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Study on Open Government: A view from local community and university based research

From the wonderful folks at the Save the Census Campaign

(I particularly giggled at the Stevie Cutie one, what would Ertha Kitt say!)

Reinstate the Long Form Census
to the tune of “Deck the Halls”

Reinstate the Long Form Census,
Fa la la la la la la la
Its demise is really senseless,
Fa la la la la la la la
Give us back this vital data
Fa la la la la la la la
Bring it back right now, not later.
Fa la la la la la la la.

Hear the raging statisticians
Fa la la la la la la la
Stating all our hopes and wishes
Fa la la la la la la la
Many groups across our nation
Fa la la la la la la la
Join to stop this devastation
Fa la la la la la la la

Those from lower social classes
Fa la la la la la la la
Fear the new one will bypass us
Fa la la la la la la la
Sing we now in protestation
Fa la la la la la la la
Speaking out to save our nation
Fa la la la la la la la!

Hark the Statisticians Sing
to the tune of ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’

Hark the Statisticians sing
Give us back that census thing
Don’t destroy the data source
That we use to chart our course.

Joyful if it is returned
From its data much we’ve learned
It has been around since when
Christ was born in Bethlehem.

Hark the Statisticians sing
Don’t listen to the far right wing!

Many want it now restored
Province, village, town and Board
Rural, urban, poor and rich,
Think to lose it is a shame

Cancelled almost secretly
For no reason clear to see
Many mourn this tragic loss
Blaming Harper – he’s the boss!

Hark, the statisticians sing
Please reinstate the Census thing!

Census Forms
to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’

Filling out the form
On a long form census day
Takes ‘bout half an hour
Glad to have my say

Don’t find it intrudes
Isn’t worth the fuss
The information it provides
Benefits all of us

Census forms, census forms
Glad to have my say!
It’s a thing we really need
Bring back our census day!

Census forms, census forms
Glad to have our say
It’s a part of Canada
Please don’t take it away!

Need the whole long form
More than a survey
Counts us every one
No one goes astray
Things that we all need
The census helps us get
If we can just volunteer
Some needs will go unmet.

Census forms, census forms
Glad to have my say
It’s a part of Canada
Please don’t take it away!

Stevie Baby
to the tune of “Santa Baby”

Stevie Baby, just slip a census under the tree, for me.
Been an awful good count,
Stevie Baby, so make it mandatory again.

Stevie Baby, a data source that we know is true — like you!
We’ll wait till it returns,
Stevie baby, so make it mandatory again.

Though its now your nemesis
Think of all the fellas that it’s gonna miss
Next year could be twice as good,
If you’d restore the Census list!

Stevie baby
We want a count on which we can count — a fount.

Information we need, Stevie baby,
So make it mandatory again.

Stevie honey
One little thing we really need, indeed.
Data that we can mine, Stevie Baby,
So make it mandatory again.

Stevie cutie
Don’t think this is one little thing – we sing!
Sign your x on the line, Stevie cutie,
And make it mandatory again.

Please maintain this data source
With some gentle suasion, just to reinforce.
You don’t need to keep jail time
Make it just a minor crime!

Stevie baby
Won’t complete your “Household Survey” – no way!
It’s a failed substitute,
Stevie baby, so make it mandatory again.
Make it mandatory again
Tory, tonight!

We Need a Long Form Census
to the tune “We Need a Little Christmas” from ‘Mame’

Please stop this folly
Bring back the form before you hurt our nation more
Fill out the questions
We may be losing things we never missed before now

Cause we need the long form Census
Right this very minute
Joyous statisticians, data without limits

Yes we need the long form census
Right this very minute
Its cancellation caused a flurry
That Stephen Harper makes us worry

So climb off your high horse
Reverse the dumbest thing we’ve seen you do in years
Don’t be a fruitcake
It’s time you faced the facts, to public pressure please bow!

For we’ve grown a little smarter
Grown a little older
Grown a lot more vocal
Grown a whole lot bolder

And we need a lot more data
‘Bout every householder.
We need the long form census now!

Good King Censusless
to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”

Good King Censusless looked out
On the cottage season.
With the sunshine all about
Warm and crisp and even.
Everyone was drinking beer
Feeling great elation.
How could he disrupt the cheer
breaking cross the nation?

“Mr Clement, good MP,
If you knowst it, telling,
Yonder voter, who is he
Tory ranks not swelling?”
“Sire, a man I once knew long
Loathed the census taking
If you could remove this wrong
You’d be nation-making.”

“Make it so”, he said at once
With no consultation,
“Though I may be thought a dunce
Causing consternation.”
Statistician would not toast
His part in this madness.
He would rather quit his post
Causing him much sadness.

