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Results: 1 - 100 of 412
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-12 11:37
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
This meeting has significantly changed. We were supposed to have here the new commissioner, who is nominated for a six-month period. It is fundamental to our democracy that commissioners appear in front of committees when they're nominated. This last minute decision not to appear is a contempt for the importance of our parliamentary institutions.
I also noticed that the Privacy Commissioner has not been allowed to appear in front of the committee on Bill C-51. This is a habit that the Conservatives are getting into, of muzzling commissioners. It is fundamental to ensure, when we make nominations of this importance to Canada and to Canadians, that we have a chance as parliamentarians to question the competencies and the quality of the nominee. I think it's unconscionable, Mr. Chair, that the commissioner is not here today.
What happened? I need to know what happened, first of all. This meeting has been cut in half, and something fundamental to the health of our democracy has been tampered with. I expect some kind of justification. The commissioner just cannot decide, “I'm going to wake up this morning, and Parliament doesn't matter.” He or she, depending on the commissioner, has a responsibility to come here when called upon and to be questioned.
I think this is a serious matter that we need to give full consideration to before we hear from our other invitees today.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-12 11:39
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Thank you, Mr. Ravignat. I understand your point. We did have a meeting scheduled to hear from the newly nominated integrity commissioner today, and at the last minute he has notified our committee that he will not be attending.
I have a speakers list.
Mr. Byrne, you wanted the floor briefly.
I'm going to ask—when you're done, Mr. Byrne, and perhaps Mr. Warkentin as well—the clerk to explain exactly what he was told by the office of the integrity commissioner as to why he can't attend.
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Jean-François Lafleur
View Jean-François Lafleur Profile
Jean-François Lafleur
2015-03-12 11:40
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Thank you.
I had a conversation yesterday with the commissioner's office, and there seems to be some confusion around his appearance concerning what he was appearing under. He was notified that he was to appear as interim commissioner, and on the notice of meeting we always write where he is coming from. It said that it was from the office of the commissioner.
So the confusion could have come from there in the sense that his office was probably thinking that he was asked to appear as a commissioner. But underneath, there was the name of the commissioner, Mr. Friday, and it said “Interim Commissioner”, so it was in that capacity that he was invited to appear.
It seems that at his office there was some confusion about that fact, and what I received as information is that he would probably be nominated later, and there was an absolute willingness from his office to appear later as the commissioner—a permanent commissioner, if you wish.
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View Gerry Byrne Profile
Lib. (NL)
Yes. This is getting murkier, Mr. Chair. If I understand it, the requirement under the Governor in Council is for an order in council to be issued for his nomination to be extended as the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.
Work with me, Mr. Chair, if you can, because I think we need to get this clarified. As I understood it, the nomination of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was forwarded to this committee because we have an opportunity as a committee to oversee and to make a recommendation about this particular appointment. The referral was required because the commissioner's former appointment had expired and he is being renominated. Is that—?
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-12 11:42
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No. The former commissioner, Mario Dion, is no longer there, and in the interim Mr. Friday was nominated to a six-month term to be the interim integrity commissioner.
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View Gerry Byrne Profile
Lib. (NL)
Therefore, he is acting, so it's fairly clear that—
Has he not yet obtained the order in council? Has the order in council been authorized?
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-12 11:43
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No, he is interim commissioner for six months and he's about three months into that six-month appointment. But still, this committee is allowed to and in fact is obliged to vet that appointment.
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View Gerry Byrne Profile
Lib. (NL)
This makes absolutely no sense. That's why I wanted to work this through, so that we're communicating to Canadians that there is a new commissioner who has never been vetted by a parliamentary committee. The commissioner has been invited, we understand, under very specific directions to appear concerning the nomination itself, and the interim commissioner is saying, “No, I don't think so.”
Mr. Chair, with all due respect to those who have made a decision in this matter—and those decision-makers are not in this committee, but outside of this committee—we have had a very serious breach of trust already occur with a former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. That commissioner was never allowed to appear before this committee. That commissioner was never asked.... The report of the Auditor General was never allowed to be heard by the public accounts committee, which interfaces with the Office of the Auditor General.
Now we have an interim commissioner who holds a very important office—important not only to us as Canadians, but to our parliamentary system and to our system of governing the public sector in a fair and responsible way—and this person has just said he won't appear before us because he's a bit confused.
I am very confused, Mr. Chair. I would like to have the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner come before us so that we can meet him.
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View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
View Chris Warkentin Profile
2015-03-12 11:46
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Thank you, Mr. Martin. I appreciate that.
It is clear to me, based on what the clerk said, that that there was some confusion about the invitation. We are very confident in the ability of Mr. Friday, and I'm certain that when he does come before this committee we will all be satisfied that he has conducted and will continue—
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View Greg Kerr Profile
CPC (NS)
View Greg Kerr Profile
2015-03-12 11:48
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Mr. Chair, I know a lot of us have been through a lot of committees and a lot of processes before, and certainly know how to detect the bit of posturing that's going on. That's part of what politics is about, but I understand that if you are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, because obviously a lot of comments are being made without knowing some of the background....
I think what Mr. Byrne was suggesting is to let him know that we'd really like him to appear and that we expect him to appear, and leave the door open for him to respond back that the committee would like to hear what he has to say. I think we all would like to hear what he would say, but to put motive in that sort of way, I think, is just absolutely irresponsible. I'd rather give this individual the chance to explain to us in detail what he sees his position is and what's expected. To condemn him blind, I think, is just absolutely irresponsible.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-12 11:49
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Condemning him is not the issue here. The issue is that something went awry.
Why did he—and I haven't heard an explanation for this—confirm that he was going to come, knowing very well the content of the letter and that this was about him being appointed for an interim period? All I'm asking with the motion is that he come to committee to explain himself, and talk about his capacity as the commissioner during the six-month interim period. We have a responsibility to review nominations.
The motion is to ensure that the commissioner is at the next meeting and that we have the chance as parliamentarians to do our job and ask him the difficult questions that he needs to answer.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-12 11:51
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Who answers to whom? Do we answer to the commissioner? The commissioner answers to this committee. The message that needs to be sent to this commissioner and to all commissioners is that they are responsible and accountable to parliamentarians. This is just a fundamental issue about how our Westminster Parliament functions.
I understand the spirit of Mr. Byrne's amendment, but I think that we need to be clear about the nature of the relationship between commissioners and Parliament in the motion.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-12 11:52
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I think Mr. Byrne may have been pointing out as well that it's not quite as simple as saying this committee shall summon the witness. The process is such that I would have to report to the House that a witness was unwilling to attend, and the House—the Speaker in fact—would have to direct a vote in Parliament to compel that witness to attend. It's a multi-step process for the standing committee to exercise their extraordinary powers to compel the attendance of a witness who is otherwise unwilling to attend.
I believe Mr. Byrne's amendment may have been in that vein. It may be a more achievable outcome if we in fact rephrase it to inform him that his attendance is expected.
Mr. Ravignat, and then we really must move on, I believe.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-12 11:53
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Well, it may be more achievable, but what the official opposition is concerned about is that this is becoming a pattern. This isn't the first committee that this has happened in. In fact, the Conservative government has instructed the Privacy Commissioner not to attend the discussion going on in committee on Bill C-51.
If this is going to become a pattern, then there needs to be some commitment on behalf of the committee, and maybe this is the place to do it, that all the commissioners be reminded that they have a responsibility to be in committee and to defend themselves and their position.
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View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
View Chris Warkentin Profile
2015-03-12 11:54
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Yes.
This is getting absolutely ridiculous, to impugn motive without having heard from the interim commissioner. It's absolutely unfortunate and certainly below the office to which the member opposite has been called.
We expect and look forward to hearing from the commissioner, but this has turned into a bit of an unfortunate circumstance. We'll be voting against it, but we look forward to hearing from the commissioner in due course.
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View Gerry Byrne Profile
Lib. (NL)
Mr. Chair, this is where we move into murky waters because those who would suggest that we should be careful about our relationships with officers of Parliament, and that we should understand that they are the masters of the House, not us, does no service to the work we do in this committee or as parliamentarians.
An alternative, a reasoned amendment, was offered to collapse the situation and provide some diplomatic resolution to this, which was refused by the government, clearly for a good reason, because while they may protest that this is inflammatory and unnecessary and that their motives should not be impugned here, it is clear to everyone listening to this and watching us and hearing our words that there's more to this than meets the eye.
Mr. Chair, the government was offered a reasoned solution to a diplomatic problem that has now morphed into something clearly much larger because now the government wants us to invite. We are going to the lowest common denominator now because a meeting was offered and rejected, and now this committee is left to simply invite an officer of Parliament to appear before us, as opposed to expressing the expectation that they must appear before us.
This has become escalated at this point in time, and unnecessarily so. I'm not very comfortable about the notion of inviting an officer of Parliament to come before us so that we can examine the nomination and offer a report to the House of Commons as to whether or not we agree or disagree with the nomination. It is our fundamental responsibility as a committee to examine this nomination and to report to the House, not to invite, to expect an appearance by someone who would assume such an office.
I'm not very pleased right now. I thought we had a reasoned opportunity to de-escalate the situation, but now I think we are getting very clear instructions from the government as to who is in charge. Is it the executive or Parliament? The government is telling us it's the executive.
I will not support this.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-12 11:59
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I fully agree with my colleague, Mr. Byrne. This has become about clarity, and it's about clarity to the Canadian public with regard to who has the right to call an officer of Parliament. Is it the officer of Parliament who decides, just on a whim, whether or not he's going to show up and be accountable to the Canadian people whom we represent? Or does the committee have the power to make sure that this person is accountable? This is just a fundamental issue of our democratic institutions.
I'm sorry that my Conservative colleagues don't see this. They were elected to represent their constituents. That's the fundamental role we play. That means that you have responsibility like I do to ensure that officers of Parliament are accountable. The relationship between the executive, the officers of Parliament, and committee, is a fine balance. That relationship is essential to the health of our democracy, and that's not an exaggeration. That's just political science 101. You have to make sure that there is a check and balance between the power of committee, the power of the executive, and the officers of Parliament.
The reality is that they are accountable to us. Whatever the executive would like to do to interfere in the nomination process—and that's a whole other issue, the transparency and accountability for the nomination process—but at a minimum you would think that when a letter is sent to a commissioner, that letter is positively received.
It stinks. Something happened. I think Mr. Byrne is right. These are murky waters and we have no clarity as to why, unless the clerk has more information as to why the commissioner decided to come, and then suddenly.... What was it, the day of the meeting, Mr. Chair? No, the day before, it was yesterday, right?
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View Greg Kerr Profile
CPC (NS)
View Greg Kerr Profile
2015-03-12 12:02
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Mr. Chair, because we have witnesses, we can get on with it. We could continue the hyperbole for a long time here.
What I suggest we do then, if you want, is to make a motion to reinvite the witness and give the witness a chance to come here and explain, as opposed to condemning him before he's even before us.
If it's in order, I will move a motion to reinvite the witness, and you set the date, as chair, as to when the witness appears.
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View Tarik Brahmi Profile
NDP (QC)
View Tarik Brahmi Profile
2015-03-12 12:05
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm trying to understand this motion and look at it from a French perspective. I feel that the word “invite”, which I would translate as “inviter”, does not express the agent's obligation to appear before Parliament. It does not remind him of his obligation to appear before Parliament.
I know that the word “summon” was initially proposed, and that would probably be translated as “convoquer”. However, I would translate “convoquer” as “convene” or “call”. The word “summon” may be too strong. It may be lacking the diplomacy and the respect due to the position, but I think the word “inviter” absolutely doesn't render the idea of a legal obligation to report to Parliament. I don't think that term is appropriate. That is why I will vote against the motion.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-12 12:07
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Thank you, Mr. Brahmi.
Just for information, we could not return to the word “summon” because it has already been voted down within the context of the same meaning. We can't vote again on the same issue twice.
Is there any further debate? Seeing none, the question is on the motion by Mr. Kerr.
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: The motion is carried and I believe the issue is resolved for the purposes of this meeting.
We will move on then to the orders of the day.
I offer my great apologies to the representatives here today from Shared Services Canada. First they were made to wait until the vote had finished in the House of Commons, and now they've had to suffer through a prolonged debate about committee business.
One of the witnesses was forced to leave already. Elizabeth Tromp, the acting senior assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer for corporate services, unfortunately had to excuse herself. Perhaps someone else can read her presentation.
Mr. Radford, if you wouldn't mind, introduce the rest of your panel and proceed with Ms. Tromp's presentation.
Thank you.
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View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
View Chris Warkentin Profile
2015-03-10 16:14
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Minister, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate the fact that you and your officials have made yourselves available to spend this next little while with us.
