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2nd Annual Public Sector CIO Forum

Ottawa, Ontario 

January 17, 2011 


Leading forces to create a culture of openness


  • A very good morning to all of you. Many thanks to the conference organizers for your kind invitation to deliver the keynote address. I will make my remarks in English but of course I will be delighted to answer questions in the language of your choice. My remarks will also be posted on our website in both official languages.

  • As you might imagine, when one embarks on a seven-year mandate as I just did, there are many discussions and questions about vision and leadership. In fact, our own internal discussions at the OIC have led our employees to choose leadership as one of their core values.

  • That is why I was very interested – when going over some of the conference material - to read about Mr. Roman’s perspectives on extreme and transformational leaders because I think that Canada’s CIO’s and the community they form are such leaders in Canadian society.

  • And to illustrate my point, I thought I would start with a little bit of history.

  • In 1997, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien launched Government Online by stating:

“We must do more to improve the quality of services to Canadians. Often this means a more collaborative approach among departments. But, I am convinced that if we focus on priorities, that if we exercise imagination and creativity, that if we work in partnership between elected politicians and the professional public servants we will be able to do very dramatic things for this country.” 

  • CIOs accepted this challenge. Under the banner of “Citizen-Centred Services”, you built a framework for modernizing Canada’s public sector services. The framework incorporated:
    • Consulting with citizens, determining their expectations and involving them in service improvements;

    • Establishing a comprehensive governance and accountability structure supported by tools to measure client satisfaction;

    • Continuously enhancing the capacity of public organizations to close service gaps and deliver coordinated services; and

    • Respecting the privacy rights of Canadians.

  • Finally, the framework knit together partnerships of program officials from all jurisdictions at all levels of government, academia and the private sector.  
  • As a result, Canada gained an international reputation as one of the most highly connected countries in the world and a widely acknowledged leader on government Online.

  • Our challenge for 2011 is how do we harness the same attributes of innovation and collaboration used for Government Online to achieve an Open Government platform for Canadians that will match and even surpass those initiatives currently being deployed both nationally and internationally?

One way is to recognize and build on our existing strengths.


  • At the federal level, there have been attempts at proactive disclosure. Almost 10 years ago, the government issued a policy requiring all officials above a certain level to post, on-line, the specific details of their travel and hospitality claims. Since then, more information is being routinely disclosed, including provisions of contracts over $10K, terms of grants and contributions, government advertising expenditures and internal audit reports.

  • Some federal institutions are to be commended for embracing Open Government concepts and leading by example. Notable among them are:

    • Natural Resources Canada offers free access to databases that once entailed substantial user charges. Its GeoConnections Discovery Portal is a metadata catalogue that enables users and data suppliers to access, evaluate, visualize and publish Canadian geospatial and geoscience data products and Web services.

    • Citizenship and Immigration Canada is now providing public access to many of their massive immigration databases. Their objective is to disseminate the most popular data sets to the public without requiring recourse to the Access to Information Act.

    • National Defence and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency are making their disclosure logs of access to information requests available.

    • My Office has revamped its public website to include access disclosure logs, internal policy documents and research and statistical reports. Our partnership with Microsoft for Right to Know Week 2010 was also a very successful one.

  • Every day, we are made aware of new and exciting Open Government initiatives at the provincial, territorial, municipal and grassroots levels. In fact, it is at the grassroots level where many of the most innovative initiatives are occurring. These initiatives are an indication of the types of information Canadians actually want.

  • In a recent Globe and Mail article entitled “if you won’t tell us about our MPs, we’ll do it for you”, David Eaves described new websites mounted by what he called “digital democratic activists”. He cited, as an example, which enables the public to see what Members of Parliament say, explore how they vote, and search related press stories.

  • Another example is [website no longer available]. This site provides a breakdown of Members of Parliament statistics, including, the frequency with which Members vote against their parties and Members’ attendance record.

  • Another way to achieve an Open government platform is to learn from others.


  • In spite of progress to date, Canada has a great distance to go if it is to achieve the same degree of prominence it merited for Government Online.

  • There is a great deal to be learned from the experiences of other countries in implementing Open Government initiatives.

  • Subsequent to President Obama’s Open Government directive, the United States government posted a clear, eight point public policy statement on its site. In addition, it prescribed that an audit be conducted of all federal initiatives by April 7, 2010. Elements of the directive required agencies to provide the public with information about how the agency currently handles and maintains information, as well as a roadmap for how and when the agency would make itself more transparent, participatory, and collaborative.

  • Our American colleagues also stressed the importance of setting firm milestones – stages, along with dates. Their consultation process, the initial staged release of agency data sets and progress reports to the American people had to be completed by December 2009, only one year following the President’s inauguration.

  • In the United Kingdom, newly elected Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed his support for open government. In May, he announced his “Big Society Declaration” which embraces and accounts for the creation and consumption of open data. Under the banner of “transparency is at the heart of this Government and is home to national and local data for free re-use”, the policy to release raw data sets is already spawning a myriad of entrepreneurial opportunities.

  • The Australian government proposed and endorsed a major overhaul of infrastructure and policy following its Task Force on open Government with a view to transforming its public sector institutions to embrace a culture of open government.

  • These governments have recognized the social and economic benefits of sharing information with the public in accessible and open formats. They understand that sharing data and collaborating with citizens helps them make informed decisions, promotes their engagement, instils trust in government, and stimulates innovation and economic activity. These are all fundamental to the development of our democratic institutions.


  • Yet another way is to effect the convergence between access to information regimes and open government initiatives.  

  • Michael Geist, an expert in the field of internet and e-commerce law, wrote an article entitled, “Open government moving in parallel but opposite directions”. In it, he discusses the systemic problems encountered in obtaining information through formal access to information systems and compares the process with the unofficial, citizen-driven initiatives to make government information accessible. He concludes that “it may be time to place the two issues on the same track.