Harper bellowed “What a fool!
Get that man to focus!
He should know that math’s not cool,
Stats are hocus pocus.”
Statistician stood his ground
In the public’s favour.
He said he was honour-bound;
People thought him braver.

“Bring me hatchets, bring me fire,
We shall burn his cabin!
He’s earned my unholy ire!
He won’t know what happened!”
Steve and Tony, off they trod,
Off they trod together
Feeling stormy, yet instead
Of the sunny weather.

Statistician’s cabin burned
To the ground next morning.
Steve and Tony have not learned,
Though this be a warning:
Cabin dwellers all be sure
Be you all accounted,
Those who cannot count the poor
Can’t themselves be counted.

You gotta love the re-mix folks! Here is a video to celebrate the no more $5 bucks for FOI request for Government of Canada information. It is a good thing too, as apparently it cost $55 bucks to process the checks!

Mark Weiler left the following message on

The Office of the Information Commissioner has entered a six month pilot project where the $5.00 application fee for ordering records through the Access to Information Act is now being waived. You can now order records from the OIPC by emailing the Access to Information and Privacy Officer,  English & Fraçais.

1. Event: Open Access Week 2010, Carleton University, October 21, Noon to 1PM.

2. Event: Open Access Week, Université d’Ottawa, Apps4Ottawa Showcase, October 21, 5-7PM.

  • Title: OpenData & Public Research
  • Abstract: Researchers use OpenData to inform their work, and are also producers of data and software that can be re-shared to the public.  In Canada, much of university research is supported by public funds and an argument can be made that the results of that research should be accessible to the public.  The research at the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre will be featured as will community based social policy research in Ottawa.  In Canada some data are accessible, but mostly data are not, and if they are, cost recovery policies and regressive licensing impede their use.  The talk will feature examples where data are open and where opportunities for evidence based decision making are restricted.

3. Event: Statistical Society of Ottawa 8th annual seminar – Our Statistics Community on Monday the 25th of October.

  • Title: The Real Census informs Neighbourhood Research in Canada
  • Abstract: Ms. Tracey P. Lauriault will discuss neighbourhood scale research using Census data.  She will introduce the The Cybercartographic Pilot Atlas of the Risk of Homelessness created at the Geomatics and Cartographic Research and will feature community based research used to inform public policy as part of the Canadian Social Data Strategy (CSDS).  She will feature maps and data about social issues in Canadian cities & metropolitan areas (e.g. Calgary, Toronto, Halton, Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa, Montreal, & others) and will focus on the importance of local analysis and what the loss of the Long-Form Census could mean to evidence based decision making to communities in Canada’s.

Democratic progress requires the ready availability of true and complete information. In this way people can objectively evaluate their government’s policy. To act otherwise is to give way to despotic secrecy.


-Pierre E. Trudeau

Freedom of information legislation refers to the regime for accessing public information held by a government. It generally indicates what information is accessible by the public and what is not, such as, personal information or information related to national security in times of war.


Canadians have had a long summer on the re-in-statement of the Long-Form Census. There has been an unprecedented outpouring of support from all corners of the nation. People want to be informed, and they want to do so with good, reliable and accurate data.

Right to Know Week in my mind, is about disclosure and transparency, but it is also about acknowledging and reminding ourselves that having free and open access to the information and data citizens, non profit organizations, the private sector and government need to inform public policy, is critical to a well functioning participatory democracy. It is about guiding the work we do between elections.

While my faith in those who govern has wavered greatly these past months, and we are seeing that our system has a few process issues that makes doing citizenship near impossible. I have nonetheless regained new hope for some parts of the bureaucracy, the operations of government. In particular Statistics Canada and Natural Resources Canada. While they are both at different ends of the open access to public data spectrum, the former being somewhat regressive in its practices, I have renewed my respect for what they produce, the rigour of their data collection methodologies and the processes they have adopted at creating and disseminating solid and reliable data. Further, I know that StatCan is the best example we have of an institution that understands its mandate, that steadfastly protects our private data, and has taken a stand against the production of an inferior product. Munir Sheikh and Ivan Fellegi have made the term Chief Statistician common place, and have demonstrated ethical leadership and good citizenship. Suddenly we have been educated about the Census, survey bias, scale, accuracy and reliability, and what it is that people do with these data. That is impressive. Shame it took this decimated this institution to get the data out of the closet so to speak, and alert us to what it is our institutions do.

It is up to the rest of us to keep working toward ensuring this issue and the work of our two former Chief Statisticians has not gone in vain and that the output of our oldest institutions, survey mapping and census taking, remain solid trustworthy institutions that produce the best quality data possible. These data are our navigation systems. We as citizens should have access to these so that we along with our institutions can guide our society in the public policy terrain and within the complex global context we live in. That is what democracies do, and we as citizens need to exercise our rights and be engaged in the process.