I was reading a national columnist this last week, and there was an expression of concern about the estimates process and the ability of the average Canadian and possibly of parliamentarians to understand it. Certainly he, as a member of the media, was confused by the estimates process. I think it's important for people watching this and for those who don't fully understand the estimates process that you explain in general terms how Canadians should look at the estimates. Maybe you can also explain some of the things that have been done to help people understand the estimates and some of the recent things that have happened.
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View Tony Clement Profile
CPC (ON)
This is a constant challenge for anyone who is the President of the Treasury Board, to draw the distinction between the estimates process and the budget process. Ultimately they align, but it does take some months for that to occur. Because I'm statutorily required to table the estimates to the House of Commons prior to March 1, and frequently the budget is either around the same time, or in this case just after that, they don't align perfectly at the start of the year but they certainly align perfectly at the end of the year. So parliamentarians have the estimates process and they obviously pass or not. We have the budget, and then we have the public accounts for the previous year, which are a topic of examination and debate by this committee and by the parliamentary process.
Finally, I would say that one of the things I have instituted since being named the President of the Treasury Board in 2011 is to try to get us away from paper-based estimates and public accounts, and toward the more online versions, where through hypertext and other links it will be easier for you and your colleagues to examine each program year by year, each department year by year, and that way you can compare and contrast, rather than going through three sets of books of the past three years that are a metre high.
I think it is working better, and there is certainly more that can be done, but technology is our friend and it's making it easier for the government to be accountable to parliamentarians.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-10 17:01
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I'm afraid that's not a point of order, Mr. Byrne, but you have made your point, and that does come close to the time that we have for the minister with us today.
But I just want to say before you go, Minister, that this has not exactly been a triumph of scrutiny and oversight and due diligence, in that 241 billion dollars' worth of spending just flew past under our noses with the most cursory overview of one hour with the committee, and one party with political standing got exactly five minutes to question all of the spending on the main estimates and the supplementary estimates (C).
It's a bit like walking a chicken past a pot of boiling water and calling it chicken soup. It hardly qualifies as oversight, in my view.
On a point of order, Mr. Albas.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-03-10 17:02
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I can challenge that notion if you like, but the point is, Mr. Chair, we all have the opportunity to hold government to account through many different vehicles. It's up to us, as individual members, to do that. While I totally understand that you do have your strong feelings on things like this, it should be done through the committee process. Therefore, if you'd like to ask the officials questions, you can give it up to the vice-chair, and I'm sure the vice-chair will gladly take the chair so you can fulfill your role and bring accountability in your way.
Thank you.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-10 17:03
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Mr. Albas, I'm not sure if you were a member of this committee when we did a comprehensive review of the way the committee deals with estimates, where we made 17 very robust recommendations and a commitment to the public that we would do a more comprehensive analysis of the estimates for the very reason that it's our obligation as an oversight committee, which happens to be called the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
A one-hour analysis of 241 billion dollars' worth of spending does not satisfy those—
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-03-10 17:03
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It's up to individual members of Parliament to do that, Mr. Chair—
The Chair: Well, as the chair—
Mr. Dan Albas: —and there's still a whole other hour.
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View Tony Clement Profile
CPC (ON)
Chair, in response, I offer up my officials. They can be here—
A voice: As long as you want.
Hon. Tony Clement: —day and night, night and day, to answer any questions you or the committee may have.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-10 17:04
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That's very generous of you, Minister. Frankly, the buck stops with you, and it's you we would like to question.
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View Tony Clement Profile
CPC (ON)
I have a few other things on my plate, but I can offer other time. If the committee votes to bring me back, I'd be happy to be back.
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Brian Pagan
View Brian Pagan Profile
Brian Pagan
2015-03-10 17:09
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Very briefly, Mr. Chair, just by way of context and to pick up on some of the items from the last round, there was a great deal of interest in the issue of the budget and sunsetting, and the order in which information is presented, supporting, again, your point about the primacy of parliamentary control and approval of the estimates documents.
We are presenting information to you that has been approved by the Treasury Board based on an available source of funds, as confirmed by the budget. Generally, that source of funds is through the budget process. We have no control of or indication as to when that budget will be, but we do have regular intervals, regular opportunities, to update Parliament on the spending plans of departments based on the sources of funds that are provided through that budget process.
What we are presenting today in supplementary estimates (C) are all those authorities to close out fiscal year 2014-15 and the approved authorities to begin fiscal year 2015-16. We will update Parliament regularly through subsequent supplementary estimates as that situation changes with the budget and the economic update.
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Brian Pagan
View Brian Pagan Profile
Brian Pagan
2015-03-10 17:28
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Thank you for the question. I welcome this, because I think it is an opportunity to educate members of Parliament about the process and perhaps dispel some myths and misconceptions.
I spoke earlier about supplementary estimates (C) and the fact that they are tabled according to House Standing Orders at a certain point in the year, leaving just a few weeks in the fiscal year for departments to execute the programs based on the approvals provided by Parliament.
In the past, going back to the early nineties, this timing created a phenomenon known as “March madness”, whereby departments would spend the money available, because if they couldn't spend it, they would lose it. This was a practice that was criticized by the Auditor General and by parliamentary committees, so the concept of carry forward was introduced in 1993. It allowed a bit of flexibility. It simply recognized the reality of providing approval for funding very late in the fiscal year and some of the difficulty in spending this related to contracting, hiring staff, etc.
It proved to be quite successful, I think. The Auditor General supported an increase to the carry forward. It was increased to 5% in 1994-95 and has stayed at that level ever since.
A more recent development in 2007 was the creation of a central vote to provide more transparency to Parliament in terms of the use of that vote. Right now Parliament, through these main estimates, is creating a central vote for administration by Treasury Board, and we will report back—that central vote is worth $1.6 billion—at the conclusion of the fiscal year on how that $1.6 billion was allocated, department by department, in accordance with their carry forward needs and entitlements. There is a very strict process by which we determine whether they are eligible or not for that carry forward.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-03-10 17:30
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Okay.
Just on this whole topic, because criticisms are raised in this place quite often, and sometimes it's good to check in with them, would you say that you're well acquainted with the supply process and the need to check in with parliamentarians throughout?
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Brian Pagan
View Brian Pagan Profile
Brian Pagan
2015-03-10 17:30
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Absolutely. This is a process that we take quite seriously. The sector exists to support the expenditure management system, and we appear regularly before parliamentary committees. We take this quite seriously.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-03-10 17:30
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With that in mind, because it was raised earlier that we have only this much time at this committee, I was left with the impression that people at home might think we spend only an hour reviewing these particular things. I know you probably spend much more than just that.
Besides this committee, what other opportunities do individual members of Parliament have to hold the government to account when it comes to its spending, both informal as well as formal methods?
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Brian Pagan
View Brian Pagan Profile
Brian Pagan
2015-03-10 17:31
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Thank you for the question.
Transparency and accountability for the moneys provided to departments again are something that we take quite seriously. We have, I think, worked very constructively with this committee, with the Senate Committee on National Finance, with the Office of the Auditor General to listen and hear their needs and make real improvements to the information provided to Parliament, not only in the estimates but in a range of other documents. The quarterly financial report provides in-year reporting on how each and every department is progressing against the authorities provided to them by departments.
In just a week or so the President of the Treasury Board will table departmental reports on plans and priorities, which provide a great deal of detail by department for the moneys requested in these supplementary estimates. We have worked with departments over the last several years to improve the transparency of their documents by identifying strategic outcomes and program activities that allow parliamentary committees to better understand the aggregation of programs and how those fit with departmental mandates and government priorities.
I think that provides just a very brief summary of the work that we've done, and I can assure you it is an ongoing exercise. I think Canada can be very proud of the way its public finances are managed, but we are always striving to identify and implement improvements, and we would welcome recommendations.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-03-10 17:33
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I just want to clarify. The reports on plans and priorities I think was what you meant to say, not the departmental reports. Is that correct?
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Brian Pagan
View Brian Pagan Profile
Brian Pagan
2015-03-10 17:33
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There are two documents that comprise part III of the estimates. The report on plans and priorities is tabled in the spring to support main estimates, and then at the conclusion of the fiscal year a departmental performance report is tabled, which provides that backward-looking view.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-10 17:33
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Thank you, Mr. Albas.
Just to take a second, I think it would be useful for new members of the committee to see the helpful chart that Mr. Matthews put together for us to help us understand the continuity of the flow of supply, which included everything from estimates to budget to DPRs. It helped me at least to have that graphically illustrated to understand that flow of supply.
Mr. Byrne.
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Mary Francoli
View Mary Francoli Profile
Mary Francoli
2014-05-13 8:47
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Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to your committee. I'm going to focus my opening remarks on the Open Government Partnership, or the OGP, in which Canada is a member.
The OGP secures commitments from governments to improve transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement; to fight corruption; and to harness technology to strengthen governance. A requirement of membership in the initiative is that each country agree to have an independent review of its national action plan and of its progress every two years. This is called the independent reporting mechanism, and it's part of a system of checks and balances built into the OGP. I'm the independent researcher for Canada. Our first progress report was published in February of this year. The foundation for that report and for my remarks today is based on stakeholder feedback that made up the bulk of the report.
Canada's national action plan to the Open Government Partnership focuses on more than just open data, but given the parameters of your study, I'm going to confine my comments to open data as much as possible.
There are a lot of different issues that I could talk about in relation to open data, but given the limited time, I thought I would focus this morning on some of the main areas of concern that users raised during my stakeholder interviews and meetings. So it's a bit of a critical analysis of our open data strategy. I'm not speaking as much to some of the positive things, but I'm certainly happy to speak to those later during the questions and answers.
I organized my comments today around seven main concerns or points that the majority of stakeholders that I spoke to during the course of my study raised as issues with regard to the open data strategy.
The first is the diversity of data sets. Currently the data.gc.ca portal is largely dominated by geospatial data. There are few to no data sets in many other areas, including employment insurance, health, and issues related to specific demographics such as seniors or aboriginal persons. A lot of the users that I spoke to during the course of my study found that quite limiting, just the nature of the data sets themselves.
The second point is the quality of data. A couple of the points relate to that. Quality of data was perhaps what the majority of stakeholders were most concerned about. There is a widespread belief that the quality of the data in the data portal will suffer, and will continue to suffer in the long term, as a result of steps that have been taken to cut data collection at its point of origin.
A prime example of this—and I have to say this was the example that was given by almost everybody I spoke to during the course of my study—is the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census. Those sorts of measures around data collection have led to concern about the availability of updated and comparable data sets at smaller units of geography in the future. We’re already starting to see that be the case. Even in the last few days there have been a few news stories and reports about the loss of data from the last census exercise.
Those are the first two points.
The third point is the fragmented nature of the data sets that are found on the data.gc.ca portal. Data users noted that it isn’t uncommon for data sets to be released in what they said were bits and pieces instead of in complete and wider-reaching data sets. Sometimes they said they're also separated from their methodology and their quality description. What data users were finding is that when they were trying to work with the data, they had to spend quite a bit of time and really did need quite a high level of expertise to be able to combine data sets and make them really useful.
I think it came out during the course of the conversations I had that this problem might be a function of a bit of a difference in the definition of “data set” amongst data scientists and data users and government. I think there's a bit more conversation needed around the definition of a “data set”.
Another problem related to quality and the nature of the data is the format of the data sets on the portal.
In the past there have been some inconsistencies in the format of many of the data sets. I know that's an issue that the Treasury Board Secretariat has been working on. In the process of developing standards we really need to make sure that good metadata is included with the data sets. Missing and inconsistent metadata makes analysis really difficult; it makes it difficult for data users. The impression that I had from some of the users was that the standards for formatting are set a bit on the lower side, and that some of the metadata from certain data sets had potentially been removed in the name of standardization and consistency.
That brings me to my fifth point, which is the data portal itself. A lot of the people I spoke with had significant concerns about the data portal. I just came back from Open Government Partnership meetings in Dublin—they were European regional meetings—and heard many of the same concerns coming from civil society actors and assessors of action plans, coming from other countries that either have a data portal or are considering starting up a data portal. Data.gc.ca, as you know, is managed out of TBS, the Treasury Board Secretariat, which has the responsibility for the open government file. That centralization of the portal means that the data on the portal is effectively removed from its creators and its curators. It's removed from those, then, who have the highest degrees of specialization and understanding of the data itself. That puts TBS in the perhaps unenviable position of being a middleman, managing relationships and queries between those who are using the data and those who collected the data.
Some thinking needs to go into that issue, and perhaps the location of the data portal should be thought about. Some people I spoke with indicated that NRCan would perhaps seem a more logical home for the data portal, given that the majority of the data sets do belong to them and they have a high degree of expertise in data collection, presentation, and analysis.
