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On info, data & access to

I was thinking today about a Freedom of Information request I filed a couple weeks back. Dropped $5 bucks in an envelope along with the form and sent it off to Ottawa. I’ve filed a handful of these requests in my time, but never at the Federal level.

It’s a request that could have been avoided entirely, saving me the price of five small coffees at McDonalds this week, had my MP and/or the crown corporation in question, engaged my community in a public consultation process prior to making an impactful decision- or even if response letters had been returned. Better yet, the info I’m seeking could have been made available through an embrace of the open data movement. Falling within the vein of financial and operating data that could routinely be released to public, both for informative purposes, and as a open & public performance measure.

But with less public data, and more unanswered correspondence than I’d like – I’m out five bucks and left sitting here tapping out a blog entry and wondering if a reply from the government is going to come before Christmas.

In thinking about this blog post, my train of thought went east, then veered north, so we’re going to cover two different paths to the public disclosure of government info.

First, OpenData:

 

– Provide a single-source for information and data catalogs. Don’t bury and scatter this information across government departments and obscure websites. Edmonton’s opendata catalog is great example. A single well-maintained and well-publicized entry point for individuals, businesses, organizations, etc.

– Make the process for requesting data easy and within view of the public. Take an application like IdeaScale, which allows anyone to submit and rank thoughts/ideas, and put it to use for this. Let folks openly submit requests for government datasets, let us see what others have requested, and throw our support behind them. And like the data catalog itself, do it through a central, and easy to find portal.

– If it’s FOIPed as a matter of public interest, make it public. A few years back my Community League successfully got our hands on internal documentation and process info from the selection of a route for the West LRT expansion. The entire request was a few thousand pages, some of it good for mild curiosity if nothing more. But the documentation and internal analysis from the project team was interesting and highly informative. We can and did post some of it to our website, but its reach and availability to an increased audience would have benefited greatly from the city itself, placing the documents online.

 

Government is of course steered by politics, and in politics there’s always going to be those to whom the public disclosure of information, will either be a non-priority, an annoyance, or a curse. Politicians aren’t going to be lining up to put their briefing notes online. There’s always going to be a need to actually drop a cheque in an envelope along with a form asking for the disclosure of X, Y, and Z (oh, how it would be nice to be able to do this online as well).

There are also, always going to be nuisance requests. And there are ways that those who choose to file these, can be left to their own devices in what I’m going to propose. The value of freedom of information is shown constantly in those requests which bring valuable information to light – that which informs, and that which holds those in power, responsible for their actions and decisions. These requests are not always made by a media organization with the funds to pursue information, paying those extra fees that are often charged for xeroxing and a staffer’s time, (my Community League was quoted several thousand for our request), or the platform to widely release what’s revealed.

You’ve probably heard of Kickstarter, the “funding platform for creative projects”. I’d like to suggest something similar targeted towards government prosperity. Maybe it’s put together by media groups, the child of like-minded organizations, or some form of social enterprise.

I’m not going draft any potential non-profit or corporate bylaws for it here, but here is the Coles Notes version of how I’d envision its operation. Anyone – Individual, biz, etc lays out the information they’re seeking. For low-income individuals, this is the chance to have the cost of initial filing fees covered. For others, if they’ve filed a request and have been quoted additional fees to have it fulfilled, this is where our funding platform kicks in. With interested donors covering the fee request with the agreement that the information received will be published online, through the platform.

So if there are folks out there in the media or in the non-profit sector looking for a long-term transparency project, please consider this idea open to all.

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Study ranks Canada’s freedom-of-information laws dead last

Alberta gets a ‘D’ in freedom of information audit

State of Democracy

EDMONTON—In findings that should disturb every politician across the country, a series of new national surveys suggest record numbers of Canadians are fed up with the state of our democracy.

Worse for elected leaders, more and more Canadians believe that politicians, regardless of their party affiliation, don’t listen to them, don’t care about the issues that really concern them and aren’t willing to act to preserve and improve our democratic institutions and traditions.

Only 17 per cent of Canadians trust Parliament and only 10 per cent trust political parties.

