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Canada

Engage Civil Society on Open Government (CA0060)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Canada Action Plan 2016-2018

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Support Institution(s): NA

Policy Areas

Public Participation

IRM Review

IRM Report: Canada End-Term Report 2016-2018, Canada Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Major Major

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Civic Participation

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Engage Civil Society on Open Government Why do this: Collaboration among governments and civil society on open government reforms is a cornerstone of the Open Government Partnership model. As a result, member countries are required to establish a permanent mechanism for ongoing public dialogue in order to foster transparency and empower civil society organizations’ interaction on open government. Establishing a permanent forum for dialogue provides a formal structure for regular, two-way communication between government and civil society. How will it be done: Canada initially established a multi-stakeholder advisory panel to support development and implementation of Canada’s first two Action Plans. Canada is committed to cultivating an effective relationship with civil society by designing and nurturing a renewed mechanism to support constructive, ongoing dialogue between government and non-government stakeholders. Led by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, this renewed mechanism will establish a strong link between government and civil society. It will engage regularly to track progress on Canada’s commitments, identify potential new areas of focus, and help raise awareness of open government issues across Canada.

IRM Midterm Status Summary

19. Engage Civil Society on Open Government

Commitment Text:

The Government of Canada will create ongoing mechanisms for strengthening dialogue with civil society in support of open government activities.

Milestones:

19.1. Develop and maintain a renewed mechanism for ongoing, meaningful dialogue between the Government of Canada and civil society organizations on open government issues across the country.

19.2. Undertake targeted engagement activities to discuss open government issues in specific domains with key civil society stakeholders.

Responsible institution: Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Supporting institutions: Civil society partners

Start date: Not specified

End date: Not specified

Editorial Note: The text of the commitment was abridged for formatting reasons. For full commitment text, visit: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/Canada_AP3.pdf.

Context and Objectives

This commitment seeks to remedy weaknesses around civil society consultation that occurred during Canada’s first two action plans. Engagement with civil society is a core aspect of participation in the OGP. The 2015 midterm assessment by the IRM included, among its five main 'SMART' recommendations, a call to overhaul the existing Advisory Committee to make it an active, permanent dialogue mechanism.[Note172: Mary Francoli, 'Canada Progress Report 2014-2015,' Open Government Partnership Independent Reporting Mechanism. Available at: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/1.Canada14-15_English_Final_0_0.pdf.] The importance of improving consultation, and specifically of developing a co-creation mechanism, was also brought up at each of the four IRM focus groups, in Halifax, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Because of its importance, the potential impact of this commitment, and in particular Milestone 19.1, borders between moderate and transformative. However, the potential impact of Milestone 19.2 is somewhat less than 19.1, particularly as it seems to overlap significantly with mandatory OGP activities. Although the milestones themselves are reasonably clear, Publish What You Pay-Canada noted that ambiguities exist regarding how this mechanism will work, and expressed a strong need for a robust co-creation structure.[Note173: This was expressed at a consultation in Ottawa on 18 September 2017, though again it echoes sentiments expressed by a variety of stakeholders.] In addition, in focus group consultations, civil society stakeholders involved in establishing the mechanism noted that the initiative came mainly from civil society, rather than government, which played a reactive rather than a proactive role in the mechanism’s development.[Note174: This notion was first expressed by the Centre for Law and Democracy at a consultation in Halifax on 12 September 2017, but the sentiment was echoed by other stakeholders in follow up conversations.]

Completion

For Milestone 19.1, over the course of the first year of implementation, discussions between the Treasury Board Secretariat and civil society stakeholders resulted in draft terms of reference to establish a permanent consultation mechanism. A nomination process for representatives is planned for the fall, with a formal launch of the forum planned for late 2017.[Note175: The call for nominations is posted at: http://www.opengovdialogue.ca/en/apply-multistakeholder-forum.html.] There has been substantial progress in completing this milestone, which is on schedule.

Regarding Milestone 19.2, various agencies have carried out consultations connected to their OGP commitments, including a consultation by the Canada Revenue Agency on rules governing charities’ political activities (Commitment 22)[Note176: See details of the consultation at: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/charities-giving/charities/resources-charities-donors/resources-charities-about-political-activities/canada-revenue-agency-registered-charities-political-activities-consultations.html.] and a cross-Canada tour by the Open Data Exchange (Commitment 15).[Note177: Notes from which are available at: codx.ca/?s=cross+canada+tour.] In addition, several stakeholders, including Open North and Powered By Data, reported that consultations continued with government agencies over the implementation of their OGP commitments.[Note178: Representatives from both organisations attended a consultation in Montreal on 20 September 2017.] This may be viewed as substantial progress for completing this milestone, though it is also somewhat duplicative of existing consultation responsibilities which attach to OGP participant countries.

Early Results

Civil society representatives who participated in focus groups connected to the preparation of this report noted almost universally that engagement and consultation had substantially improved since the current government took power and that they have increasing access to government officials. It would be inaccurate to characterise these changes as flowing directly from the milestones in this commitment, since the changes predate the commencement of this action plan, shortly after the election. Nonetheless, the milestones are a part of this broader change, making them relevant.