Another issue with the portal is the search function. Users did quite widely indicate that it's not particularly user-friendly or well-designed, and they really thought that, at a minimum, with the portal, the functionality of the search function should be improved.
My second last point is that there is a growing data divide that's being created right now. Releasing data sets alone really doesn't have that much potential. It's not going to lead to any kind of significant change. You need people who can take the data and use the data. That requires expertise; it also requires resources. The raw format that the data sets are released in really does privilege data scientists, people who have high degrees of expertise in the use of raw data. Many others, non-governmental organizations, for example, would benefit greatly from the data sets and the information, but they're not able to use them because they lack the resources and they lack the expertise. If we're, in Canada, widely acknowledging that open data is important, then we need to think about potentially developing a mechanism for addressing that data divide and making sure that the data is accessible to a wider range of people than just people with a high degree of expertise—data scientists.
The final point that I'll make today is that open data is not open government. There has been a lot going on with open data, including the important study that you are undertaking with this particular committee. It's where a lot of other governments as well have placed their energy. We're certainly not alone in Canada in focusing on open data.
While there is certainly room for improvement, we have done some good things when it comes to open data. To be focused and careful of time, I didn’t necessarily go over all of those good things. I'm happy to talk to them during the questions. My worry, after talking to a range of stakeholders, and conducting the Canadian evaluation of our open government progress, is that open data is becoming privileged at the expense of other areas of open government and some of the other commitments that we have made in our OGP action plan to the international community and to Canadians.
I'll close there. As I said, I'm happy to answer questions. I've provided the clerk with the link to a full copy of the report, and I can provide any other research that you might find useful.
Thank you very much.
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Jean-Pierre Fortin
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Jean-Pierre Fortin
2014-05-13 9:24
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Thank you, Mr. Chitilian.
I will continue by speaking to the points of interest which were submitted to us when we were invited to appear. In the invitation, it was suggested that we talk about the needs of users and about socio-economic benefits, if there were any, as well as the ways different governments could collaborate. It was also suggested that we talk about best practices, and of the ones we felt were better than others.
But before doing so, I think it is important to specify certain statistics.
Up until now, the City of Montreal has released 107 datasets. They deal with subjects of interest to citizens, which Mr. Chitilian mentioned, including transportation, administrative data and services close to the people, such as sports, recreation, culture and so on.
As far as the needs of users and citizens are concerned, I believe that others before us have already said this, but we really have to insist on the fact that beyond the accessibility of data, citizens are asking for information and structured data so they can improve the way they use the services the city has to offer and the way they can access these services. Structuring the data of course depends on the availability of platforms. In this situation, we are not talking about platforms which would only receive data, but really about systems which make the way these data can be used understandable. Taken to its logical conclusion, we could even draw a parallel with environments involving business intelligence. Otherwise, these data would really be of interest to no one.
I also think that citizens need to feel that their city is transparent, and therefore their government as well. In return, we can hope that the public's cynicism towards its institutions would go down. So what we are talking about is creating and maintaining a relationship of trust.
As for the socio-economic benefits, I have just mentioned the first one, namely the feeling of belonging and of pride people have when they contribute to a more open society, one which is more dynamic and which makes sense. Another effect is that this creates bottom up work and initiatives, that is, initiatives which create value based on this data. For example, citizens could take the initiative and create applications for their fellow citizens.
If you do your job well and if you like your community, you can expect that a virtuous circle will develop. It would be a kind of ecosystem which includes a city that has data and makes it available, that includes supporters or creators of solutions who use these data, as well as informed and engaged citizens. So you would find yourself in what could be called a virtuous circle.
Regarding best practices, at the City of Montreal, we have always found inspiration in Europe's best practices. This includes both top down initiatives, where governments strongly participate, and, to the contrary, initiatives which strongly call on community involvement.
We also are clear on the fact that the British government contributes not only because it publishes wide ranges of datasets, but also because of the open quality of this data. We were recently consulting an index on open data of various governments, and Great Britain ranked first precisely because of the fact that its data is so open.
Which leads me to talk about the choice of licence.
As with our friends from Quebec City, whom I would like to recognize, and officials from the Government of Quebec and those of the other Quebec towns, we believe that this is an extremely open licence which has very few restrictions. It's the Creative Commons 4.0 licence, whose only requirement has to do with attribution.
In our opinion, it is essential that governments which want to work together agree on a licence which is as open as possible. Otherwise, even though there might be common standards, if the licence does not allow for combining data in a very general way, the work will be in vain. This is why we are working very hard to get all of Canada's public organizations to adopt a licence which is as open as possible and which, of course, comes with the fewest restrictions.
In addition, as far as collaboration is concerned, there are licences and standards, but in this case, as in other countries, the process is moving forward by trial and error. Everybody wants to do their own thing. On the other hand, we are witnessing a form of industrialization of all our processes, and because there are so many platforms, it will probably not be necessary for everyone to develop and maintain their own. Perhaps we can think about sharing these platforms, which would be defined based on common criteria and interests. At the end of the day, we might have super platforms, within which all public organizations could deposit their data. The level of interpretation of these data would largely exceed the level of interpretation of each order of government.
For example, it might be interesting for a Canadian citizen to not only know the extent to which people engage in recreational activities or use public transit, but also, generally speaking, to have an idea about the way in which Canadians engage in recreational activities in their hometowns. For that type of information to be available, the data would obviously have to be combined and integrated into common platforms.
I will stop here. I am ready to take your questions.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-05-13 9:32
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Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My first question would be for Madam Francoli.
You began your presentation by saying that open data is only one part of open government. This is a rather narrowcasted study but I would still like to ask you about it. Regarding the relationship with other segments of open government and open data, it's hard to view open data and only open data without talking more broadly about open government.
Do you have any thoughts with regard to other principles of open government and the relationship to open data?
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Mary Francoli
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Mary Francoli
2014-05-13 9:33
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That's a good question.
We've actually defined or structured our action plan around different aspects of open government in Canada in a really rational way. In Canada we talk about open government in terms of open information, open data, and open dialogue. The open information bit of things relates more to access to information and it relates more to what we often hear referred to as unstructured data. That is, files that public servants might have on their computers and information that's generated more in a documentary form and not just in a raw data set. The open information bit is around that. The open data, obviously, we know; we've talked about that. The open dialogue bit is around engaging citizens in an ongoing and meaningful way. That's really necessary to a good open data strategy as well. All of those things really do work hand in hand.
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Stephen Walker
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Stephen Walker
2014-05-05 16:45
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The answer is yes. I think most of the major portals internationally are considering it. None of them has done it yet. I think we're along with them. We're working dedicatedly with both the U.S. and the U.K. now. All of us are trying to figure out how to meet security conditions and privacy conditions, when what you're really doing is you're publishing a federal data set, in our case. Users are adding to it, data from other areas, so it's no longer just our data. We no longer own that data set. Then they want to republish it, via us, back out to the world. Does it still fall under the open government licence that we have? Who's responsible for the quality of that data? Those are the concerns that jurisdictions have, but we're working together to try to figure it out.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2014-05-05 16:53
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If I'm not mistaken, we've spent $1.2 billion building a building for CSEC and 2,000 full-time employees to spy on Canadians, and we're spending $1.6 million a year to provide access to information.
Thank you for that answer. I'm very surprised to learn that, actually.
Can I ask a specific question? What's the relationship between the Treasury Board's open government steering committee and the advisory panel on open data?
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Stephen Walker
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Stephen Walker
2014-05-05 16:53
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The open government steering committee is the cross-departmental ADM level committee. It has representation from 35 departments that meet regularly to help plan the open government activity moving forward.
The open government advisory panel is a committee that exists as an advisory group specifically to the minister only, made up of outside, non-government employees.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-05-01 9:37
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I have to interrupt you to ask another question.
Has the government shown more transparency in that area? Has data been used effectively to protect the public and reduce the number of conflicts of interest?
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Paul Baker
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Paul Baker
2014-05-01 9:38
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Well, we've spent a fair amount of time looking through the data, and the vast majority of the data doesn't implicate anyone. Much of the data is about a non-profit hiring a lobbyist to help them get a building permit to add an addition onto their building, or businesses that want to get building permits, or someone who has done a study and they want to influence spending by the city. It's that type of thing. There's very little that indicated any kind of corruption.
One of the main problems we wanted to answer was, Walmart had been trying to get a Walmart in Chicago. They were basically banned from Chicago, and so they found an alderman, or someone who was running to become an alderman. They thought that if they could get him to support Walmart.... They gave him a lot of campaign money. Between them and the lobbyists, and other people, he got something like $300,000 to run his aldermanic campaign, and his opponent only had about $30,000. We traced all the lobbyists that Walmart hired, every committee they appeared in front of, but we didn't have the campaign contribution data then. We now have the campaign contribution data. We'd like to combine that and try to start looking for political influence.
Walmart was successful. They got the guy elected, and they got a Walmart. Now they have several Walmarts throughout the city.
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Barbara-Chiara Ubaldi
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Barbara-Chiara Ubaldi
2014-04-10 9:07
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Thank you very much.
I would like to start by giving you a very brief oversight of what we do at the OECD, what we've been doing with open data with the 34 member countries of the OECD and increasingly with the non-member countries. I would like to clarify that we work with governments for our open data project, which concerns the release of data in open formats by governments. So we don't work with the private sector.
Our project started about two years ago, and I think it's important to underline that we started the project at the request of the governments. We have a group of CIOs who represent the governments of the 34 member countries of the OECD, including Canada, who asked us to look a little more in-depth at the strategies, implementation efforts, and the impact of creation efforts that they were putting in place. We produced a working paper highlighting key issues, and we conducted a data collection in 2013 across the countries to be able to see in more detail what governments were doing in terms of being strategic, developing quotas, but also in trying to achieve the value they expect to get out of their open data strategies and initiatives, and to measure these impacts.
I think it's very important to underline that what we found out was that within the community of practitioners, both inside and outside the government, there was and there still is some confusion when it comes to definitions. This means there is much overlap with the activities, for instance, of the freedom of information movement vis-à-vis the open data movement, the discussion on access to information and open data, and how they complement each other. There is still some confusion between open data in the broader sense and open data applied within governments. There is still a little bit of confusion between open data and big data, and still some governments tend to confuse the discussion about data analytics and data mining and open data. We thought that it was extremely important, and still is extremely important, as governments progress in the implementation for open data strategies and initiatives, to work with them to clarify the definitions they refer to.
Briefly, I would like to share with you some of the outcomes of the 2013 data collection we ran that highlights some of the key challenges that governments still deal with. These challenges are of different natures. There are policy challenges when it comes to the strategy, for instance—what kind of strategy and how to make sure that the strategy for open data aligns or is better integrated with social and economic development strategies, open government strategies, public sector reform strategies, and digital agendas for governments, for instance. There are technical challenges—how to, for instance, enable interoperability and integration that didn't exist, how is it possible to foster the linkage of data sets to be released in open formats, and all the related technical issues that governments are still dealing with in many instances.
But there are also organizational challenges that, according to our survey, still remain some of the most important challenges that exist. For instance, administrations, unfortunately, are still very much silo-based in the way of functioning, meaning there is a strong sense of ownership that different public institutions associate with the fact that they are the ones responsible for producing, collecting, and distributing certain data sets. These represent a big challenge in some countries when they started thinking about the development of open data initiatives because they encounter a certain level of resistance within the public agencies.
Last but not least, there are challenges that are of a legal nature. The other witnesses, for instance, mentioned the relevance of privacy and security and how we deal with these issues. It is not only for these aspects that it is important to look at the legal constraints that exist in some legislations. For instance, I will provide two additional examples. First are access to information laws, or freedom of information acts, which were adopted by many OECD countries from decades ago. They are now going through revisions, for instance, to make sure that they also accommodate the need for open data, not just for access to information. There are also restrictions, legally speaking, that concern the sharing of data within the public sector. So at times, for instance, linked data sets can support their data analytics, which can help identify trends to improve policy-making and service delivery, but still some legal restrictions do not enable different parts of the administration to access the various data sets.
Now when it comes to value, we saw that there are three main sets of value that governments are trying to achieve. As an organization we do not advocate for any approach or for any value sets, but I think it's important to underline that there is economic value that can be achieved through open data in the wider economy.
The other witnesses mentioned for instance the ease with which business start-ups are created. I would like to add also the emergence of new private sector type businesses, for instance the so-called infomediaries that enable the relevance of the data being open to a wider group of citizens that, in many instances, would not know how to get the most value of the raw data sets being made available.