Read the rest @ TheStar.ca

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I can’t find myself disagreeing with the results of any of the referenced studies. Anyway, I’ve hacked out some thoughts..bit of a rant on the subject of engagement, good governance and political involvement.

 

“Neuman told the delegates that growing numbers of Canadians are disillusioned with elected officials and have now turned to supporting grassroots citizen actions, such as the last fall’s Occupy Movement, the B.C. referendum on the HST and this summer’s Quebec student protests, as a way to make their voices heard.”

 

It’s pretty simple at the end of the day:

No un-returned phone calls.

No unanswered letters.

No letters advising you “to be cautious as to how you approach future communications as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals. This could delay the decision on a new school”.

No party whips, and party leaders, and party agendas to wade through.

And no bureaucratic and political hills to climb and barriers to entry, that have been built up to the point of inaccessibility for the average person.

 

These are things that don’t exist in any successful and inclusive grassroots & community movement. And for the average person who wants to be an engaged citizen, who wants to be involved and have say – these require the strength in numbers of grassroots organization to overcome.

It’s why I joined a community league. To advocate on behalf of my community with like-minded individuals, in way we could never, ever, do on our own. It’s the reason Edmonton’s community league movement was built, to provide citizens with the ability to positively affect the growth of a city in which the voice of the individual was increasingly being drowned out.

As for other levels of government….

In the provincial legislature, my community is represented by an MLA who was thrown out of government caucus for bluntly laying out the state and management of health care in Alberta. Party came first, and a decision was made behind closed doors. against our constituency, our MLA, without any consultation. And yet their smiles were warm and friendly when they came to ask for our support in 2012.

Federally, my riding is represented by an MP who is chronically disengaged, and often unreachable. What accessibility to government and policy can there be for an individual or small-group when even a simple discussion can’t be had, or an inquiry answered?

Of course Canadians feel disengaged, unheard and detached from government. Time during the day is short, our lives are hectic, and we have little tolerance for spending precious free time talking to a wall or wading through rhetoric.

But if we want something more than a depressingly low voter turnout, policy developed in a vacuum, and partisan sniping, then folks need to find the time and fortitude to go out and demand it. It’s the only way we’re going to cultivate future leaders with the will and desire to make their time in government as demanding one them and their colleagues as possible, by initiating engagement, transparency and citizen participation from the top-down.

Your MP at OpenParliament

Since I used OpenParliament.ca to provide transcripts of House of Commons proceedings in a previous post, I thought I’d provide links to the OpenParliament pages for all of 0ur local MP’s.  The pages include the member’s statements in the House, as well as in the press and social media:

Mike Lake – Conservative MP for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont 

Laurie Hawn – Conservative MP for Edmonton Centre (Alberta)

Rona Ambrose – Conservative MP for Edmonton—Spruce Grove (Alberta)

Linda Duncan – NDP MP for Edmonton—Strathcona (Alberta)

James Rajotte – Conservative MP for Edmonton—Leduc (Alberta)

Tim Uppal – Conservative MP for Edmonton—Sherwood Park (Alberta)

Brent Rathgeber – Conservative MP for Edmonton—St. Albert (Alberta)

Peter Goldring – Conservative MP for Edmonton East (Alberta)

Edmottawa

One of the best of the best sites for Federal political watchers is the word for word OpenParliament.ca

A quick search on the site shows us 150 references to ‘Edmonton’ in the House of Commons, so far this year (albeit a number of those are just references to local MP’s and not issues at hand).  To quote and provide commentary on some of the highlights:

 

October 28th, 2011

Ending the Long-gun Registry Act
Government Orders

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

That is consistent with any matter of policing. I live in the city of Edmonton where there has been over 40 murders this year and, incidentally, not one by a long gun. The weapon of choice most frequently used for murder in Edmonton is a knife, but that is a story for another day.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

September 27th, 2011

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member will no doubt know that the City of Edmonton is currently facing a murder epidemic. There have been 38 murders in the City of Edmonton in this calendar year alone, more than in any other city in Canada. I am curious as to why she and her party are opposed to the government’s safe street and communities agenda, given that crime is out of control in the city in which both she and I live?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

