Thursday, January 27, 2011

Government data belongs to taxpayers

By Stuart Thomson
The Whitecourt Star

Journalists, politicians, and communications people all have a common fascination with information.

For all the talk of Stephen Harper's controlling ways, you only have to look back a few years to see that Jean Chretien did the exact same thing. I think they both tried desperately to control information, both in and out of their government, most of the time successfully.

When Harper boasted to Peter Mansbridge last week that his government had gone five years without any scandals, he was correct. It probably has a lot to do with the tight reigns he holds on information, especially when it comes to the government's sprawling stimulus program.

Journalists have access to information laws on their side, but they don't always work as they're supposed to.

It seems obvious to me that information should belong to the taxpayer by default. The burden should be on the government to prove why certain things shouldn't be released, rather than the other way around.

Advice to cabinet ministers is not released, which makes sense. You want advisors to feel empowered to offer bold suggestions without fear of it being released.


Personal information is generally held back and this one is obvious.

Any requests about the Economic Action Plan seemed to get stalled interminably, and data about the costs of individual projects and geographical points were never allowed to intersect. It was very hard to figure out where all the money was going. That information is too powerful for taxpayers to know, apparently.

A wise person once told me, though, that a bureaucrat is never going to be condemned by his bosses for not releasing enough information. It's an unfortunate fact, and anyone requesting information at the federal level will have experienced this.

Once again, the benefits of a small town become clear, even on issues like this. I've been looking for information on collisions in the area since I moved here. It's just one of those interesting little data snacks that tells you a lot about a town or a county.

Now, requesting a similar kind of document at the federal level would probably take a few months, a few testy conversations with data coordinators and bureaucrats, and eventually a file that doesn't even contain what I was asking for in the first place.

In a Town? Well, you simply ask someone at a committee and then it shows up in your inbox in less than a week.

Just that little bit of easy-going transparency is a very good thing for a government, at any level, to make a habit.

And it may be true that, at the federal level, the more you keep from the taxpayers the less likely to feel a scandal rumbling beneath your government but I would suggest that maybe it's smarter just to avoid scandalous activity in the first place. Then you don't have to worry about hiding it.

People are entitled to the information that is collected and generated by their tax dollars and it's nice to see some folks, at the Town of Whitecourt, agree.


Dr Mike said...

We pay for everything that any gov`t does , so any info accumulated belongs to us & therefore we have a right to see it.

Cabinet privilege is a farce as these people use this as a dumping ground for their bad judgements & cronyism.

National security must only apply if the release will collapse the country.

You can take it to the bank that 9 times out of 10 when the gov`t won`t release information to us who pay for it , they are hiding something.

We pay them to hide stuff from us , how cool & unfortunately , how Canadian is that.

Dr Mike Popovich

Anonymous said...

Didn't the government let us see 18 pages of blacked out notes? Maybe we just need an interpreter to tell us what they say? BB

Anonymous said...

Hey! I'm waaay behind you fellas on this one.

I'm still trying to figure out why lying to Congress in the USA about the definition of a blowjob will get you impeachable, but in Canada lying to the Finance Committee will get you a bank-shot to a big promotion.

I don't know I'll ever get it figured out? Can somebody help me?

North Nisku

Anonymous said...

Interesting piece but a little too naive with the "small town stuff" as info is often hidden but different tactics are used ...

As for our friends over at the Gag & Mal - check out today's Feb. 3 article "High-yield debt a tasty option for income-starved investors". There is a reference to income trusts. And "Converted income trusts stick to their high-yield ways".

Thanks in advance.