There is economic efficiency that can be gained within the public sector, improved service delivery, improved performance, and improved efficiency in the internal dynamics. There is also the social value, for instance in terms of empowering citizens to make more informed decisions on their own lives. It tends to do with a different type of engagement, for instance, and participation in policy-making and service delivery.
Last, but not least, there is a third sector value that has to do with what we call good governance value or political value. In other words, the fight for higher transparency, higher accountability, and higher responsibility of governments.
We at the OECD are now looking at the next step of what we would like accomplished in collaboration internationally with other organizations, with institutions like the ODI, and within contexts that are internationally collaborative like the OGP, the G-8, and the G-20. The big focus we have right now is on supporting the further strengthening of the strategic approach and implementation, but also focusing a lot on value creation impact assessment. Because we do believe that as investments keep being made by governments—and let's not forget that open data is not for free—there is a financial cost for governments.
It's important to keep an eye on the value being created and on the measure of this value. We are part of the working group on open data, part of the OGP, so we collaborate with other, not only international organizations, but governments and institutions to make sure that this effort moves ahead internationally, so not only working with individual governments.
So now I come to the questions that you asked. How does Canada stand in relation to other jurisdictions? Certainly we saw Canada being grouped among the countries of the OECD that we defined as quick followers, meaning there have been a group of countries that have been the pioneers, the U.K., the U.S. They have been excellent in being ambitious in this context right from the beginning.
Then we have other countries that have taken other approaches. We also have countries that have been, like I said, the quick followers. I can mention for instance France, Mexico, and Canada, which have caught up quite quickly, even if at different levels than the other countries, in following up what have been the good examples set by, for instance, the U.K. and the U.S.
In that sense, I think, an extremely positive value-add of Canada has been the one of linking open data with open government, the one of linking digital government strategy with the open data strategy, the effect of having adopted an approach that nurtures collaboration internally, the fact that a committee was created to gather various representatives from the various jurisdictions.
I think a big focus has been on improving the portal, the first version of the portal, to in June 2013 the release of a new version that increases not only the accessibility of the data sets but also the use of social media features that focus very much on increasing the engagement of the citizens.
Because when we come to value creation—I think this is one of your questions also—how do we make open data valuable for the Canadian community? I think that a key point where we see the need for strengthening the efforts of OECD member countries and maybe Canada could be strengthening the focus on knowing the demands of the data.
If you consider the three sets of value mentioned, there are different data users in the community of users, which may have different needs. So knowing the demand is important. Nurturing the demand is important. Nurturing the engagement in the use of the data is essential to produce the value.
In that sense, I think it's important down the line. For instance, in the data collection we conducted last year, Canada ranked as one of the governments that had the highest number of data sets available. But as one of the witnesses mentioned as well, I think it's very important now to move ahead in the level of openness and the visibility of these data sets, which have an important impact on the value creation.
Last but not least, I would like to refer to the point on privacy that you were asking about. In addition to what the other witnesses mentioned, I think in order to protect privacy it is extremely important to have clear guidelines for the public servants. Remember that public servants are key actors in the ecosystem, and therefore, keeping the focus on training civil servants and raising their awareness of breaches of privacy that may emerge from a number of actions they can do in relation to open data is essential.
It is essential more and more as social media efforts are combined with open data efforts and mobile government-supported efforts such as, increasingly, the use of mobile technologies within government, because all of a sudden we start merging the value domains that are relevant to produce the value for open data. But I think it's very important to remember that civil servants need to be aware of the risks for security and privacy that emerge from the linkage of these three different domains.
Last but not least, yes, I agree with the previous witnesses, in the sense that I think governments are ahead of businesses in these aspects, in a sense. But I wouldn't be unfair and compare government with the private sector in terms of how much they are opening up, because I think there are important concerns in terms of privacy and security that relate to data sets owned by governments, which are very different from data sets owned by some entities in the private sector. I think comparing the two is important, but I think it's even more important to keep high the comparisons across governments in the world to make sure that the best practices are shared and replicated.
Thank you.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-04-10 10:01
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My question is for Ms. Ubaldi and Mr. Stirling.
When the decision was made to centralize access to data and to take the data away from various departments, we saw some concern being expressed, by the scientific community in Canada, in particular. Their concern was that this might be a move to make it easier to control which data would be open and which would not.
Could you give us your comments on the need for a healthy relationship between those in power, particularly those in cabinet, and those responsible for ensuring open data. If you have any examples of best practices in your political system, I think it would be very useful for us to hear about them.
Let's begin with Ms. Ubaldi.
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Barbara-Chiara Ubaldi
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Barbara-Chiara Ubaldi
2014-04-10 10:03
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If I understand the question correctly, it applies only to old data sets and not to data sets applicable today in the scientific domain. I think the answer is transparency, meaning that certainly there is a need for transparency in the actions taken, in the case of Canada, by the cabinet office in relation to which data sets to open and in which format to open them. So, there are two points.
First of all, open data requires an ecosystem of actors who work together. You have the organization that sets the policy but then you have the other parts of the administration that also produce the data sets and share the data sets that need to be brought on board.
Second, there is the need to be transparent. In order to overcome some of the resistance—and you mentioned some of the negative impressions—there is a need to be transparent about what is going to be done in terms of which data sets will be opened, in which format, at which point, and for use by whom. So there might be scaled-up approaches. Not all governments have taken the approach of getting data out there. For a couple of governments—in the Netherlands and in Denmark, for instance—the approach has been less adventurous, but there's been clarity and transparency about it.
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Richard Stirling
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Richard Stirling
2014-04-10 10:05
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I think this is one of the reasons that any such activity needs to be underpinned by strong principles around a presumption in favour of publication of the open data, because that helps build trust in the idea that nothing adverse is happening through the centralization.
The other thing I would just observe is that open data has actually been the underpinning of a shared research base for hundreds of years. This open research agenda is very much in the spirit that research has been going on for centuries, and I know that a number of countries are looking at this, including my own. But I think it's still an open discussion with no concrete conclusions yet as to how to make sure that publicly funded research is open by default.
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Barbara-Chiara Ubaldi
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Barbara-Chiara Ubaldi
2014-04-10 10:09
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Thank you for your question.
We try to make governments do it in a way that is right, not just because it's the flavour of the moment. So I think your question is extremely important. We think there is value and a positive impact that still needs to be fully demonstrated; that is true. In some areas it cannot possibly be quantified, like in the social area that some of your colleagues mentioned before. Instead, it's an extremely important set of values that can be targeted.
For instance, in terms of social value, there is certainly an increasing number of examples showing how open data has increased the participation and the engagement of parts of society that otherwise would not be brought into the discussion and dialogue with governments in terms of service delivery and policy-making. However, that requires that the government focuses not only on the usual actors who are interlocutors in this area, for instance, the private sector, but there are other actors in the ecosystem like journalists, civil society organizations, citizens associations, librarians, and so on, who are non-typical groups of actors who need to be reached out to.
From the perspective of the OECD, the reason we are focusing so much on this is not because many governments have pushed it up on the agenda, but because this has an impact of changing the way the government conceives a number of actions, ranging from policy-making to service delivery. The challenge is big, so I cannot tell you that there are demonstrated values. There are important estimates that my colleagues mentioned. There's no clear data yet that demonstrates the value, but there are a number of examples from all levels of jurisdictions that demonstrate there are changes in the way the government interacts with society in creating economic and social value.
Last but not least, in terms of transparency and increased trust, there is a tendency showing that the higher transparency and openness of governments in releasing key data with information on the operation—
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View Anne-Marie Day Profile
NDP (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. You have to wait your turn.
Mr. Stirling, my question is for you.
The Open Data Institute—ODI—is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan company. According to its website, the ODI has secured 10 million pounds sterling from the UK Government and $750,000US from Omidyar Network. The ODI is working towards long-term sustainability.
How much does this kind of free market for data cost? What costs might that entail for all of the G8 countries? And what structural safeguards have been put in place to ensure the non-partisan and transparent flow of data?
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Richard Stirling
View Richard Stirling Profile
Richard Stirling
2014-04-10 10:13
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Thank you.
Yes, we are independent, non-partisan, and not for profit.
In terms of the firewall and keeping that status, despite being in receipt of public money in the U.K., our corporate structure is that we're a company limited by guarantee. We have no government representative on our board, although we do have conversations with the financial monitoring grant administration bits of government around our core metrics.
If you would like to look at the core metrics, then we have them published on the dashboard on our website. It's exactly the same metrics that I am held to account to on a weekly basis and that my board gets to see every six weeks.
On the cost of implementing a similar organization across the G-8, I don't know, which is my honest answer.
I know that in our organization we've been able to do nicely in the U.K., but we've also been very blessed by having Sir Tim and Sir Nigel as our founders and being able to attract a very good team as a result.
We also have a global network now that is operating in a number of G-8 countries, and it's possible that they will be able to address some of the same needs. It does depend on how much ambition there is, like how many start-ups you want to help, how fast you want to accelerate the economic benefits and those use cases.
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Joanne Bates
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Joanne Bates
2014-04-10 10:25
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Thank you.
This is coming back to the question of whether transparency can impact upon behaviour of the public sector institutions. This is a key argument that we see around transparency and the Freedom of Information Act—issues that we see in the media of politicians deciding to use private email accounts rather than their work email accounts to avoid the Freedom of information Act.
For open government data, I have not seen that behaviour modification in the way that we've seen it for the Freedom of Information Act. Then again, I haven't looked for it, and as far as I know there's been no research done to explore this as yet. So I can't give a concrete answer with regard to open government data.
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David Eaves
View David Eaves Profile
David Eaves
2014-04-03 8:57
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Yes.
If I were looking at this committee and I was trying to think about how we were going to assess the value of Canada's open data policies, I'd be looking at three things.
The first thing I'd be looking at is whether we are thinking strategically about the policy in economic areas that we want to be driving into and what the data is that we're releasing that might support those places.
The second is whether we are thinking hard about how government itself is using the open data that it releases, so it does what we call “dogfooding”, which is that it uses its own information rather than sharing with others and expecting them to use it, but using something completely different itself.
The third is whether we are actually sharing information about government itself. Where is the budget? Where are the things that make government transparent so that citizens themselves can better understand and make government more legible, so they can become more engaged in the political process and contribute in interesting ways in the policy debates?
Thank you.
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Mark Gayler
View Mark Gayler Profile
Mark Gayler
2014-04-03 9:06
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Hello, and thank you to the committee for inviting me to participate this morning. It's bright and early in Vancouver.
My name is Mark Gayler. I work for Microsoft Canada. I've been working with Microsoft for more than 10 years. I'm a technology strategist for Microsoft Canada. I work primarily with municipalities. As part of that role, I'm a subject matter expert on open data and open source technologies.
I'd like to comment on a few things. First of all, I very much appreciate the comments by my colleagues David and Ms. Miller just previously.
One of the things I have experience with is working with different governments around the world, and so I've been engaged with open data projects in Canada, but also in the U.S.A.., Colombia, Japan, central and eastern Europe, and the U.K. I'd like to make some comparisons, even though I totally and fully agree with David's comment earlier on that it's dangerous to make comparisons in terms of a league table. But I think there are some insights we can gain from what other countries are doing compared with how open data has evolved in Canada today.
I'd like to start there, and then I'd like to pick up on a couple of other points that my colleagues have raised already.
What is interesting about the way open data is evolving around the world is that it's evolving in different ways based on the way that government agencies have chosen to engage it.
For example, in the U.K. and the U.S., we see a very top-down approach whereby the U.K. and U.S. governments at the very top levels of government have sponsored open data initiatives. They are driving adoption of open data throughout government departments and agencies, and we see this top-down approach as it flows downwards through the government infrastructure.
I would say that in Canada what we have seen is more of a bottom-up approach to open data. In early days it was adopted primarily by the cities, and then the provinces caught up. I think Vancouver started in April 2009, and we have seen other cities adopt open data initiatives. Then the provinces have come in, and I think the federal government has come in after some of these cities and smaller agencies had already adopted open data initiatives.
That explains why we see different countries and different initiatives at different stages of evolution, to a certain degree.
In the U.K. and U.S., I would say that open data initiatives across government are fairly mature and fairly consistent in the way open data is thought of. I would say that in Canada we see open data being adopted in different ways at different levels of government jurisdiction.
The second point I'd like to make around this is that as we look around the world, it's important to understand that open data itself is not an end point. Open data is a transition to something else. It's an enabler for other things to happen. It's an enabler for such things as economic stimulus, as we have discussed, and I'm sure we'll discuss more on that during the session. It's an enabler particularly for citizen engagement, getting citizens actively involved and participating in the business of government.