September 27th, 2011

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

The government has yet to table in the House the projected costs of the prison expansions needed under Bill C-10. It has also not yet revealed if there will be cuts to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. In the last budget the government cut support for the healing centres. As many provinces are facing significant deficits, the downloading of prison expansion costs will have implications for their programs, such as for addictions and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Alberta already has faced public displeasure over the decision to cut its restorative justice program. Municipalities are begging for support for housing. Sadly, a good percentage of the Edmonton murders recently are related to mental health and homelessness. One victim was murdered as he slept on a bench. He was slated to move into his first home the next day after 20 years of living on the street.

The situation in which far too many aboriginals find themselves growing up fosters criminal activity and abuse. Why not respond to the myriad commission reports calling for increased investments in housing, in youth programs, in schools, and addictions counselling, and reduce the probability of yet more victims of crime? Why not invest in programs that may provide a ray of hope instead of legislation and policies that merely entrench despair?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

September 27th, 2011 / 4:30 p.m.

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member will no doubt know that the City of Edmonton is currently facing a murder epidemic. There have been 38 murders in the City of Edmonton in this calendar year alone, more than in any other city in Canada. I am curious as to why she and her party are opposed to the government’s safe street and communities agenda, given that crime is out of control in the city in which both she and I live?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am fully aware of the murder rate in my city and it is reprehensible. What Edmontonians want is action by the federal government and all governments, including the police forces and all government departments and agencies to prevent more violent crime. It provides little redress to the victim of a crime that we are going to incarcerate somebody after the fact.

As I mentioned, there is the very sad case of a mentally troubled individual allegedly causing a fire in a building and causing the death of someone. A number of homeless people are being murdered on the streets as they are sleeping. This calls for a much broader response than simply locking people up on a minimum mandatory sentence.

 

43 murders in 2011, in a city which also bears a significant weight as the defacto centre for social services for central and northern Alberta, and the only references by our Federal reps to these issues, would seem to be the above.  A few comments and some party bickering offering little to no depth, debate, or solutions, and that’s all folks.

 

On the Royal Alberta Museum:

Infrastructure Funding
Oral Questions

October 27th, 2011/ 2:55 p.m.

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, it appears that the Prime Minister is once again giving the people of Edmonton the back of his hand.

First, there was the broken promise on the portrait gallery, then the Conservatives denied funding for the Edmonton folk music festival and then they failed to back Edmonton’s bid to host the World Expo.

The Conservatives have no trouble finding 50 million bucks to build gazebos in Muskoka, but when it comes to funding Edmonton’s Royal Alberta Museum, it appears they are weaseling out of their previous commitment.

Why does the government continue to show such disrespect for the capital of the province of Alberta?

Infrastructure Funding
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m

Rona Ambrose Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I should just correct the record. Our government has been proud to support the Edmonton folk music festival with funding. Again, I reiterate that our government has not withdrawn any funding from this project.

We committed $30 million to the Royal Alberta Museum. We are very proud to do that. That funding commitment stands and we have not withdrawn that funding.

Infrastructure Funding
Oral Questions

October 27th, 2011 / 2:45 p.m

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, Edmontonians are stunned and angered at the government’s sudden 11th hour backtracking from the new Royal Alberta Museum.

With no explanation, the government again pulled the rug out from under Alberta’s capital city to the tune of $92 million. The project is shovel ready. Millions have already been spent by the province and city.

Would the Conservatives explain why they left Edmonton out in the cold again?

Infrastructure Funding
Oral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Rona Ambrose Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the hon. member that no funding has been withdrawn from this project by the federal government. We committed $30 million to this project. It was announced the day the project was announced. We are still committed to that funding. We have not withdrawn any funding from this project.

Infrastructure Funding
Oral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, we all know that the $30 million was promised by the previous government.

The Minister of Public Works expressed concern that a provincial Alberta minister went public on her decision to withdraw support for this important project. She called him a rookie.

