Inside Politics

Canada gets moving on Open Government

(This post has been updated.)

Governments treasure the values of openness, accountability and transparency, more than ever, apparently.

In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron said in 2010, "We want to be the most open and transparent government in the world."

In the U.S., President Barack Obama, from the day he took office, pledged, "an unprecedented level of openness in government."

And, in Canada; Stephen Harper brought in the Federal Accountabiliy Act in 2006, the very first bill from his new government. The FAA toughened up lobbying rules, promised to protect whistleblowers from negative repercussions, limited political donations and extended the Access to Information Act to Crown corporations.

So it was no surprise that when the United States invited Canada to join an Obama-launched project called the Open Government Partnership, Canada promptly accepted. John Baird wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

"I would like to thank you for the leadership you have shown on this important initiative to support opponents and civil society around the world in their efforts to promote transparency and combat corruption."

President Obama, as head of one of the eight founding countries -- there are 46 member countries -- announced the Open Government Partnership in September at the United Nations. Canada easily met the five minimum requirements for membership, which include an access to information law, disclosure of incomes of elected and senior public officials and the publication of budget documents.

But after that, Canada fell down on meeting some of its OGP obligations, according to the government watchdog group, Democracy Watch. In a blistering press release sent out on Monday of this week, Democracy Watch lambasted the government for failing to come up with a draft action plan, especially since an important prelimiary meeting of the OPG was scheduled for December 7 and 8 in in Brasilia, Brazil.

One of the committments Canada made when signing on to the OGP was a promise to consult with "the national community, including civil society and the private sector" on ways to improve accountability and transparency. This step, according to the OGP, is "to inform the government's OGP commitments," and be "a forum for regular public consultation on OGP implementation."

But as of Monday, Democracy Watch pointed out, "there is still no notice of an OGP consultation on the federal Consulting with Canadians website, and Democracy Watch and the Open Government Coalition as the main citizen group stakeholders on these issues for the past 15 years have not been contacted by anyone in the federal government." Neither had another stakeholder group, Canadians for Accountability.

All in all, concluded Democracy Watch, "The federal Conservatives have talked a lot, but done little to make the federal government actually more open and transparent."

Just one day after the Democracy Watch rocket, there was another press release, this one from the Treasury Board President, Tony Clement. On Tuesday, Clement announced the launch of an online consultation on Open Government: "The valuable input we receive will help us develop an action plan for the International Open Government Partnership."

Clement said that the online submissions will go on until January 16, and in addition, he will personally host a "moderated tweet chat" on December 15, a sort of Twitter town hall.

Clement said that Canada will present its Open Government Action Plan in Brazil in April, and, "We will share our countries' best practices."

 Whether Canada was even present at the first OGP meeting in Brazil, which concluded Thursday, is unclear. Part of this government's communication strategy is a multi-level series of approvals for any media request, and there was no answer by the end of business day.

UPDATE: Two officials from Canada attended the first OGP meeting in Brazil, which concluded Thursday.

MORE: It was difficult to get an answer yesterday from Tony Clement's department about whether Canada has a presence at the OGP meeting in Brazil that ended Thursday. Late last night officials confirmed that Stephen Walker, Senior Director from the Treasury Board Secretariat's Chief Information Officer Branch, and Niall Cronin, Deputy Director at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada attended the meeting.

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