I think it also represents a cultural change internally for government and government agencies. When I've been around the world talking to national and provincial and state governments about their open data initiatives and the way we can use open data to engage citizens, particularly those parts of citizenry we may not already be engaged with, a big comment that I get at the end of my engagement with that particular government is: this is great, but now that we have this capability to share data and to collaborate, we want to do it internally as much as we want to do it externally. I think that point was made very well by my colleagues previously.
The opportunity for the Canadian government here is to provide guidance, to provide a framework to take the open data initiatives that already exist, to create opportunities to share more open data, to engage citizens and third parties and encourage them to share this data and use this data, and to enable the sharing of the data in such a way that it can easily be consumed by any of the actors in the ecosystem, be it a data scientist, a researcher, a citizen, an application developer, or a student.
But it's very important that we understand that this is a cultural change that will lead to other positive benefits; this is not just about sharing data itself. And so it's important that the government provide a framework to encourage parties to collaborate around the sharing and reuse of open data—private-public partnerships, for example—and particularly engage those parts of the citizenry with whom perhaps we are not already engaged and get them actively involved in the business of government.
Let me give you a very simple example. Two weeks ago we ran a teen hackathon in the city of Surrey. The City of Surrey is sharing its open data; they have an open data portal. They invited teens, young people from the ages of 13 to 19, to participate in this hackathon. For half a day we worked with them with technology and showed them how to produce applications. What was interesting is that at the end of it we asked for feedback and ideas, and it was amazing to see these teenagers come up with ideas about how to use transit data to better navigate through the city, how to use weather data to better understand when weather might affect particular tourist spots or landmarks.
You could look at that initially and just say that these are interesting ideas but ask whether they would ever come to any kind of fruition. But what was really interesting about the whole thing was that the city was stimulating students and young people to think about engaging the city in ways that had not previously been possible. These were young people who were thinking about actively working with the city—visitors to the city, citizens of the city. Getting them excited and engaged in looking at ways to improve city services both for visitors and for folks who already live in the city is quite transformational. This is a very simple example of transformational cultural change that can be brought about by sharing open data.
Another example I will give you, from a cultural aspect, comes from when I was engaged with the Government of Colombia. I was invited down there to provide some guidance to them about the way they would share data with their citizens. When I went down there I said I was surprised that the Government of Colombia was thinking about sharing open data, because they're not known, to an external person, for their openness or the way they might engage a citizen in a transparent way; that it might be considered to be a threat to the government.
They said that this was their entire reason for doing it. Whereas other governments say they're doing this for economic stimulus or doing it for better engagement with certain parts of society, in Colombia they are doing it deliberately to show that they're being open and transparent. This is part of their cultural change with their citizens.
The last point I would like to make is that I think the opportunity is huge for Canada to be a leader in this area. Even though we look around the world and see open data initiatives evolving in different ways, we have a long way to go with open data, to speak to David's point earlier on. There is much more that can be done and there is much more transformational benefit that can arise out of open data.
But I think the government can help. It can stimulate this by providing, for frameworks for working particularly in public-private partnerships, guidance in the sharing and openness of data, and also by providing ideas and guidance about the sustainability of open data and how it can be part of the ongoing business of government and citizen engagement, rather than just being seen as an end in itself.
Thank you very much.
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View Gordon O'Connor Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you.
The Government of Canada has identified 14 areas for data that they're supposed to produce, and I think when we talk about government, I believe we're talking about the bureaucracies because they're the big monsters out there that make the data. I'm a bit skeptical. For instance, one of the areas chosen is government accountability in democracy. I can't imagine any government of any stripe is going to pour data out on that, but maybe they will.
We're talking about the government because I don't think private industry provides much information in the sense that they're commercial. My problem with all this data is what compulsion can we give to a government to make them produce data? Because as I said, there are 14 areas here: education, justice, energy...it goes on and on. Governments are only going to provide the data they want to provide.
I'll ask each of you in turn to answer the question. I'll start with David.
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David Eaves
View David Eaves Profile
David Eaves
2014-04-03 10:05
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I don't disagree. It's actually enormously difficult to get governments to provide data, especially data that might make them uncomfortable.
My hope is that longer term we could end up in a world where we have a more iterative review of government where we're less driven by the scandal that we can nail someone, particularly a public servant, to the wall against over a particular error. I'd rather end up in a place where we try to iterate around solutions. Actually spotting errors in government is seen as a good thing because it allows us to iterate and make it better rather than something that drives the scandal, particularly if it's the type of problem that's really non-strategic but can end up eating everybody's time.
This would certainly be the place I would love to go. The way I think you've got to go about it, as I mentioned earlier, is that you have to think about how you're going to draft this stuff into legislation because, when you draft it into legislation, it forces parliamentarians and it forces the government to think about what is actually high leverage data and what is the data that will cause us to behave in ways that we want to behave. They'll accept a longer-term plan.
The NPRI dataset, the one around pollution, I think is a wonderful example of a government's potentially embarrassing dataset, and yet, now encoded in legislation, it causes all the incentives both in the private sector and in government to be wonderfully aligned around how we minimize pollution. So I think finding those types of leverage points is going to be critical.
The other thing is, ultimately we do have access to information legislation that should allow us to have access to this data. So if I was going to be thinking about how we prod governments along, I'd just tweak the access to information legislation so that it says that when I make a request, I'm allowed to request a dataset, and you're not allowed to hand it to me in PDF or on printed sheets; you actually have to hand me a disc or send me a file that gives the database in a machine-readable way. At that point I can get the data either way. Aren't you better off making it accessible to me so that I don't eat up a whole bunch of time making requests over and over and over again? Would it not actually reduce the burden on government?
So we actually have access to the data either way. The questions are: how do we make it painless and how do we make it easier for government? So let's put it in the legislation where we have to and then let's improve the access to information legislation.
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Renée Miller
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Renée Miller
2014-04-03 10:07
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I show my stripes as the bohemian academic here, but I don't think that the stick approach always works. As an academic, I'm required by my funding agencies to always provide any data that I come up with that's federally funded, and I have to make that available.
There's a tremendous number of scientists who feel that their data is their own, and they don't want another scientist to make a breakthrough based on the data that they spent time collecting, right? So we find ways around that. We don't publish the stuff that we think could be valuable. We publish enough to satisfy the law but we keep to ourselves the things that are going to give us that Nobel Prize.
So I don't think just mandating it is enough. Rather, I think what we want is creative government employees who understand that, if they need certain kinds of data and certain kinds of expertise, publishing a dataset may be a way for them to get the expertise that they don't have in-house and may be a way to get somebody else to solve problems that they have. I think that we should view open data as a way of providing solutions into government, which is what I was saying about the flow back into government. Can we provide data out there that, if somebody did something with it, I, as a government employee, could benefit from that and improve my processes? If we can get governments to start thinking that way, I think we'll get better data out there.
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Ginny Dybenko
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Ginny Dybenko
2014-04-03 10:09
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I love the carrot and the stick idea. I think in general carrots work way better, so there have to be incentives. The thing that leapt to my mind is efficiencies. So if indeed the individual government department can actually see utilizing that data to drive efficiencies that are required because of reduced funding to their organizations, that would be ideal. Then ultimately they can look for fraud and theft and other kinds of things that are going awry within their departments.
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Mark Gayler
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Mark Gayler
2014-04-03 10:10
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I think I would build on earlier comments. I think this is about reducing friction. Many governments around the world build their open data policies on the freedom of information legislation or access to information legislation that they have in place. I think this issue is really about reducing friction and making access more available.
If you can publish the data and make it consumable and easily available, then you should do that and not hide it behind a lot of bureaucracy that may be unnecessary in a particular case. That's not necessarily always the case, of course, but I think you should reduce friction where you can, and that encourages people to publish. It encourages citizens to consume.
The other thing I would say to finish is that it's important to understand that open data is not WikiLeaks. These are separate things, so I think it's important to make that distinction as well.
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View Gerry Byrne Profile
Lib. (NL)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I was interested to hear, Mr. Eaves, one of your comments. One of the objectives, I guess, of this study would be to assist the government in moving the initiative along. You mentioned that there was one practice, at Industry Canada, that you found contrary to the spirit of the G-8 commitment that Canada was making.
Are there any other circumstances or practices that you may be aware of that you could share with the committee, where you sort of question or want to raise whether or not the Government of Canada is running contrary to the G-8 charter or to the spirit, generally speaking, of what an open data portal, an open government, is supposed to be about?
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David Eaves
View David Eaves Profile
David Eaves
2014-04-03 10:24
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I think there are numerous examples and I don't say this to pick on this particular government. As previously said, all governments get cautious around sharing data and information. One of the reasons we have a competitive political process is to keep people honest.
There are two points I'd love to make.
One is I think there are all sorts of macro examples. For example, people were curious about the F-35 spending. Parliament demanded documents, and then those documents were produced in 100 boxes and printed out. What this meant is that if you were someone who was actually interested in learning anything about this, you couldn't do keyword searches of that. You'd actually have to go through and read every single piece of paper. This is what we call hiding things by making them available but in formats that are completely useless or very hard to use.
I think those types of behaviours are examples of a government where they're not actually interested in transparency and they're certainly not actually interested in sharing information. I'd be looking for ways that we could curtail governments from doing that in the future, so when I ask for a document, I get it in a machine-readable way so I can do keyword searches and go and find the interesting things.
I'd love to see more around actual budget data being made available for downloads, so that people can actually.... How do we make the government more legible to the population so they can see where money's getting spent and they can see how their tax dollars are being used? I think all governments have a long way to go, but we, in particular, have a long way to go. And the U.K. is actually a very interesting example around this. They've made all spending data down to £500 downloadable and publicly available. So you can actually go and see how each department is spending its money. This has been interesting to the public, but I think it's actually been very interesting even to the people in government, because they can actually now access how the money's being spent in a very direct way. Their staff can, and they can do their own analysis.
I think even government officials, elected officials, have found this dataset to be very interesting.
Another example would be the access to information requests. I see no reason that when someone makes an access to information request, that document is not being put in a publicly available database so that if I now want to do the same access to information request, I'm not going through the whole thing all over again. I can go and scan the ones that have already been done and you can save me a whole bunch of time, but more importantly, you can save government and taxpayers a whole bunch of time by not having people running around and gathering up the same documents and doing the same assessment all over again. I think it's in everybody's interest to make that happen.
So those are cumulatively the things that I would say. At a high level, a recommendation that you could make.... One of recommendations we made in Ontario with the open government task force was actually creating rules around procurement. So you say any system that is bought by this government that is going to produce data must have in its procurement demands, as part of the specifications, the ability to extract that data easily. So if someone comes along and asks for something, there's no longer this question of, “Oh, well, the system's old or it's hard to use and we can't extract it.” We've actually built that in as a requirement so we make it easy to extract information.
Changing procurement rules is one of the most powerful tools that you have at your disposal to think about how we can make data more accessible to people.
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Michelle Doucet
View Michelle Doucet Profile
Michelle Doucet
2014-04-01 8:47
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone. Members of the committee, thank you for inviting us to speak to you today.
I am accompanied by two colleagues from the Privy Council Office—Mr. Ward Elcock and Ms. Karen Cahill. As you may know, Mr. Elcock is the special advisor on human smuggling and illegal migration. As such, he coordinates the Government of Canada strategy and response to migrant smuggling. Ms. Cahill is the executive director of the finance and corporate planning division of the corporate services branch in the Privy Council Office. In this capacity, she is also the deputy chief financial officer for the department.
My introductory comments are about the 2014-15 main estimates for the Privy Council Office (PCO) as well as its report on plans and priorities for the same year.
The PCO is seeking $118.8 million in the 2014-15 main estimates. This is an overall reduction of $4.6 million from the amount the PCO sought in last year's main estimates, which was $123.4 million.
The PCO's main estimates for this year are mainly related to the following.
A decrease of $4.4 million in savings was identified as part of the budget 2012 spending review. The PCO contribution to this exercise will total $9.2 million in savings, taking full effect today, in 2014-15. The PCO is one of many federal organizations that undertook this review with the goal of returning the government to balanced budgets, while at the same time improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations and programs.
To support these objectives, the PCO has undertaken several deficit reduction measures, including: transforming business processes across the department to achieve administrative efficiencies, further integrating the intergovernmental affairs function within the department, modernizing and streamlining the government communications function, and streamlining the cabinet system to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of decision-making.
The vast majority of PCO expenses consists of salaries and associated operational costs. As a result, most of the savings needed to be generated by having fewer employees within the department. These reductions were achieved through a fair and transparent workforce adjustment process where all affected employees were treated with respect and every possible effort was made to identify the best possible solution for each individual.
There is also a decrease of $1.4 million related to statutory authorities mostly related to contributions to employee benefit plans, which was made pursuant to Treasury Board Secretariat instructions.
