Open Source Software and Open Standards in the Government of Canada

November 1, 2017


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A discussion on open source software and open standards in public administration took place last week at the Canada School of Public Service. Approximately 55 people attended in person while more than 450 participated online, with about 100 of these coming from the general public. The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the Government of Canada (GC) clearly stated that the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) is not against using open source software and open standards. There is even a desire to increase their use and promote open culture in the GC.

The GC’s interest in open source software goes back to the early 2000s when the open source movement mushroomed with the emergence of Mozilla, OpenOffice and investments in Linux development. Various companies like Google and Facebook were largely operating (and continue to operate) with open source software. It was also at this time that Brazil and some European countries implemented the first open source guidelines and policies, a tendency that has continued with the adoption of open standards by the United Kingdom, among others, in recent years.

Position on open source software

In 2004, the GC’s position on open source software (now archived) could be found on TBS’s website. The position was based on the Federated Architecture Program (FAP), four principals of which apply to open source software: reducing integration complexity; ensuring security and confidentiality; using proven standards and technology, and; assuming the total cost of ownership. However, the FAP did not require the adoption or even the evaluation of solutions based on open source software. There are no guidelines to date in the GC for the use and publication of open source software.

GC open source software community

When I began working for the GC in 2012, I found a community of employees promoting the use of open source software in their respective departments. With the help of GCTools like GCpedia and GCconnex, that are also based on open source software, we have created a lot of documentation and initiatives to promote the publication of source code under open licence and the use of open source software.

In 2015-16, the Architecture Framework Advisory Committee organized two meetings (see summary of Meeting #1 and summary of Meeting #2) to discuss, among other things, Shared Services Canada's tentative position on open source software.

There are many examples of use for servers, data bases, development tools, Internet/Intranet sites, Web applications and even for work stations. For example, the information infrastructure for meteorological forecasts functions mainly through open source software. There are also a number of software projects that have been published under open licence, including the Web Experience Toolkit (WET), developed by TBS for GC websites, and the Model of the Environment and Temperature of Roads (METRo), a road weather forecast software developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada. And there is also the Apogy project from the Canadian Space Agency that operates robots and satellites. Very recently, the Communications Security Establishment made available the AssemblyLine project, which detects and analyses malware as they are received.


We’ve recently posted online (on GitHub) the draft of the Open First Whitepaper to inform the new Enterprise Architecture Review Board (EARB) in setting standards on open standards and open source software. These standards would drive procurement and the elaboration of a digital strategy, favouring the use of open standards and open source software. If there is anything you would like to add, please join the conversation on GitHub to share your ideas, your experience and your references.

Sébastien Lemay is a programmer analyst and Web application developer for Canadian Heritage. He is currently on secondment with the Treasury Board Secretariat as the open source software community engagement officer in the digital collaboration team (GCTools). He’s passionate about technology and open source software and is involved in implementing strategies to increase the adoption of open source software and open standards by the Government of Canada.

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