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Canada’s Open Government Strategy

Peter Ferguson|

Canada is currently drafting our first, whole-of-government Open Government Strategy. This follows the launch of the new global Open Government Partnership Strategy, which Canada helped develop as a Steering Committee member. One of the lessons from OGP’s first decade was that open government must be a cross-department priority, and permeate all levels of government. Strategies involve long-term planning and a vision for changing the culture of government, within which shorter implementation of national action plans can be situated. This is a key strategic shift for OGP that will be rolled out in the coming year and is one of the main reasons Canada is developing our new Open Government Strategy.

Canada drew on lessons learned from our experience in OGP when drafting our strategy. In particular, our engagement process drew inspiration from participating in the OGP Strategy engagement. Additionally, Canada shares many of the same challenges we faced in developing the global OGP Strategy, for example, the necessity of addressing concerns from a broad assortment of departments/members covering a diverse landscape. We fully expect the Canadian Strategy to substantively mirror a number of areas and content contained in the OGP’s Strategy.

Canada’s Strategy also drew on a unique agreement with the OECD, the result of which was the February 2023 publication of the Open Government Scan of Canada: Designing and Implementing an Open Government Strategy. Rather than a historical scan of Canada’s open government activities, the explicit objective was to support the development of Canada’s Open Government Strategy. The findings were based on the results of the 2020 OECD Survey on Open Government, an extensive follow-up questionnaire answered by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS), and 28 in-depth, stakeholder interviews with people from the federal and provincial governments, civil society, and academia.

The Scan recommends that the Strategy build on Canada’s many open government strengths. Canada is seen as a leader on international transparency and open data rankings. The Directive on Open Government provides a solid foundational governance framework. Situating the open government file within the TBS provides the advantage of central agency leadership. That setting has not constrained a unique start-up approach to open government which has allowed for policy flexibility and experimentation. The success of Canada’s open data approach is tied to the development of our Open Government Portal ( And Canada has benefited from taking international leadership roles in organizations like OGP.

Moving forward, the Scan recommends Canada build on these strengths in order to address a number of important challenges. The first set of challenges revolve around governance structure. Open government is seen as a ‘nice to have’ that takes place on the side of the desk for most involved in coordinating open government activities. This is complicated by the nature of public service rotation within the federal government where the norm is to move positions after five years. Coupled with this is a compliance culture where public servants are reluctant to experiment absent an explicit mandate and it is easy to understand the challenging nature of the task. This is why OGP’s goals to mainstream open government at all levels and branches of government, and to build the leadership capabilities on open government in the public service matter.

The second challenge surrounds pushing the boundaries of open government. During the interview process, it became clear that within the government there is a very narrow understanding of open government. Peoples’ understanding was limited to transparency, with a tight focus on open data. While the Scan calls on Canada to continue to innovate in open data, it points to a gap on the public participation side. While there are consultation and engagement activities within the government, they are done on an ad hoc basis. The root of the problem is likely the lack of clear leadership on the broader public participation file, limiting current successes to innovative actors. This is similar to what was heard from across the Partnership during the consultation on the global OGP strategy.

In an effort to mature the open government agenda in the country, the Canadian Strategy aims to address these problems by providing a vision and mission which will guide the actions of the government in the short, medium, and long-term. First, and foremost, the Strategy will advance a more holistic understanding of open government including an emphasis on the importance of public participation. Opening the government’s data to the public was an important first step but it is time to open the government to more sustained and normalized conversations with the public. This can be accomplished by reviewing and updating the Directive on Open Government.

The Strategy also calls for updated and expanded mandates for departmental open government coordinators. It further calls on the Government to expand our expertise on public participation and eventually revisit the institutional arrangements on this file. Successful implementation will require development of maturity models, toolkits, courses, and the creation of communities of practice. The end goal is for Canada to continue to mature our approach to transparency and open data, while pushing for deeper development and integration of public participation into our open government agenda.

Canada looks forward to sharing lessons from developing a long-term Open Government Strategy and to learning from others as we move toward implementation. To realize the full potential of open government in our respective jurisdictions, we encourage all OGP members to feel free to reach out to our open government team to share ideas, best practices, and lessons learned as we move down this path together.

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