In addition, there is a decrease of $0.3 million related to three efficiency exercises. The first one is the continuation of the consolidation of pay services to PWGSC's Centre of Expertise in Miramichi, New Brunswick. The two other efficiency exercises are for measures announced in Canada’s economic action plan 2013: namely, the consolidation of the procurement of workplace technology device software and the reduction of travel costs.
These decreases are partially offset by an increase of $1.2 million for activities related to the continued implementation of Canada's migrant smuggling prevention strategy, headed by Mr. Elcock. As mentioned earlier, Mr. Elcock's mandate is to coordinate the Government of Canada strategy and response to migrant smuggling.
In the last two years, Canada has successfully secured cooperation in transit countries in Southeast Asia and west Africa. The PCO works closely with four other federal agencies to further Canada's objectives on this important initiative. Approved funding of $1.2 million for 2013-14 was sought through the 2013-14 supplementary estimates (B) and presented to this committee during the PCO's last appearance. Funding for 2014-15 is now included in our main estimates.
An increase of $0.4 million represents the portion of wages and salary increases to be paid to employees during fiscal year 2014-15, in accordance with specific collective agreements that took effect last year.
This completes the explanation of PCO's 2014-15 main estimates.
I will turn now to PCO's report on plans and priorities for fiscal year 2014-15 to give you an overview of PCO's planning highlights.
To begin, it is important to note that the PCO's sole strategic outcome is to ensure that the government's agenda and decision-making are supported and implemented and that the institutions of government are supported and maintained.
In this regard, the PCO will continue to play a central coordination and advisory role within the public service to support the government in achieving its stated objectives for the year. The PCO plans to successfully meet this strategic outcome by focusing on four key operational priorities during the year. None of these are new priorities, but some of them have been updated recently to better highlight the importance of certain areas of the department's work. For example, you will note under priority one that the PCO is now reflecting its advisory and support role for portfolio ministers, in addition to the Prime Minister.
This role has always been done in the past and has always been reported under the plans for this priority, but the revised priority now accurately reflects that the PCO supports the Prime Minister and the portfolio ministers in exercising their overall leadership responsibilities by providing professional, non-partisan advice and support on the entire spectrum of the government's policy, legislative, and government administration priorities. This includes, among other things, advice on social and economic affairs, regional development, foreign affairs, national security, defence, Governor in Council appointments, intergovernmental relations, and the environment.
The second of PCO's priorities will be to support the deliberations of cabinet and its committees on key policy initiatives and coordinate medium-term policy planning. This priority has also been updated for this year to better reflect the importance of the advisory and support roles PCO has always played for cabinet and its committees.
What that looks like is that PCO manages the day-to-day activities that support the work of cabinet and its committees, such as scheduling and support services for meetings, as well as the distribution of cabinet documents.
PCO will work throughout the year to provide guidance and a rigorous challenge function to departments to advance policy, legislative and government administration proposals that are high quality, prepared in a timely manner and focused on addressing priority areas identified by the government.
The PCO's third priority is to enable the management and accountability of government. The PCO provides strategic advice on whole-of-government transformation initiatives, public service renewal, and other management reforms, which will ultimately contribute to sound government administration, enhanced productivity in the public service, and improved services to Canadians.
To this end, the PCO will support the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Deputy Minister Board of Management and Renewal in the identification of whole-of-government proposals to advance the government's priority for improved efficiency and effectiveness. In addition, the PCO will actively engage and collaborate with implicated departments and other central agencies in the implementation of these proposals.
In 2013, the Clerk of the Privy Council launched the Blueprint 2020 engagement process. As you may know, this process sought the input of all public servants on a clear vision for the future of the public service, and to determine what changes were necessary to make that future a reality. PCO will continue to support the clerk in order to achieve this vision, both across the public service and within PCO itself.
In addition, PCO will continue to provide advice and support to the Prime Minister and the Clerk of the Privy Council on the human resource management of senior leaders. This includes supporting the learning and development of senior leaders, undertaking succession planning and performance management, and supporting the Deputy Minister Committee of Senior Officials.
In keeping with the major transformational initiatives taking place across the public service, PCO's fourth and final priority is to strengthen the department’s own internal management practices.
During the year, the PCO will continue to support the Government of Canada's human resources modernization initiative, which aims to consolidate and enhance the delivery of human resource services across the government. This will be achieved in large part through the adoption of common human resource business processes and the implementation of further process improvements to deliver better human resource services to clients.
In addition, PCO will continue its efforts to implement the new directive on performance management to ensure that PCO has a high-performing and adaptable workforce. PCO will also support the Government of Canada's efforts to enhance information technology through the modernization of computer desktops, the implementation of the email transformation initiative, the establishment of government-wide secure network connectivity, and the consolidation of Government of Canada data centres. To that end, PCO will be working closely with its key IT business partner, Shared Services Canada.
Finally, PCO will implement the Government of Canada’s shared travel solutions initiative, as well as undertake a review of the department’s financial processes in order to align them with the Government of Canada’s financial business process modernization initiative.
In conclusion, it is through these initiatives and activities, done in support of PCO's four organizational priorities, that the department will be able to successfully fulfill its overall strategic outcome.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to explain the initiatives related to PCO's 2014-15 main estimates and our report on plans and priorities. We would be pleased to address your questions.
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View Jay Aspin Profile
CPC (ON)
View Jay Aspin Profile
2014-04-01 10:20
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Very good, and would you see the release of all this data as a step towards transparency and openness? How would you characterize it?
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Colin McKay
View Colin McKay Profile
Colin McKay
2014-04-01 10:21
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From the point of view of a public policy wonk, I would say any release of data sets that have traditionally been held in cabinets, in government buildings, is a step towards transparency, and certainly in releasing data you provide essential nutrients for the growth of strong policy ideas in the public, which offers both a challenge and an inspiration for the government in identifying policy options that would benefit Canadians.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-03-25 9:06
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here. It's always a pleasure to see you. To the other witnesses as well, thanks for coming.
I'd like to start off with a general concern which should be a concern all Canadians and all parliamentarians have, and that is the ability for us to do our job, to ensure oversight on expenditures. It seems you get a failing grade when we listen to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr. Fréchette, who kind of kindly slams you, Minister, for reducing significantly parliamentary oversight. For example, the Parliamentary Budget Officer says that nearly two-thirds of expenditures here are only getting cursory oversight.
How do you answer the Parliamentary Budget Officer and Canadians with respect to the decrease or lack of transparency in these particular mains?
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View Tony Clement Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you for the question. It is an important one for parliamentarians and for Canadians as well.
The responsibility for oversight is shared. It is obviously part of Treasury Board's responsibility in its meetings and activities to provide oversight, but it's also parliamentarians who have to take up the responsibility of oversight as well. We've done a number of things to improve what we call expenditure management to enhance the tools that are available to explain, dig into, and to develop and implement the government's spending plans.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-03-25 9:08
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Why is the Parliamentary Budget Officer saying that almost two-thirds of expenditures are only getting cursory oversight?
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Yaprak Baltacioglu
View Yaprak Baltacioglu Profile
Yaprak Baltacioglu
2014-03-25 9:08
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Thank you very much for the question.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer points out what my colleague, Mr. Matthews, pointed out. The statutory expenditures are going up while the program expenditures, because we're in an era of reduction, are coming down. Your oversight in terms of the statutory expenditures is that Parliament approves the statutes under which these moneys are distributed. Beyond that it is formula-driven, because however many children you have under the statutory program, you end up paying that. It's a formula-driven oversight and we do have annual reports.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-03-25 9:08
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I understand that, but there's still less information given to Canadians publicly about what's going on with expenditures.
I don't have a lot of time. Five minutes is not a lot of time.
You've removed EI spending from the estimates. We're talking about 85% of projected budget spending that is not reflected. What's the motivation for removing EI expenditures?
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Corinne Charette
View Corinne Charette Profile
Corinne Charette
2014-03-04 8:47
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Good morning and thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It is a great honour to be here before the committee to speak about our success and our work on open data for the government.
I'm very pleased to be here with my two colleagues to talk about open data. I'll introduce Stephen Walker, who is the senior director for our information management policy sector as well as for open government at TB Secretariat. With him is Sylvain Latour, who is a director of our Open Government Secretariat at TBS.
The way we propose to cover the material this morning is that we have a presentation in two parts, and we propose to have a demo. We will go through the first part of our presentation.
You have in front of you a presentation which, I think, gives a good summary of the key concepts concerning open data.
We'll start off with essentially a primer on open data, what the key concepts are, and then we will stop and do a demonstration. You've noticed the screens in the room. We'll have a live demonstration. Stephen and Sylvain will go through our actual open data portal and show you some examples of the data and how the portal works. Then we'll revert to the presentation to give a summary of what different initiatives are going on within the federal government and with our colleagues across Canada in other jurisdictions, and in fact, on our initiatives internationally on the open data front. Of course, we'd be delighted to answer whatever questions the committee has.
That's what we propose by way of the three-section approach. Before I start into the first part of the presentation, I would like to say that we've just completed a very exciting weekend. On February 28, Minister Clement launched the Canadian Open Data Experience, which is an appathon challenge that brought together, finally, 927 registered participants from across Canada, from universities in all provinces across Canada, to try to see what kinds of applications they could develop using Canada's open data information published on our portal.
It was a very exciting weekend, and at the end of it, preliminary reports suggested that over 100 different apps were developed and will be validated and vetted and be the subject of tough competition. The finale of CODE will be March 28, in Toronto, where the 15 finalists will review their apps with the judges. The finalists will be awarded a prize.
This is very exciting because this would be our first national CODE appathon. Different provinces and cities have had a few, and there have been a number of efforts across Canada, but this is the first on a pan-Canadian basis. The success of CODE is a testimony to the enthusiasm and interest in Canada's open data portal and the information that we make available to Canadians.
With that, I will go into the presentation and hopefully help to demystify this. We'll be doing section 1.
Page 3 is titled “Open Data Fundamentals”. I apologize that some of you may be well aware of this, but we weren't sure so we thought we'd bring everyone to a certain level of knowledge.
So what is raw data?
Raw data is machine-readable data at the lowest level of integration that can be reused alone, or mashed up—as the term is—with other data in innovative ways.The government either generates or collects and aggregates a vast amount of raw data. The best example of raw data would be weather data that we collect through sensors and radar and a variety of other means. We turn that into raw data, numerical data that is available for further processing and manipulation.
So what is metadata? Metadata is data about data. Metadata is key to the potential of open data. Without metadata, the vast numbers of data sets and information that are available are not as useful.
It's very important to describe the contents of a data set and to describe the specific kinds of information in each field of a data set that is presented, so that when application developers go to the data set, they know they're finding the right data set with the right kind of data and they know how to interpret the different fields. That's an important part of using the data effectively. In Canada, making our data available in an open data portal first involves producing metadata in both official languages so that app developers can quickly understand what the nature of the data set is and can use it appropriately.
Finally, what is open data? Open data is the practice that takes the raw data and the metadata and makes it available through a portal, as is the case of data.gc.ca. It allows users to search through the portal for the right data sets and allows them to browse and then to download the data in machine-usable formats so they can develop programs and information systems that can manipulate it and produce other uses for it and greater advantages.
The open data movement is quite well developed today. In October 2013, McKinsey Global reported that the potential for open data to generate economic value is significant. This is McKinsey's view. Certainly, through open data efforts in the U.S., in the U.K., in Canada now, and all over the world, we've seen the rise of many, many businesses through the generation of apps that basically use open data and are now widely available through different online stores and so on. Certainly, all of the large consultancies, including Deloitte, speak to the fact that data is the new capital of the global economy, and the ability to harness the vast amounts of data that we do generate is really a large potential for Canada and for society as a whole.
Just to give you a recap of the history, in Canada we have long been aggregators and generators of data. In fact, the concept of open data started around 1995 with the important stores of geophysical and environmental data that we already collect and manipulate through NRCan and Environment Canada.
In California, of course, in the U.S. in 2007, open data started to become an important movement. In fact, in President Obama's first term, there was really the first important national foray, I guess, into open data, with his mandatory policy on the release of open data. The U.S. launch of that direction certainly stimulated open data movements in the U.K. and internationally. Certainly, we watched in Canada and also thought that this was a valuable movement to embrace. It's really a movement that has grown very quickly, and it is, certainly in Canada, stimulated quite a bit by the work by our cities—cities are very active in open data in Canada—as well as by the provinces and by us in the federal government.
Open data is certainly well established internationally. As you may know, the Open Government Partnership, first launched in 2011 by the U.S. and Brazil as co-chairs, was a strong platform for further developments in open data and making governments accountable, open, and responsive to citizens. Similarly, the World Bank has opened its data, knowledge, and research, and is a strong supporter of open data and of all our efforts.