  • Internationally, there is a growing trend to link freedom of information regimes and the Open Government movement. In September, Access Info Europe, the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Open Society Institute Information Program, which are civil society organizations, launched a public consultation process on their draft report entitled Beyond Access: Open Government Data and the “Right to Reuse”.

  • This report explicitly links the goals of the right of access to information community with Open Government. It demonstrates that the two share common objectives in that they aim to increase government transparency so that all members of society can enjoy the inherent social and economic benefits derived from information generated with public funds.

  • While the right to information movement emphasizes the legal obligation of public bodies to respond to requests for information and the Open Government movement emphasizes the release of datasets in formats and under conditions that permit reuse, there is increasing convergence since both are advocating proactive release of information on a major scale. A core recommendation of the study is that “the transparency agenda could be advanced more effectively if access to information and Open Government data advocates were to collaborate more closely.”

  • Open Government is very much connected to access to information and proactive disclosure. However, it extends beyond these concepts to an entirely new way of looking at government and the participation of citizens in it.

  • But why should we care and why should we have a sense of urgency to achieve this cultural and technological shift.

  • We live in an environment where information travels fast and the news now happens in “real time” thanks to tweeting and live streaming.  

  • Yet our current performance in disclosing public sector information is dismal.


  • Through our report card process, we evaluate the performance of federal institutions in meeting their obligations under the Access to Information Act.

  • A recent exercise assessed the performance of twenty-four institutions which represent 88% of access requests received by the federal government.

  • The overall results are not encouraging. The report cards confirm that delays in responding to access requests continue to plague the system. Average completion times ranged from a low of 34 days to a high of 163 days.

  • Compounding these problems are inadequate information management practices which result in complaints involving huge volumes of records containing many versions and duplicates of the same information to the other extreme of there being no relevant records at all.

  • Annual statistics compiled by the Treasury Board Secretariat indicate a substantial decrease in the amount of information being disclosed pursuant to access to information requests. During the past ten years, the number of cases where all information has been disclosed has decreased from 41% to 16%.

  • The end result is that this gradual erosion of access principles is threatening to obliterate requesters’ rights of access to government information altogether.

  • In addition, our Access to Information Act is in dire need of modernization to bring it up to par with national and international standards.


  • Clearly, the reactive mode of gaining access to government information has proven to be costly, time consuming and out of step with the expectations of citizens, particularly the expectations of the digital generation.


  • The opportunities that open government present in terms of policy development were recognized in the February 2010 Tellier-Emerson report to the Prime Minister. In it, the authors stress the risks of having a public service working in isolation and becoming irrelevant. They urge the public service to take full advantage of these collaborative technologies to better engage with citizens, particularly younger ones, in policy development.


  • Current events also demonstrate the urgency of responding to public pressures for Open Government. The controversy surrounding WikiLeaks is indicative of citizens harnessing cheap and accessible technology to achieve a level of disclosure that they consider appropriate without any government or other control.

  • In 2011 - democracy, government efficiency, and national prosperity share the same core requirement. Citizens, experts, and entrepreneurs must be able to easily access, interact with, and reuse current and relevant public domain data.


It is time - and indeed I believe it is long overdue – to develop a made in Canada strategy.

  • The Parliamentary Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has launched a study of Open Government.

  • What I proposed to the Committee is that, to lead the paradigm shift from reactive to proactive disclosure – and ultimately to Open Government – there must be a made-in-Canada strategy.

  • In my view, the strategy must reflect the unique characteristics and informational needs of our own society and, in this context, I proposed that the Committee consider five overarching principles:

    • First, there must be commitment at the top to lead a cultural change conducive to Open Government. At a minimum, this involves issuing an official declaration on Open Government with clear objectives. The commitment also entails assigning responsibility and accountability for coordination, guidance and deliverables. It requires prescribing specific timeframes.

    • Second, there should be ongoing and broad public consultations. Citizens should be encouraged to participate using electronic means. It is critical to determine what government information the public wants and how they want to receive it. This process becomes the basis for establishing priorities.

    • Third, information should be provided free or at minimal cost. It should be made accessible in open standard formats and supported by metadata to assist in the discovery, understanding and interpretation of the information. Information should be rendered re-usable and adaptable so that citizens, businesses and non-government organizations can participate in the development and maximize the use of technology to enrich the information resources.

    • Fourth, privacy, security, Crown copyright and official language issues need to be considered and resolved.

    • Finally, Open Government principles should be anchored in statutory and policy instruments.

  • On September 1, 2010, Canadian federal, provincial and territorial Information and Privacy Commissioners issued a similar resolution endorsing and promoting the principles of Open Government.

  • In this environment, Canada must move quickly to embrace open government and, in doing so, encourage citizen engagement, especially that of the digital generation.


  • There is tremendous potential right now for information practitioners – from all levels of government, from the private sector, from grassroots organizations and from other countries – to join forces and truly bring Canada into the information age of the 21st century.

  • We need to come together to maximise synergies and build on Open Government initiatives that are being developed at the local, national and international level. In doing so, I believe we have an opportunity to bring Canada back to a leadership role in an area that holds so much social and economic promise.

  • To quote from an excellent report compiled by Deloitte entitled Unlocking Government: How Data Transforms Democracy:

“Government leaders have before them an opportunity to combine the resourcefulness of online citizens and entrepreneurs with the power of factual data to more effectively achieve their mission. In an information-driven age, the ability of governments to seize this opportunity may ultimately determine whether a government fails or succeeds.” 

  • I would like to thank the organizers for putting together such a timely event. I hope you leave this conference with a renewed sense of purpose as key catalysts, and extreme and transformational leaders of government transparency.

  • Thank you.