HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA: Today, the Right to Know Coalition released its Canadian Open Government Progress Report, which was developed as a requirement of Canada’s participation in the Open Government Partnership. The Report found that the government is generally on pace to meet the action plan commitments it established in 2016, but that these commitments could have been set more precisely and ambitiously. Although there are some bright spots in Canada’s open government progress, notably the creation of a new multi-stakeholder forum for consultation and engagement, other areas are disappointing, particularly with regard to the relatively minor reforms proposed for Canada’s Access to Information Act, which fall far short of what is needed to bring that system into the 21st century.
“There is no question that the landscape for open government in Canada has improved substantially since the last election,” said Michael Karanicolas, President of the Right to Know Coalition and the author of the Report. “However, now that the low-hanging fruit has been plucked, Canada is at a crossroads. There is potential for Canada to establish itself as a global open government leader, but this will require bold and ambitious proposals, rather than more incremental steps forward.”
The main focus of the Report is on Canada’s current Open Government Action Plan, which is set to wrap up in June, and includes 22 commitments targeting transparency, civic engagement and public accountability. Progress in some areas has been impressive, including steps to improve the transparency of Canada’s grants and contributions funding, and federal government leadership to break down jurisdictional boundaries for data access. However, consultation with civil society across the country uncovered a widespread feeling that the government could be doing more. Stakeholders cited challenges in the accessibility and findability of data released by the government as a major priority for further improvement, and they called for the establishment of a public registry of the beneficial owners of companies and trusts, and for enhancing the transparency of briefing notes prepared for the Minister of Finance. Currently only the titles of these are released and, in many cases, even these are redacted. Although the current action plan commits to take steps to clarify the rules governing charities’ political activities, civil society stakeholders were disappointed that consultations had not yet resulted in any concrete changes to the regulatory framework, which could open the door for audits to recommence later on.
The Report includes a number of recommendations for the government. In addition to overhauling the Access to Information Act, it calls for Canada to work with First Nations to develop mutual commitments for improving openness, engagement and transparency. It also calls on the government to earmark specific resources for the implementation of open government commitments, which is key to ensuring that future action plans are more ambitious. In the absence of specific funding, the Report notes, government departments are prone to craft openness commitments vaguely and cautiously, to account for uncertainty as to the level of resources they will be able to commit.
The Report was developed as part of the Open Government Partnership’s Independent Reporting Mechanism, which conducts annual assessments of progress for each of its 75 member governments. The Open Government Partnership selected Michael Karanicolas, the President of the Right to Know Coalition, to carry out this task for Canada. The assessment was carried out via a series of stakeholder consultations, which took place in Halifax, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, as well as through dialogue with officials from 16 different government agencies and departments. The Report aims to feed into the development of Canada’s Fourth Action Plan on Open Government which is currently being crafted, and will run from 2018-2020.
Right to Know Coalition
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