The Open Knowledge Foundation is a civil society organization dedicated to promoting open data and open content. The OECD has also embraced open data and was present at the 2013 Open Government Partnership conference in the U.K.
Certainly the World Wide Web Foundation is, of course, a strong believer in open data.
Just to give you a capsule of open data in Canada, we're quite pleased with Canada's progress on this front. Four provinces—British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec—have open data portals, as do over 30 cities. In fact, certainly Vancouver was one of the first leaders in open data in Canada and continues to be very dedicated to that, but we're pleased with all of the municipal efforts, including the City of Ottawa, which is also working hard at open data.
Page 8 just contrasts what was it like, how civil society could access the data sets the government created and aggregated and made available, prior to open data. Before open data, the government was already publishing data, but in a different way and in a much smaller and less accessible way. Certainly weather data from Environment Canada has been available for some time, as were maps from Natural Resources Canada.
But what you see on the diagram on the right is one of the fundamental issues of the problem. Each individual department collected and prepared data and made it available on their own individual websites, but not always prominently, often without sufficient, or if you will, standard metadata that described the contents, and not always with appropriate search engines to access it.
So from a user's perspective, it wasn't easy to answer the question of what kind of data is available from the government on topic A or on topic B. The users would routinely have to go through multiple sites, go quite deep into the sites, and then the data was not necessarily in machine-readable format. So while they could visualize it, they couldn't really use it and create an information system.
Finally, an additional issue that users had to tackle at the time was that every individual website made the data available under slightly different licensing terms. The licensing terms are very critical to open data, and the ability to have an open licence that is recognized across Canada, that makes the data available for reuse without restriction on the same terms, is really key.
So that was the situation of data before open data.
Starting in 2009 we started to tackle these questions, and in fact started working on our first view of the licence and the first view of a portal that could potentially make this data available.
Why is open data important for the Government of Canada? Certainly we're strong believers that open data helps to reinforce accountability and the government's agenda. Certainly we are convinced that it does generate economic value for Canadians. It is aligned with our digital strategy, as we are working with our colleagues across government, and it is a key catalyst for innovation and science and technology. We are aligned with our international partners, and the success of CODE, I think, supports the fact that Canadians are equally aligned with it.
Just to highlight the key milestones from a government perspective on open data, in March 2011 the government announced our first open government initiative, and at the time, our first open data portal. That was our first pilot. We launched it with much fewer data sets and with the first version of the licence.
In April 2012 Canada joined the international Open Government Partnership formally. We published our first action plan on open government at that time. The action plan on open government includes, of course, a number of commitments on open data.
In June 2013 the Prime Minister formally adopted the Open Data Charter with other G-8 leaders at the Lough Erne Summit in Northern Ireland.
Just to recap on this part of the presentation, and before we go to the demo of the portal, I'll just say that we have continued to work hard on open data since our joining of the Open Government Partnership.
In fact, this June we launched the second generation open data platform. We now have about 200,000 data sets from 27 departments. We launched with six departments and their data sets. Our search capability is state-of-the-art and we have incorporated social media features onto the site, so we're very pleased with our new portal.
In terms of GC resource management data, the expenditure database was launched in April 2013 to provide Canadians with financial information on departmental spending over the last three years, and we continue to add data sets through all topic areas.
We are working hard right now on a directive on open government, so this will be policy that will help departments and agencies to create a better inventory of their data assets and the information to be published, and provide an implementation timeline for them to achieve this. That will be an important part of our open government action plan commitments, and we're hopeful to see that in the new fiscal year.
Finally, our new open government licence, the second version of which was issued last June, is aligned with a Creative Commons licence. It's plain language. It clearly states the conditions for the reuse of data and aligns with all international best practices.
That's a quick primer on open data. Before we go to the demonstration, would you like to ask any questions?
I am wondering if the committee members would like to ask questions.
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View Bernard Trottier Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you.
Madam Charette, you use the terms “open data” and “open government”. I can see examples where open data would have little to do with open government, for example, publishing weather data isn't really about open government. So could you describe the relationship between these two concepts, which in fact are actually two different initiatives even within the Government of Canada, around open government and open data.
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Corinne Charette
View Corinne Charette Profile
Corinne Charette
2014-03-04 9:08
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To us they're certainly interrelated and in fact our open government action plan has three streams of activity that we committed to in April 2012. One of them is open data, one of them is open information, and one of them is open dialogue. In fact, the open government thrust is about making information and data widely available to Canadians and civil society so that they can use it for their own benefit and derive economic advantage, specifically in the case of open data, foster engagement, and generally contribute to society.
For us, open data is one of the three key streams of activity in our open government action plan. In fact, most of the other countries that are part of the OGP have similar open data streams of activity in their own open government action plan: the U.K., the U.S., and many others. In fact, most of the governments have published action plans that reflect those three streams of activity, because they are separate yet complementary.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2014-03-04 9:45
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I appreciate all of this, and it's helping to give some definition as to what type of information will be put up for open.... If the default is to be openness, that's an important directive. Currently the default seems to be secrecy. It's like pulling teeth to get sensitive information out of the government through the access to information regime. Even though you say this is not set up to replace or to do the job of ATI, you mention in the opening page of your website, data.gc.ca, that this is really an extension of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Access to Information Act.
I'm still suspicious and I'm still interested, but you didn't answer my question as to who screens. Who ultimately gets to say what goes up and what stays down in terms of the portal? Is it the minister, is it the government of the day, or is there some overarching, independent authority, such as the Information Commissioner, who says that cutting the hair of Afghan detainees should be public information and should go up on the portal, and that you shouldn't have to wait a thousand days and go to court to find out whether or not you cut the hair of the Afghan detainees?
Who is your boss who says what goes up and what does not go up?
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Corinne Charette
View Corinne Charette Profile
Corinne Charette
2014-03-04 9:47
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Well, there are two questions there.
First, in terms of what data sets are made available for publication, the first thing that's important is that what's on the open data portal is not classified information. Clearly it is not information that is classified secret or confidential. It is information that is public, so that the data sets themselves should be made freely available.
Now, within departments there is a wealth of data and of data sets that are not yet published. While we're very proud of the 200,000 data sets we have on the portal today, we believe there are a lot more.... That is the focus of the directive, to require that departments conduct an inventory of the data sets and then prioritize the data sets with our help. We work with them to identify high-value data sets and to help them make them available.
Ultimately, the departments have to be in a position to maintain and assure the integrity of the data and ensure that the data they are promoting—
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View Anne-Marie Day Profile
NDP (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have a few questions to ask.
In my opinion, and going back to what Mr. O'Connor was saying, a good example is cartography in the High Arctic. I believe that the cartography for that region is on the website in question and that it would be enormously useful to companies that wish to do business, move forward, or develop something in that area. This makes it possible, among other things, to know where deposits are and where local population groups live. This also makes it possible to know the environment, the ground plan and the whole area, which means that if someone wants to invest, thanks to this open data, they have a great deal of information at their disposal. That is one of the goals of this study, to highlight the impact of information on economic growth.
Now, in terms of accountability, how do you check this? Is it done annually or biannually? How do you know if you are heading in the right direction, that you are respecting the five initial goals and the eight others that will be added in the context of the G8? What do you analyze to determine if you have the right goal relative to what you should meet and if you are on the right track to meet the goals set by the G8?
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Stephen Walker
View Stephen Walker Profile
Stephen Walker
2014-03-04 10:23
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We have two. We have mandatory reporting requirements associated with the OGP and with the G-8. In the OGP it's an annual reporting process to define exactly what progress we've made on our specific commitments. That reporting process is templated. It's standardized internationally around the globe and requires specific public consultations to be able to feed into the development of the report. Then the report is subject to third-party review.
The G-8 is a little less mature at this point because just this past summer the G-8 Open Data Charter was established, but there was a commitment made by all G-8 countries to involve themselves in annual reporting so that later on this year the expectation would be that individual G-8 countries would have to update on what commitments within their G-8 action plan have been met, and the same thing again for 2015 but the reporting template has not been determined yet.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2013-06-04 11:30
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Ladies and gentlemen, we'll begin the proceedings. Because we lost a bit of time due to the vote today, we'll have a bit of a truncated meeting.
Welcome to the government operations and estimates committee. We're here today to discuss the integrity provisions for procurement and real property transactions. We're pleased to welcome as witnesses, representatives from the Department of Public Works and Government Services. Leading the delegation, I presume, is Deputy Minister Madame Michelle d'Auray.
Ms. d'Auray, welcome. I understand you have opening remarks. I'll perhaps leave it to you to introduce the rest of the guests you've brought with you today.
Let's proceed without delay.
You have the floor, Madame d'Auray.
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Michelle d'Auray
View Michelle d'Auray Profile
H.E. Michelle d'Auray
2013-06-04 11:31
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair,
and members of the committee.
Good morning. I welcome this opportunity to present and discuss with the committee the measures that Public Works and Government Services Canada has put in place to uphold the public's trust in procurement and real property transactions—
The Chair: There is a fire alarm. We will suspend the meeting.
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Michelle d'Auray
View Michelle d'Auray Profile
H.E. Michelle d'Auray
2013-06-04 11:53
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, again. It's still morning.
We are here to present and discuss with the committee the measures that Public Works and Government Services Canada has put in place to uphold the public's trust in procurement and real property transactions.
With me today is Barbara Glover, the assistant deputy minister from the departmental oversight branch. Barbara's branch encompasses the sectors that we call operational integrity, special investigations, forensic accounting, and industrial security. It also includes our office of internal disclosure, under the PSDPA.
Pierre-Marc Mongeau has appeared before you many times. He is here with me today as the assistant deputy minister, real property.
Pablo Sobrino is the associate assistant deputy minister, acquisitions. He was before you recently with regard to the integrated relocation program. Those are the colleagues with me today.
As deputy minister, I am proud of the key role my department plays as a common service provider so the departments and agencies can obtain the goods, services and accommodations they need to serve Canadians. The department is also the primary interface between government and business on a wide range of business activities.
Over the past three years, we have overseen an average of 49,000 procurements a year with an average value of $14 billion; we house some 270,000 public servants in more than 1,800 locations across the country, involving about 500 real property transactions per year.
As you can well imagine, the procurement processes by which we make these acquisitions and transactions can vary from the immensely complex, involving significant dollar values and sophisticated equipment and services, as is often the case with military procurements, to those of lower dollar value or greater volume and more recurrent requirements, such as supply arrangements and standing offers for a wide range of goods and services.
Given our roles and responsibilities, Public Works and Government Services Canada has a strong history of working to protect the public interest from those with criminal or corrupt motives. My department has a framework in place that supports accountability and integrity in procurement, with strong governance, codes of conduct, fairness monitoring, audits, financial controls, and internal investigations. These mechanisms apply to all those involved in our procurement activities.
I understand the committee has expressed interest in the fairness monitoring program and our integrity framework.
So I will start with the fairness monitoring program, which is a component of our integrity measures. The program was formally instituted in 2005 and expanded in 2009 to provide management, client departments, suppliers, Parliament and Canadians with independent, third-party assurance that our large or complex procurement activities are conducted in a fair, open and transparent manner. The program covers all complex or major departmental procurement and real property transactions. The findings are publicly released on our website.
Our policy on fairness monitoring requires a mandatory assessment for coverage with regard to activities in which risk related to sensitivity, materiality, or complexity is such that fairness monitoring coverage is warranted, as well as for all departmental activities subject to ministerial or Treasury Board approval.
Other departmental activities, for which an enhanced assurance of fairness, openness, and transparency is desired, can also be covered for fairness monitoring, whether mandatory or optional. The assistant deputy minister for oversight reviews these assessments and makes her recommendations to me on whether or not to proceed with fairness monitoring.
The most recent improvement to the program is a new standing offer for the services of fairness monitors, which will be issued shortly with a start date of June 10, 2013. This includes formal terms of reference for fairness monitoring engagements. I believe the committee had asked for the statement of work for the procurement of those services, which I understand we have provided.
The terms of reference will ensure alignment between fairness monitors and the department on the standard of fairness to be used, and the standard of conduct for fairness monitors to follow during fairness monitoring engagements.
I will now turn to our overall integrity framework.
All PWGSC employees must adhere to the department's code of conduct that includes specific provisions for the proper management of procurement activities through compliance with all available practices, controls and policies; and to prevent situations of real, potential or apparent conflict of interest. Employees must disclose when considering or engaging in outside employment and/or ownership of businesses, and comply with guidelines related to gifts, hospitality and other benefits.
