Speaking notes for the Honourable Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board to the Canadian Open Dialogue Forum 2016


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March 31, 2016


Good morning.

I’d like to begin by thanking Dr. Don Lenihan for organizing and co-hosting this event.

Don has helped lead the discussion on Open Government since well before open government became cool.

There’s really an incredible wealth of knowledge in this room. 

I can’t possibly recognize every expert here today, but I’d like to mention David Eaves, who’s done so much in Canada and internationally to advance open data and open government projects.

And I want to thank everyone for helping make this conference happen.

Today, I’ll be talking about the next steps our government will take to make government more open, transparent, and accessible.

Open by default

Our Prime Minister has been clear.

He believes, and we believe, government information should be “open by default”.

This will take a monumental cultural shift.

We are talking about reversing the onus.

Instead of the onus being on citizens to make the case for why they deserve the information, the onus will increasingly be on government to explain why it can’t release information.

The principle that the government belongs to the people, in today’s information age, will be expanded to include that government information belongs to the people.

Three pillars of Open Government

Our commitment for Open Government rests on three key pillars: Open Data, Open Information, and Open Dialogue.

Open data

Let’s start with (1) Open Data.

When we talk about Open Data, we’re talking about making raw government information publicly available for all Canadians — businesses, individuals, charities, and so on.

This is where we’ve arguably had the most success to date, although we still have a long way to go.

For the first time, we’re centralizing data on things like government contracts, grants and contributions, and travel and hospitality expenses.

It makes it much easier for users to compare these reports year-to-year, and from one department to another, to understand how government spends their money.

Open information

(2) Open Information.

Canadians expect and deserve to know how and why decisions are made by their government on their behalf. Open Information aims to meet this expectation by being more transparent about the information that guides our decisions.

The Access to Information regime aims to make some of this information accessible. 

But in no way should it be the only way we make information available.

For example, our government was the first to publish ministers’ mandate letters publicly.  These are still posted online and clearly lay out each minister’s priorities as mandated by the Prime Minister.

Open dialogue

Open Dialogue — the idea that governments should trust their citizens and engage them at every stage in the public policy making process.

Open Dialogue has the benefit of allowing better policy to co-emerge with more public support.

Open Data, Open Information and Open Dialogue form the three pillars of our plan for Open Government.

A mandate for Open Government

Our Prime Minister has been advancing open government for some time — long before he became Prime Minister.

He believes, and we believe that open and transparent government makes for better government.

As an opposition MP, he tabled a Private Member’s, Bill C-613, to reform Access to Information.

Under his leadership, we also led the way on proactive disclosure.  Our caucus was the first to proactively disclose our members’ expenses online.

Last June, as an opposition leader, Justin Trudeau announced a 32-point plan for more open, transparent and better government. 

Many were skeptical of the breadth and scope of his plan.

It wasn’t designed to win an election.  It was constructed as a plan for a new government.

In my mandate letter, the Prime Minister tasked me with the following responsibilities to advance this vision.

  1. Taking a leadership role in improving the use of evidence and data in program innovation and evaluation.
  2. Accelerating and expanding our open data initiatives, and making even more government data available in easy-to-use digital formats, so Canadians can easily access and use it.
  3. And leading a review of the Access to Information Act.

That law hasn’t been updated since 1983.

And just last week in our budget, we reinforced our commitment to open and transparent government with specific investments, including:

  1. Doubling existing resources for open government initiatives:
    • $11.5 million over five years for Treasury Board Secretariat’s open government activities; and
    • $12.9 million over five years to help the Treasury Board Secretariat enhance Canadians’ access to government information, including their own personal information.
  2. There’s also $17.8 million over five years to improve our Service Strategy.


And we’re continuing in that direction today.

Today, I want to share with you the next steps we are taking.

I am pleased to announce the launch of public consultations on two important items, directly taken from my mandate letter.

First, we’ll be consulting Canadians on the development of a new strategy on Open Government.

Second, we’re looking for input on the best way to both improve and strengthen Canada’s access-to-information framework.

These are complex issues.

We know that we don’t have all the answers.

It’s critical that citizens inform our initiatives.

Strategy on Open Government

Beginning today, Canadians can go to open.canada.ca to tell us their views on what should be in the next strategy on Open Government.

We’ll also be holding in-person discussions and using the technology at our disposal to consult with Canadians in a number of cities across the country.

The details of this process are available at open.canada.ca.

The plan resulting from the consultation will be released in the summer. It will cover the full range of open government actions, from open data all the way to open science.

