Thursday, December 15, 2011

There's open government & then there's not so open government

So Tony Clement was on the Twitter this late afternoon, having his picture taken while at the keyboard, tweeting on the #opengovchat stream during a Treasury Board Secretariat sponsored chat on open government. Open government to the datafiles has a specific meaning, where the objective is to enable open access to government data, documents, proceedings, in order to encourage greater citizen oversight, participation and even to promote innovation in society. Where citizens can access troves of public data and create useful applications, for example. So there's that technical meaning.

Not surprisingly, the chat also prompted other perspectives on open government as practiced by the Conservatives. There's little doubt that they intend to play on the open government terminology, knowing their susceptibilities.

Case in point, this week, here's Ivison on the Conservative's latest parliamentary committee tactics:
The Harper government is even more arrogant and obsessed with control since it won its majority, according to Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau. “The Conservatives are relying far too heavily on moving committees in camera wherever possible. That means Canadians are being shut out of discussions about laws that affect them and their families. This is fundamentally wrong.”

Does he have a point? In this instance, yes.

There is no doubt the Conservatives are pushing for more in camera sessions during committee meetings, to determine which witnesses to call and what subjects to examine. The Tories hold a majority on all committees and can pretty much do whatever they please. They maintain that they want to ensure that they are not hijacked by the opposition and used as a platform to embarrass the government, as was the case during much of the past seven years. But it is not clear why they need to meet in camera to hammer out an agenda. It’s an unwelcome development and should be re-considered.
So there's one kind of technical form of open government, yet to be really put in practice by the Tories. Then there's the kind they live every day. We're not dumb, contrary to what their public relations machine thinks.