The Conservative government committed money to Alberta under the building Canada fund.

Do any other Edmonton MPs share my concern? Will any of them stand up for Edmonton and demand this funding be restored?

Infrastructure Funding
Oral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Rona Ambrose Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, the funding that the member is speaking of was never allocated. Our commitment was for $30 million and it stands. We are not withdrawing those funds from the project. We cannot withdraw funds that we have never given.

I will explain for the member that out of the $30 million, the Government of Alberta has only accessed $10 million. So there are still $20 million there for it to access immediately should it be needed for the project today.

 

And since the RAM conjures up thoughts of an Expo bid:

Government Priorities
Oral Questions

November 23rd, 2010 / 2:50 p.m.

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, after encouraging Edmonton’s bid on Expo 2017 as recently as three weeks ago, the government now pulls the rug out from under Alberta’s capital. That same government, for a one-day G8 meeting, gave tens of millions to a Conservative cabinet minister’s Ontario riding: $16.7 million for an arena, $100,000 for a gazebo, $200,000 for a welcome sign, $300,000 for a toilet and $400,000 for a steamboat refit.

Why the open government wallets for Ontario ridings, but austerity for Edmonton?

Government Priorities
Oral Questions

2:50 p.m.

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, yesterday I spoke to the mayor of Edmonton, Mr. Mandel, and Sheila Weatherill of the bid committee to let them know that our government would not go forward with Edmonton Expo 2017 because this project was too large, too expensive and it was too large of a financial risk for Canadian taxpayers.

We think it is the responsible thing to do, and I am glad we are not alone. Here is what was said by the Taxpayers Federation. It said, “Citizens of Edmonton and the province of Alberta should be thanking the federal government for showing leadership in saying no to this dangerous project”.

Government Priorities
Oral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is what the federation says about the Conservative spending.

Edmonton’s expo on clean energy was supported by municipalities across the country, with the resulting benefits to all provinces from the influx of 5.3 million tourists and badly needed jobs. Clearly the government can find the money for pet projects in target ridings.

This decision is not about money. It is about politics. Why are Conservatives taking Edmonton for granted? What exactly did the regional minister do to secure federal support?

Government Priorities
Oral Questions

2:50 p.m.

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, this Conservative government has delivered more projects to Edmonton and Alberta than any government in Canadian history. This government has done the responsible thing.

When it comes to large international projects such as Expo 2017, we did the right thing. We examined this project. We gave it the respect it was due. We looked at all of the costs associated with it. The reality is this is too expensive of a project. They were asking for over $700 million from the federal government. It would have cost well over $1 billion. This is a financial risk that taxpayers of Edmonton and Alberta do not want us to take.

Expo 2017
Oral Questions

November 17th, 2010 / 3 p.m.

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, by not yet endorsing Edmonton’s bid to host Expo 2017, the government is putting Canada’s only bid at risk. Edmonton’s Expo theme is energy and our planet. It would showcase innovations in clean energy technology and sustainability, initiatives the government claims are among its priorities. Supporting this bid would help deliver on the government’s stated clean energy policy.

Where are the Edmonton Conservative MPs? Will the government immediately endorse Edmonton’s bid to host Expo 2017 for Canada?

Expo 2017
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, we are aware that the City of Edmonton has put together a proposal to host Expo in 2017. As a matter of fact, Mayor Mandel was in Ottawa last week, and theMinister of Finance and I met with him.

I should let the member know that we are doing our due diligence on this project. We are concerned about the large price tag associated with this. We are doing our due diligence and we will give our response to the city very soon.

 

Oh, oh! Gazing into the campaign crystal ball.

Political Party Financing
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are hiding behind an administrative error to disguise their lack of ethics. But it simply proves that they are incapable of managing. TheMinister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism ordered his director of multicultural affairs to raise money for the Conservative Party. He did not ask a party employee, but one of his office’s directors. Parliamentary resources would be used, and the minister knew it.

Why is he not doing the honourable thing, since he is the one accountable for this decision? He must resign.