Revitalizing access to information

We’re also moving forward on our commitment to strengthen and improve the Access to information regime.

Canadians have been clear: improvements to the program are needed and overdue.

This will be a two-phase process.

First, we will move quickly to implement our platform commitments and other significant improvements we’ll identify through our consultations.

We’ve already committed to:

  • giving the Information Commissioner the power to order government information to be released;  
  • ensuring the Act applies appropriately to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices;
  • and it also applies to administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

And it’s not just the public we’re going to engage. 

We will partner with Parliament.

I’ll be appearing before the House of Commons Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to engage in this process because I believe the parliamentarians who were elected to speak for Canadians should have a say in this.

And I’m happy to say the Information Commissioner is also engaged.

Once we’re informed by our consultations and the committee’s advice, we’ll move forward to amend the Act. 

But we won’t be stopping there.

We’ll also be conducting the first full and now-mandatory five year review of the Act in 2018.

This will allow us to perform a more fulsome review of the Act, and ensure that no government in the future allows the Access to Information Act to become as outdated and out of touch as it currently is.

And we are putting 21st-century technology at the service of civic engagement.

It will be my pleasure to host our first Google Hangout on Open Government with experts, leaders and interested Canadians next Wednesday, April 6th, at 1p.m. EDT.

Taken together, this (1) new strategy on Open Government and (2) two-phase review of the Access to Information Act will:

  • bring greater transparency;
  • open the doors for greater public participation;
  • and support our commitment to evidence-based decision making.

By opening our ears, we open our doors to a wealth of experience, knowledge and expertise to help us find solutions to government’s challenges, which after all, are the challenges we all face together as a nation.

This is also very much about trust.

If citizens understand why their government is taking a particular course of action — if they have been engaged from the start — if they have access to the same information government has — they’ll have a lot more confidence and trust in the outcomes.

In practice, open dialogue allows for policy and public support to co-emerge.

Instead of having a policy shop craft the policy, then having your communications team sell the policy, the process is practically turned on its head.

Open dialogue enables government to engage experts, stakeholders, interested parties and the broader public in simultaneously identifying the problems and developing the solutions. 

As such, open dialogue produces better policy and more public buy-in.

Open government provides us with a huge opportunity to be more relevant.

What better example than web designers?

They’re obviously adapted to this century, the digital age. They’re a product of it.

Well, good website design is based heavily on user testing.

Designers know to test and measure relentlessly, refine continuously, and to really understand how people use their sites.

The same principle should apply to the design of government policies, programs and services.

And the real test of success is whether they deliver results for the people who use them.

Where are we on Open Government?

Canada, as a member of the Open Government Partnership, is now striving to be a world leader on Open Government.

We’re showing leadership at home and abroad on advancing the goals of openness, accountability and transparency.

As you know, new technologies are making it possible to provide open data in easily accessible formats.

We have a Directive on Open Government that enables departments to get data into the hands of Canadians more quickly and more easily.

Much progress has been made already in terms of getting information and data to Canadians in formats that can be reused in innovative ways.

There are plenty of best practices here and around the world.

In the federal government, Health Canada has an app that gives users up-to-date information on advisories on health and safety, product and food-product safety.

That’s just one example.

In Ontario, there’s an app called Gridwatch that uses Government of Ontario data to show you where the province’s power comes from, when the grid is running on clean energy and when it’s not.

Open government data is being reused to help people in their daily lives.

It’s encouraging, it’s useful.

We’re well aware this is not the way governments have traditionally operated, and the digital age has created an entirely new infrastructure, and changing the culture of government will take some time and effort.

But Canadians are innovative and incredibly smart.

Young Canadians in particular have high expectations for openness and transparency, and they often master the means necessary to make the most of them.


So let me leave you with this thought.

In today’s world, it makes no sense; it’s anachronistic to think that as a government, we have the right to keep from Canadians information that ultimately belongs to them.

The transparency bus has left the station.

And we can't waste the opportunity presented to us to be open and better as a government.

I truly believe that an open government makes for a more effective one.

It means we’re held accountable for our decisions.

It sharpens our focus on the needs of Canadians.

And it drives us to better policy results.

Open government is the future, and we need to get it right.

That’s why I’m so pleased to announce the launch of public consultations on both a new Open Government strategy and improving Access to Information.

I hope many of you will go online or attend in person to participate in the consultations.

Your ideas and expertise are needed as we build a more open, accessible and better government for all Canadians.

Thank you.

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