Next Steps

Although stakeholders consulted for this report were generally positive about the establishment of a multi-stakeholder consultation mechanism, they were also hesitant about ascribing too much credit for the initiative as it currently stands. Publish What You Pay-Canada noted that scepticism from previous processes still lingered, and they were waiting to see what level of impact the mechanism would have on policy-making, and in particular whether it would follow a proper co-creation model.[Note179: Expressed at the Ottawa consultation, 18 September 2017.] The Centre for Law and Democracy noted that, in developing the terms of reference, government representatives had pushed back against a co-creation model for the body.[Note180: Expressed at the Halifax consultation, 12 September 2017.] In discussing the development of the new mechanism, Dr. Teresa Scassa noted that the previous advisory panel on open government had never formally been disbanded, and expressed hope that the new mechanism would be more organised.[Note181: Expressed at the Ottawa consultation, 18 September 2017.] Powered By Data was more positive and emphasised that the government was making progress in engagement and consultation.[Note182: Interviewed by phone, 29 September 2017.] Nonetheless, they acknowledged further room for improvement. In particular, they noted that current consultation strategies were unlikely to capture new voices, beyond the relatively small community of experts that are already engaged.

Civil society consultation is an essential aspect of the OGP, and the importance of this commitment to the government’s overall progress cannot be overstated. The IRM researcher recommends continuing to push forward on this commitment, both by expanding the scope of civil society consultations, and by pushing toward a stronger standard of co-creation in the development and execution of action plans.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

19. Engage Civil Society on Open Government

Commitment Text: The Government of Canada will create ongoing mechanisms for strengthening dialogue with civil society in support of open government activities.

Milestones:

19.1. Develop and maintain a renewed mechanism for ongoing, meaningful dialogue between the Government of Canada and civil society organizations on open government issues across the country.

19.2. Undertake targeted engagement activities to discuss open government issues in specific domains with key civil society stakeholders.

Responsible institution:Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Supporting institutions: Civil society partners

Start Date: Not specified

End Date: Not specified

Editorial Note: The text of the commitment was abridged for formatting reasons. For full commitment text, visit http://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/Canada_AP3.pdf.

Commitment Aim

This commitment sought to remedy the weaknesses of civil society consultation that occurred during Canada's first two action plans. Such remedies would improve engagement through the creation of a Multi-stakeholder Forum on Open Government, as well as a series of targeted engagement activities to discuss open government issues.

Status

Midterm: Substantial

Over the first year of implementation, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) consulted with civil society stakeholders to develop draft terms of reference for the Multi-stakeholder Forum. TBS also began planning for the representative nomination process. Under Milestone 19.2, the government carried out various consultations. These consultations included discussions on rules governing charities' political activities (Commitment 22)[Note164: See details of the consultation at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/charities-giving/charities/resources-charities-donors/resources-charities-about-political-activities/canada-revenue-agency-registered-charities-political-activities-consultations.html.] and a cross-Canada tour by the Open Data Exchange (Commitment 15).[Note165: Notes from which are available at codx.ca/?s=cross+canada+tour.] In addition, several stakeholders, including Open North and Powered by Data, reported that consultations continued with government agencies over the implementation of their OGP commitments.[Note166: Representatives from both organisations attended a consultation in Montreal on 20 September 2017.]

End of term: Complete

The Multi-stakeholder Forum on Open Government launched on 24 January 2018. The body met several times in the run-up to the release of Canada's fourth action plan. These convenings included brokering additional meetings, discussions, and working sessions among experts, stakeholders from civil society, and government programme leads.[Note167: See “Multi-stakeholder Forum on Open Government,” Government of Canada, https://open.canada.ca/en/multi-stakeholder-forum-open-government.]

Milestone 19.2 has been completed. Regarding Milestone 19.2, the government held many consultations over the course of the third action plan, mostly in connection with the development of the next action plan. Some of these sessions, which are not mentioned elsewhere in this assessment, included a bilingual webinar by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat open government team on open data. Also included in these sessions are information sessions held by the nonprofit and private sectors on 21 June 2018; a series of information sessions and meetings on the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal; and a discussion on open science held on 22 January 2018.

Did It Open Government?

Civic Participation: Major

Engagement with civil society constitutes a core aspect of participation in OGP. This commitment addressed a recommendation in the 2015 IRM midterm assessment.[Note168: Mary Francoli, Canada Progress Report 2014-2015 (Washington, DC: Open Government Partnership Independent Reporting Mechanism), https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/1.Canada14-15_English_Final_0_0.pdf.] The issue was also raised in each of the IRM focus groups in Halifax, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. The government held these sessions to inform the development of the 2017 IRM midterm assessment. As a result, the formation of the Multi-stakeholder Forum on Open Government has provided a significant step forward. However, it has not come without its growing pains. There remains a strong need to bridge cultural and expectational divides between government and civil society. According to Lindsey Marchessault of the Open Contracting Partnership, the Forum opened doors to engage departments on open government issues, but the current engagement could have offered further benefits had the Forum been given a role in shaping Canada's overall OGP engagement plans.

Carried Forward?

The government completed this commitment, and the Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Open Government is now up and running. The Forum, of course, has an important role to play in future action plans. However, it is not clear whether the Forum itself should be the subject of future action plan commitments, since it represents an infrastructural component of the OGP process, not a thematic focus area.


Commitments

Open Government Partnership