparency within the country. The OGP does expect members to contribute to enhancing open government in other countries, but this is considered separately from the Action Plan process. The OGP documents do not explicitly prohibit countries from including foreign aid projects in their Action Plans, but it is clearly assumed that the commitments should be domestic in nature. For example, the OGP National Action Plan Template and Guidelines state that the Action Plan should discuss “why open government efforts are important for the country” and “outline the governance reform priorities for the country”. The same document states: “Successful OGP action plans focus on ambitious national open government priorities”. To our knowledge, no other government has tried to include improving open government abroad as part of its open government commitments.
Regarding the proposal to host online chats with government subject-matter experts on released data, and the idea under Open Science to publish more federally funded research - while we welcome these ideas, we note that it is important for government experts engaging with the public to be able to speak freely and offer honest opinions. As noted earlier, open government should not be conflated with public relations. Transparency will naturally improve a government’s standing with the public through enhancing trust, fostering dialogue between officials and citizens and promoting informed participation in public affairs. However, it is core to the notion of open government that citizens should be presented with information which is accurate, complete and unfiltered, especial from subject experts. Efforts to control or otherwise manage the message that the public receives seriously undermines this.
Over the past years, there have been a series of stories alleging that government employees are being “muzzled” in their interactions with the public. If efforts to facilitate greater dialogue between the public and government experts are to be successful, they need to be complemented by parallel moves to ease restrictions on government employees, and particularly government scientists, on speaking publicly. These efforts should also be implemented in a proper spirit of openness, so that government experts are not confined by restrictions on what they can and cannot say, and that the experts will not be chosen to participate in these online chats based on the likelihood that they will present a rosy picture of the current government’s achievements.
This is an excerpt from CLD's full submission to the consultation. To read the full submission, go to: http://www.law-democracy.org/live/canada-bold-action-needed-on-open-government/.