Inside Politics

David McKie Bio

David McKie

David McKie is an award-winning journalist who uses access-to-information and computer-assisted reporting to get many of his stories. His past stories include investigations into drug, food and workplace safety. In 2008, he was part of a team that won the Michener Award for its coverage on Tasers. David also teaches journalism part-time at Carleton University and Algonquin College, and has co-authored two journalism textbooks.

Drug seizures and the case for open data

Normally, journalists don't like complaining about long it took them to get data, in large part because the internal battles for information hardly make for riveting or relevant stories. In short, they can be boring and self-indulgent.

But sometimes it's worth peeling back the curtain just a bit to make a point about open data.

Our stories about drugs seized at Canadian land-border crossings, ports, airports and mail centres were difficult ones to tell because it was difficult to get information about these seizures.

Read more .... after the jump.

Easier info access would further food safety discussion

Researching my latest food-safety story (which you can read here) was revelatory, but an exercise in frustration.

To its credit, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is posting its recall information in a new and user-friendly format.

In researching the story about the increase of class 1 recalls since agency began posting them in November of 2009, I was able to download the entire table into MS Excel, do a bit of clean up, filter the product recall for the class 1 category, the most serious kind, and then count them for each year.

Because the agency only began posting the data in 2009 and we have yet to finish 2011, full year-to-year comparisons were impossible. Still, it was evident something was happening with the most serious recalls, given that the 2011 numbers had already eclipsed the 2010 figures with three months to go before the end of the year.

After much back and forth, and waiting, officials with the agency were able to check their own internal and more detailed numbers and confirm that my analysis was on track. That's the good part. But we only had about two years' worth of data. Meaningful trend analysis requires data for many years. Something the agency has, but chooses not to share unless someone is willing to make an access-to-information request. That's the bad part.

Court ruling found fault with medical marijuana law

Representatives from provincial and territorial ministries, medical associations, police forces, municipalities and users of medical marijuana have been invited to offer feedback on the federal medical marijuana access law before Ottawa introduces changes to the law. Health Canada is holding closed-door talks Wednesday and Thursday in Ottawa.

Changes to the 2001 law, which established the Marihuana Medical Access Program, would revise the conditions under which individuals can smoke medicinal pot - but would keep doctors as the gatekeepers for approval of the drug for medical use.

As I reported on today, the Canadian Medical Association is not pleased with that provision - and it has come under fire in the courts as well.

Here's a look at a court case, currently under appeal by the federal government, that sided with medicinal pot users who ran afoul of the law.

Information blackout in a post-9/11 world

Now that most of our troops are safely home from Afghanistan, specific questions now focus on what the men and women left behind will do? It's a query that comes into sharper focus on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

But if we thought that some Afghanistan-related matters fell into an information black hole during a mission in which 157 men and women in the Canadian Forces died, be prepared for a similar disconcerting state of affairs.

It's only natural to ask questions about what kind of training Canadian Force's personnel will be doing "behind the wire" in Kabul. But we might not receive many answers.

Tamiflu marketing exposes holes in drug regulatory regime

When fears about an avian flu and then an H1N1 pandemic struck in 2009, Canadians were understandably searching for ways to protect themselves. Enter Tamiflu, a drug that its maker, Hoffman La-Roche, and its advocates, claimed reduced complications and hospitalizations and prevented deaths.

The problem with those claims, according to critics that include the esteemed British Medical Journal, is that they aren't supported by scientific evidence.

And as the federal government and its provincial and territorial counterparts get ready to spend millions more to replace Canada's expiring stockpile of Tamiflu, now might be a good time to begin asking tough questions of the company, the individuals promoting the drug and Health Canada, which considers the drug to be of "modest" benefit.

Radio-Canada's Enquête, in a joint investigation with RSI (Swiss Italian Television) and National Public Radio in the United States, asked those questions last month in a documentary about Tamiflu. An English-Language version ran Monday on The National.

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The Enquête report raised several issues that bear a closer look..... after the jump.

Will 'stable, majority government' allow a focus on policy?

Let's hope we can take the new government House leader at his word.

During an interview with CBC News Network shortly after the unveiling of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new cabinet Wednesday, Peter Van Loan, the new House leader, spoke in hopeful tones about the next four years.

"It's a very different environment now with a majority government," he said. "There's real opportunity to get a lot of work done and get our agenda through."

Then, unprompted, expressed hope there would be an end to "political games" and "perhaps a little more focus on thoughtful debate on issues."

Some thoughts on what those issues might be . . . after the jump.

SCOC says no: ministerial agendas off-limits

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that journalists, or anyone else for that matter, have no right to records such as personal agendas that reside in the offices of the Prime Minister and his or her cabinet ministers.  

The news is good and bad.

Will a majority mean a more open government?

A new report by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) gives the government a failing grade for its lack of openness for the second year in a row. In fact, the Conservative government's marks have actually dropped to an F-minus.

"Unfortunately, the problem isn't isolated to the court system, or even to the province," the report notes. "Despite the promises laid out by the Access to Information Act, getting information out of any number of government bodies... is neither straightforward nor timely."

To reach this conclusion, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression collected information from a number of sources, including the Information Commissioner and journalists.

CJFE's Anne Game says her group has collected enough information to reach some disturbing conclusions that constitute "a warning" about the government's commitment to access to information.

Then why is she also sounding an optimistic note?

Read more after the jump....

Prescription drugs: How much you pay, depends on where you live

On the surface, the fact that prescription drug expenditures are increasing at a slower rate compared to previous years is good news. The story is based on the most recent drug expenditure report of the well-respected Canadian Institute for Health Information.

But dig a little deeper, and the news is not so good. Private spending on prescription drugs is rising - and the amount depends on where in Canada you live.

Bruce Carson not alone in bankruptcy

Bruce Carson may have been making news lately because of a so-called checkered past that included debt problems, but he's far from alone.

Carson, a political insider and a former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is facing allegations of influence-peddling for allegedly using his influence to lobby Indian Affairs on behalf of a water company trying to sell filtration systems to reserves.

Once the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network told Harper's office about the story it was working on, Harper referred the whole matter to the RCMP, prompting heightened media and political interest.

One of the latest stories to break involved Bruce Alexander Carson's personal finances and past bankruptcy proceedings.

As numbers from the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada show, he's not alone in having to go through insolvency.

Documents, links and more after the jump....