Over and above this general code, the department implemented in 2007 and then updated in 2012 a code of conduct for procurement that applies to suppliers and to departmental staff and that outlines what is acceptable conduct when contracting with the government. Our goal is to ensure that the department conducts its business to the highest ethical standards, standards that Canadian citizens expect us to uphold and protect. It is a role that we take very seriously. And we have implemented significant compliance measures.
Let me give you an overview of these significant compliance measures.
Starting in 2007, as part of the Federal Accountability Act and its action plan, Public Works and Government Services Canada included a code of conduct for procurement in its solicitation documents, which included “payment of a contingency fee to a person to whom the Lobbying Act applies” to existing offences, which rendered convicted suppliers ineligible to bid on procurement contracts. The code also included frauds against the government under the Criminal Code and under the Financial Administration Act. Bidders formally certified with their bids that they had read the code and agree to be bound by its terms.
Building on these measures, in 2010 the department added anti-competitive convictions under the Competition Act to its list of offences that render bidders ineligible. These convictions include corruption, collusion, bid-rigging, or any other anti-competitive activity.
In July 2012, the department further expanded the list of offences that, if convicted, would render companies ineligible to do business with PWGSC. These offences include money laundering, participation in activities of criminal organizations, income and excise tax evasion, bribing a foreign public official, and drug trafficking.
For the first time, PWGSC also applied its integrity provisions to all real property transactions, which includes leasing arrangements for all uses, letting of commercial crown-owned space and the acquisition and disposal of crown-owned properties.
In November 2012 the department further clarified its integrity measures by removing the leniency exemption and introducing a public interest exemption. Leniency provisions allow an applicant to come forward, cooperate, and plead guilty in exchange for lenient treatment in sentencing. Given the seriousness of the infractions identified in the integrity provisions, the department no longer does business with individuals and companies found guilty of these offences unless exceptional circumstances require it for the public interest. This applies even when leniency may have been granted to the company through a program.
Under these provisions, the department can no longer enter into a contract or real property transaction or accept bids from individuals, companies, and the current members of their board of directors, including company affiliates, convicted of listed offences. These measures do not apply to company employees.
Should a company or a member of its board of directors obtain a record suspension—it used to be a pardon—or have its capacities restored by the Governor in Council, they would become eligible to do business with Public Works and Government Services Canada. In instances of public interest such as health and safety, emergencies, national security, or if there is only one supplier, the department could maintain the contract.
Successful bidders are required to maintain relevant information and their certification for the duration of the contract. Bidders and their officers must remain free and clear of convictions specified in the code of conduct, which is incorporated into their contract.
If a company is convicted of an offence after a contract has been awarded, the department may cancel the contract for default if the terms and conditions of the contract include our enhanced integrity provisions.
However, these provisions are not retroactive. So in cases where the provisions are not in the contract, the department is legally obligated to honour the contract. In such instances, heightened scrutiny and oversight and rigorous controls may be imposed for the remainder of the contract to protect taxpayers' interests.
Should we suspect wrongdoing, the department will not hesitate to take action, including procurement and administrative reviews to detect any irregularities; examining all invoices to ensure their accuracy; requesting the voluntary inclusion of the department's integrity measures in contracts; audits; and formal or departmental investigations.
If the department suspects wrongdoing, we will not hesitate to take the necessary measures, including requesting formal investigations by the RCMP or the Competition Bureau.
These measures apply only to Public Works and Government Services-managed procurements and real property transactions. The department manages approximately 83% of the value of all government-wide procurement. Departments and agencies have a delegated authority to contract for goods up to $25,000. Some departments have exclusive authority for goods contracting. Departments and agencies may contract for services under their own delegated authorities. However, a number of organizations that have such delegations or authorities, such as the Canada Revenue Agency, have entered into a memorandum of understanding with our department so as to be able to benefit from our integrity provisions.
The department has put in place numerous measures that demonstrate its commitment to doing business with companies and individuals that respect the law and act with integrity. The department will continue to build upon these measures. That is our responsibility as stewards of public funds.
We continue to enhance our approaches and measures. For example, last month we entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Competition Bureau of Canada to promote cooperation between our two organizations on the prevention, detection, reporting, and investigation of possible bid-rigging or cartel activity. Our minister has also asked us to explore improvements to the framework and to see how it could be applied more broadly across government.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my remarks.
Thank you for the opportunity to present our integrity measures and fairness monitoring program.
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View Linda Duncan Profile
NDP (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll go right to it.
I've noted that over time there have been some improvements to ensure the integrity of the procurement process. What troubles me is this is by code of practice.
My question to you, Madam d'Auray, is this. Why have no regulations ever been promulgated under sections 41 or 42 of the Financial Administration Act to make these measures legally binding regardless of whether they are included in a code that is attached to a contract? Why have no amendments to the Financial Administration Act been made to add the offences that are in the code of conduct?
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Michelle d'Auray
View Michelle d'Auray Profile
H.E. Michelle d'Auray
2013-06-04 12:06
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Thank you for the question.
The offences that are listed and for which companies are bound to respect the legislation are based on legislation. The charges can be put in the existing legislation whether it's the Criminal Code, the Financial Administration Act, or the Competition Act. The legislation to support these infractions or to charge the companies already does exist. They are bound when they sign their contracts to uphold and to be free of convictions under these offences, and we can essentially terminate the contracts for a default.
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View Linda Duncan Profile
NDP (AB)
Okay. I won't pursue it further, but it doesn't really answer my question.
Yes, indeed, if you violate the Criminal Code, you violate the Criminal Code. But the decision by this government has been to use a non-legally binding code of conduct instead of, in fact, issuing regulations under the legislation. I remain puzzled as to why, given the potential seriousness and the scale of the size of these contracts, we wouldn't proceed in that way.
My next questions are about the fairness monitoring. We welcome Ms. Glover, who I understand is the ADM who would be responsible for the fairness monitors.
There have been a good number of questions raised about the fairness monitors. I know that you will not feel comfortable discussing the specific case brought by Envoy, which is potentially under appeal—not yet filed, as I understand—but I would like to ask you questions about the issues that were raised and whether you think those are worth pursuing.
The justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in that case raised serious questions about the partiality of the monitors, due to the fact that they are directly retained and remunerated by Public Works, and therefore, he said, “He who pays the piper picks the tune”. There is at least the appearance of bias in that, if you're a monitor, you're not going to want to find that there are problems with the way Public Works is administering the contracts.
There have been suggestions also by the OECD that there should be independent mechanisms set up. In their “OECD Principles for Integrity in Public Procurement”, in principle 9, they have recommendations for the better handling of complaints from potential suppliers in a fair and timely manner, and actually recommend the establishment of an impartial review body with enforcement capacity independent of the procuring entities, which would rule on procurement decisions and provide adequate remedies.
I'm curious to know if you have taken into consideration, given various issues that have arisen over the last couple of years and in the recent case—which is, I understand, under appeal, and it's not the only case proceeding—are you giving consideration to the OECD principles, which I presume we subscribe to in this country, and to the issues raised by the court generally about the role of the fairness monitors?
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Michelle d'Auray
View Michelle d'Auray Profile
H.E. Michelle d'Auray
2013-06-04 12:09
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Perhaps, Mr. Chair, I'll start with the OECD principles.
We do have two bodies that oversee procurements. The first one is the trade tribunal, the CITT, and the second organization is the Procurement Ombudsman. So we do have independent bodies. One is a tribunal, so it has a power of remedy, and the other one, the Procurement Ombudsman, does have the power to address complaints.
I will ask Ms. Glover to talk about the fairness monitoring program, the independence of it, and how we go about selecting the monitors, and how they're reporting. Their work in relation to the department is, indeed, independent.
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Barbara Glover
View Barbara Glover Profile
Barbara Glover
2013-06-04 12:10
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Sure.
The fairness monitoring program was formally put in place in 2005. As Michelle mentioned in her introductory remarks, we have recently updated the standing offer. The way we seek fairness monitors is through a standing offer. That process is complete. We seek folks from outside the department who are independent and who have various credentials, which are laid out in the statement of work that we provided you earlier. We ask these people to come in, observe the procurement process from beginning to end, essentially, prior to setting out a request for proposal.
They engage in real time with the folks in charge of the procurement. They are asked to observe every aspect, to read all of the documents related to a procurement, to make observations, again in real time, and then to prepare a final report, which is posted.
At the beginning of engagement they need to attest to their independence, i.e., have no possible conflict of interest in undertaking their work. They are engaged by my branch, which is to say not the folks undertaking the transaction, whether it's a real property or procurement transaction.
Is that...?
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View Ron Cannan Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to our witnesses for coming back to the committee again on a very important issue.
Integrity and public trust in the public procurement processes are paramount. I appreciate the changes that we've embarked on since forming government in 2007 and even recently, as you mentioned, some of the new additions. But there is still some perception that there are loopholes with some companies that are holding contracts with the government and getting around the policy. Maybe you could expand a little bit and clarify where that perception originates from. Thank you.
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Michelle d'Auray
View Michelle d'Auray Profile
H.E. Michelle d'Auray
2013-06-04 12:13
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Thank you for the question. As I indicated in my remarks, the provisions, if they are not included in existing contracts, are not retroactive. So if the offences are committed by a company or if they're convicted with an existing contract, we can take measures. Some of them are to undertake more administrative reviews. We can put more scrutiny on the processes. But there are a number of instances where that exists. We can also ask the companies to open up the contracts under which they are currently providing services to include our measures.
But it is not a retroactive process. What we do in those instances if convictions occur during the course of a contract is that we undertake more significant monitoring and more oversight in the process. As we refresh our various procurement instruments, we include all of our integrity provisions in those requirements. We ensure at that point that with companies or board members who are convicted of offences, we can terminate the contracts for default.
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View Ron Cannan Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you for that clarification.
On the difference between being convicted and pleading guilty, if somebody knows they have been caught and they say they'll plead guilty, then they can continue to do business, whereas if they were convicted they could possibly be prevented from doing business. Is that correct?
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Michelle d'Auray
View Michelle d'Auray Profile
H.E. Michelle d'Auray
2013-06-04 12:15
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That is one of the reasons why in November of 2012, we enhanced the provisions in order to remove leniency as an element that would allow a company, its directors, or its affiliates to be able to contract with the government, because the nature of the offences upon which the company or directors would have been found guilty were sufficiently serious for us to then consider that leniency was not sufficient. Therefore we would remove those companies from the opportunity to bid or to be given contracts by the government.
It is, however, still tied to a conviction. But the leniency provisions are no longer an exemption that we allow.
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Michelle d'Auray
View Michelle d'Auray Profile
H.E. Michelle d'Auray
2013-06-04 12:16
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We have provided a lot of the information to my counterparts in the provinces and territories. They all have different mechanisms and structures around how they deal with their procurement processes.
We have also undertaken a fairly significant consultation process with associations. A number of them have indicated to us that there are additional elements that they would like to see covered, such as offences in foreign jurisdictions. We are currently looking at that.
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View Ron Cannan Profile
CPC (BC)
Excellent.
In your preamble you shared a little bit about your successes. Maybe you could expand a little bit more on how the integrity process is unfolding to other agencies and departments within the government.
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Michelle d'Auray
View Michelle d'Auray Profile
H.E. Michelle d'Auray
2013-06-04 12:16
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As I indicated in my remarks, we cover almost 83% of procurement across government, but departments do have their own authorities and some organizations do not or are not required to use Public Works and our procurement services.
We have in a number of instances developed a memorandum of understanding and a number of organizations have signed those with us, so they will voluntarily apply our integrity provisions. They come to us when they are about to issue a contract to make sure that the companies with which they are contracting are indeed who they should be contracting with.
We are working with our colleagues at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat to see how we could more broadly apply the measures across the government. The procurement policy instruments really rest with the secretariat.
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View Ron Cannan Profile
CPC (BC)
So does the 83% include real property transactions as well?
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Michelle d'Auray
View Michelle d'Auray Profile
H.E. Michelle d'Auray
2013-06-04 12:17
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No. Those are just the procurements. For the real property transactions I would ask my colleague to see what we cover.
We cover a fair chunk of the office accommodation, but we do not cover some of the specialized areas such as, for example, the CFIA or Parks Canada. They have their own ability to procure and to do their own real property transactions.
We have offered to those organizations that if they so wish to engage with us, we will agree, sign protocols, apply using our own instruments to their processes, but they are not required or bound to do so.
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View Denis Blanchette Profile
NDP (QC)
View Denis Blanchette Profile
2013-06-04 12:18
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My thanks to our guests for joining us.
I would like to go back to the way in which the fairness monitors work. Given that these can be very expensive contracts in very specialized areas, I would like to know how you are choosing these monitors.
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