Political Party Financing
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the use of parliamentary resources for partisan political purposes is completely wrong and completely unacceptable. The employee in question has offered the minister his resignation. The minister has done the right thing and accepted it. The minister has assumed responsibility for these actions. He has apologized for his former employee’s actions and believes they were unacceptable.

Political Party Financing
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, that director of multicultural affairs did not get fired for an ethical breach. He was fired because he was dumb enough to get caught. It is the minister’s head that should roll for breaking faith with the Canadian people, for using his office and the weight of his title to orchestrate the Conservative Party’s ethnic outreach strategy at the taxpayer’s expense. Conservatives cannot pass this off on some overzealous flunky. The buck stops with the guy whose name is on the masthead.

Mulroney used to fire ministers who stepped in a cow-pie. Whatever happened to ministerial accountability for the current Conservative government?

Political Party Financing
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Mr. Speaker, I believe the minister has done the right thing. He accepted the resignation of his staff member. Let us see if New Democrats will live up to that same standard.

I have in my hand an email from the NDP member for Edmonton—Strathcona‘s office where she is seeking to have a federal election. It states:

–a federal election called in the next month or two. Help your Edmonton NDP candidates get ready! Re-elect the NDP member for Edmonton—Strathcona and for details on how to work on the campaign, you can contact Erica Bullwinkle at duncanl1@parl.gc.ca.

The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has done the right thing. Will the NDP member for Edmonton—Strathcona follow—

Political Party Financing
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Political Party Financing
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Political Party Financing
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know where Conservatives are burying the bodies of all the political staffers they are throwing under the bus. It is a good thing Skippy is practising his mortician routine because the Conservative lobbyists like Tim Powers could only absorb so many of these guys.

The minister of immigration is abusing his office. He is exploiting the hopes and dreams of the very people he is sworn to serve. There is an implied quid pro quo when the minister of immigration is the one heading up the outreach to new Canadian voters and he knows it.

The minister of immigration—

Political Party Financing
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am afraid the hon. member’s time has expired.

The hon. government House leader.

Political Party Financing
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, let us talk about the facts. The facts are that the NDP member forEdmonton—Strathcona knows she cannot beat Ryan Hastman and she is trying to cheat to keep her seat. She should apologize and then she should demand this staffer resign.

 

 

I’ll hold the ball, and you come running up and kick it.

*First impressions on the news that the new Royal Alberta Museum had joined the Edmonton Expo as a grass stain on Edmonton’s arse after being yanked away at the kick-off (or thereabouts).  At the very least, the analogy of children playing ‘government’ seems pretty accurate*

Wednesday, Edmonton –  City Council approves a downtown arena deal which includes a funding request to the higher powers for $100 million plus a little extra for a ‘community rink’ if they’d be so kind.

Wednesday, Edmonton/Ottawa – The Royal Alberta ‘off again, on again’ Museum is off again after the higher powers break out into an incomprehensible ‘he did it’ ‘no he did it’ shouting match following the announcement of the project’s cancellation/postponement/not gonna happen at least anytime soon…ness.

 

 The 2005 Announcement

2005 Alberta’s centennial federal funding announcement 

The April, 2011, revival announcement

Some April coverage of the announcement from the Edmonton Journal (The Edmonton Commons)

“That’s what we get from Ottawa to commemorate our history and our role in Confederation. A plaque.”

“One envelope has $30 million in it. The other envelope has had $92 million in it.”

“They could fund the project on their own. Fair enough. Carry on,” he said.”

” Fingers were pointed, blame was levelled”

Rona Ambrose Talks about RAM Money

They didn’t think that maybe they should get that in writing?

A night at the museum

“There is a good deal of finger pointing going on…”

 

The Mayor blames Rona Ambrose (for the 2nd time in this calendar year), Rona blames the Province, the Province blames the Feds, Laurie Hawn blames the province, meanwhile science and history in downtown Edmonton are set back seemingly further than hockey and the true story, like with the Expo, is far more likely to come from the pages of a Freedom of Information request than from the mouth of anyone in the triangle of blame.