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Federal Conservatives break all of their international Open Government Partnership commitments by failing to consult with Canadians about their draft action plan before meeting in Brazil this week

Final OGP action plan due in March 2012 -- will Conservatives fulfill
requirements by strengthening rules and enforcement of the Access to Information Act, Lobbying Act, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, Financial Administration Act, Canada Elections Act and Conflict of Interest Act and ethics codes

Monday,  December 5, 2011

OTTAWA - Today, with representatives of 49 countries including Canada headed to Brasilia, Brazil for the international Open Government Partnership (OGP) meeting on December 7-8 to share their draft OGP action plans, Democracy Watch's Open Government Coalition criticized the federal Conservative government for failing to keep its first OGP commitment to consult with Canadians before developing its draft OGP commitments.

The Canadian federal government is eligible to apply for OGP membership because it has the minimal, required standards of open and accountable government, and federal Conservatives committed to joining OGP in a September 19th letter from John Baird to Hillary Clinton and are required to share their draft OGP commitment action plan at the meeting in Brazil.

The public consultation was supposed to begin soon after the Conservatives signed on to OGP in September, but 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.

"If the Conservatives continue to fail to consult with Canadians and try to spin their largely meaningless open data initiatives as their action plan, they will be violating their Open Government Partnership commitments to consult widely and strengthen the rules and enforcement systems in federal transparency, ethics, anti-corruption, lobbying, whistleblower protection, political finance, and waste prevention laws," said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.

"The Open Government Partnership Steering Committee must reject the Conservatives membership if they do not consult broadly or if their action plan does not include commitments to pass key measures to strengthen the rules and enforcement of the federal Access to Information Act, Lobbying Act, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, Financial Administration Act, Canada Elections Act, Conflict of Interest Act and MP and Senate code rules for disclosure of financial interests, and related Treasury Board codes and rules," said Duff Conacher, Founding Director of Democracy Watch.

The federal Lobbying ActPublic Servants Disclosure Protection Act,  and Conflict of Interest Act and related MP and Senate ethics rules are all required to be reviewed by Parliament in the next six months and Democracy Watch and its coalitions have been pushing for changes for years, and opposition MPs and the Information Commissioner and the Open Government Coalition have been pushing to strengthen the Access to Information Act for several years.  The Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act must also be strengthened to comply with the 2004 United Nations Convention Against Corruption.  The Canada Elections Act must be strengthened to close loopholes that allow for secret, unlimited donations and loans.  The Financial Administration Act must be strengthened to tighten up rules on sole-source contracting.  And related Treasury Board codes, policies and rules in all of the above areas must also be strengthened  (To see more details, click here).

The question is whether the Conservatives will keep their OGP commitments to strengthen all of these laws (they promised to strengthen all these laws in their 2006 election platform, but they broke almost all of their promises).

The federal Conservatives have failed so far to fulfill all of the OGP requirements by failing to give advance notice of the consultation to develop their OGP plan, failing to undertake public awareness initiatives to ensure the public is aware of OGP, failing to consult widely, failing to make a summary of submissions public, and failing to establish a multi-stakeholder forum for ongoing consultation about the implementation of their OGP action plan, including issuing a public report one year after their final OGP action is published in March 2012.

In the June 3rd Speech from the Throne, the Conservatives promised that "Our Government will also ensure that citizens, the private sector and other partners have improved access to the workings of government through open data, open information and open dialogue."

The Conservatives have set up the Open Government website and initiated the Open Data Pilot Project and continued with so-called Open Dialogue through the Consulting with Canadians website established by the Liberals.

However, the only new Open Information initiatives by the Conservatives are a requirement that federal government institutions disclose online summaries of completed access to information requests (which replicates a database of already-released public information that used to exist and that the Conservatives discontinued a few years ago) and a requirement for online disclosure of financial and non-financial planning and performance reports (which are already made public via tabling in Parliament).

In other words, the federal Conservatives have talked a lot, but done little to make the federal government actually more open and transparent.

The Open Government Partnership requires governments to go much further, to sign on to the Open Government Declaration that commits them to uphold the value of openness in their engagement with citizens to improve services, manage public resources, promote innovation, and create safer communities, to embrace principles of transparency and open government with a view toward achieving greater prosperity, well-being, and human dignity, and to include in their draft OGP action plan (which is due December 7-8 at the meeting in Brasilia) and in their final action plan (which is due March 5-6 at the OGP meeting also in Brasilia) measures, benchmarks and timelines:

To increase the availability of information about governmental activities:
  • to strengthen their commitment to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable; 
  • to systematically collect and publish data on government spending and performance for essential public services and activities;
  • to pro-actively provide high-value information, including raw data, in a timely manner, in formats that the public can easily locate, understand and use, and in formats that facilitate reuse;
  • to provide access to effective remedies when information or the corresponding records are improperly withheld, including through effective oversight of the recourse process;
  • to establish open standards to promote civil society access to public data, as well as to facilitate the interoperability of government information systems;
  • to seek feedback from the public to identify the information of greatest value to them, and to take such feedback into account to the maximum extent possible;
To support civic participation:
  • to make policy formulation and decision making more transparent, creating and using channels to solicit public feedback, and deepening public participation in developing, monitoring and evaluating government activities; 
  • to protect the ability of not-for-profit and civil society organizations to operate in ways consistent with freedom of expression, association, and opinion;
  • to commit to creating mechanisms to enable greater collaboration between governments and civil society organizations and businesses.
To implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout their administration
  • to have robust anti-corruption policies, mechanisms and practices, ensuring transparency in the management of public finances and government purchasing, and strengthening the rule of law;
  • to maintain or establish a legal framework to make public information on the income and assets of national, high ranking public officials; 
  • to enact and implement rules that protect whistleblowers;
  • to make information regarding the activities and effectiveness of anticorruption prevention and enforcement bodies, as well as the procedures for recourse to such bodies, available to the public, respecting the confidentiality of specific law enforcement information; 
  • to increase deterrents against bribery and other forms of corruption in the public and private sectors, as well as to share information and expertise.
To increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability
  • to harness these new technologies to make more information public in ways that enable people to both understand what their governments do and to influence decisions;
  • to develop accessible and secure online spaces as platforms for delivering services, engaging the public, and sharing information and ideas; 
  • to seek increased online and mobile connectivity, while also identifying and promoting the use of alternative mechanisms for civic engagement;
  • to engage civil society and the business community to identify effective practices and innovative approaches for leveraging new technologies to empower people and promote transparency in government;
  • to support and develop the use of technological innovations by government employees and citizens alike;
- to report publicly on actions undertaken to realize these principles;
- to consult with the public on implementation, and to update commitments in light of new challenges and opportunities, and;
- to commit to espouse these principles in international engagement, and work to foster a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government.

Democracy Watch's Open Government Coalition, Government Ethics Coalition and Money in Politics Coalition will continue to push the federal Conservatives to fulfill all of their Open Government Partnership OGP commitments in their final action plan, and if they don't will appeal to the OGP Steering Committee to reject the Conservative government's membership in OGP.

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Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Open Government Coalition
Duff Conacher, Founding Director of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179

Democracy Watch's Open Government Campaign page


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© 2011 Democracy Watch