Right to Know Week Program

Graphic By

This list is now being updated daily on the Census Watch Page.

List of Organizations Opposed to Changing the Long Form of the Census

This list was compiled by W. T. Stanbury ( and Armine Yalnizyan, Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis [last update:July 20,2010 ]

Access to public data is one of the most popular VOTE topics in the submissions on the Digital Economy Consultation site. Here are the VOTING submissions that ask for open data, open access and open government.

1. Open Access to Canada’s Public Sector Information and Data is looking for some votes.

2. Improved access to publicly-funded data associated with research data Require open access to results of research funded by the Canadian taxpayer

3. Open Access to Canadian research

4. National Archives Content Online

5. Créer une licence « Creative Commons » du Canada

6. Protect and enhance digital freedoms for education

There has also been some writing about the consultation:

Michael Geist: Opening Up Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy

David Eaves: Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy: Two quick actions you can take

Take a few minutes to login and vote! If you can, provide a comment about how access to data has improved or will improve your work.

Please vote – Open Access to Canada’s Public Sector Information and Data. This is part of the Industry Canada Digital Economy Consultation.

Please take some time to vote and distribute within your networks and institutions! It just takes a few seconds.

We are at a tipping point on this issue in Canada and your few seconds of your time could open up our data resources. You will also see a complimentary Research Data and improved access to publicly-funded data submissions that could also use some votes while you are at it!

Below is the text. If you have ideas that can be added for a formal submission, I would be really glad to hear from you!

Create a for Canada’s public sector information (PSI) and data in parallel with the excellent NRCan GeoConnections model (e.g. GeoGratis, GeoBase, Discovery Portal).

These PSI & data should be shared at no cost with citizens, be in accessible and open formats, searchable with standard metadata, wrapped in public domain or unrestricted user licenses, delivered within an an open architecture infrastructure based on open standards, specifications and be interoperable. It should be governed with open government principles whereby data & PSI are shared first and arguments to restrict are made only for legitimate privacy and security reasons which should also be disclosed. It should have a permanent home and include both the right combination of multi-departmental (e.g. CIC, INAC, HRSDC, NRC, NRCan, etc.) inputs, trans-disciplinary human resources (e.g. Librarians, archivists, scientists) along with IT specialists & engineers. It should be built in consultation with Canadians to ensure it is designed with user needs and useability in mind. (This is how the GeoConnections program built the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure).

The Government of Canada produces administrative data for the purpose of program delivery (e.g. Canada Student Loan, location where new Canadians land, the number and location of homeless shelters, etc.), and it produces data for the purpose of governing for example: the data collected by Statistics Canada (e.g. Census & Surveys, National Accounts); Environment Canada (e.g. air & water quality, location of brown sites); Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (e.g. satellite and radar imagery); Industry Canada (e.g. corporate registry); Canada Revenue Agency (e.g. Charities dbase); National Research Council (e.g. Scientific data); SSHRC (e.g., social science research data) and more. These data have already been paid for by Canadians via taxation, and the cost of selling these data back to citizens on a cost recovery basis is marginal or more expensive (e.g. Cost of government to government procurement, management of licences, royalties, government accounting and etc.) relative to the benefits & reduced overhead of delivering these data at no cost. Furthermore, Canadians often pay multiple times for the same data, since each level of government also purchases the same data, federal departments purchase these data from each other and there are examples where municipalities purchase the same data multiple times from Statistics Canada. This is not only a waste of taxpayer money it goes against the principle of create once and use many times and of avoiding the duplication of effort.

Data & PSI are non rivalrous goods where sharing and open access to these does not impede other from doing so. Open access stimulates research and IT sectors who will have the resources they need for the creation of new data R&D products (e.g. Applications) and services (e.g., web mapping), evidence based decision making (e.g. Population health), and informing public policy on a number of key Canadian issues (e.g. Homelessness, housing, education). In addition, evidence from Canadian City Open Data Initiatives (e.g., Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, and Ottawa) have demonstrated that the cost and time to find and access data & PSI within government have been greatly reduced since finding these are easier and negotiating access becomes a non issue, which in turn brings savings to citizens and greater efficiencies within these institutions. Finally, participatory and deliberative democracies include the active engagement and inputs from citizens, civil society organizations, the private sector, and NGOs along with their government. Making these data available increases the collective knowledge base of Canadians and stimulates public engagement, improves efficiencies, and fuels innovation.

These are already our (citizen’s) data & PSI, why not share share them with us and enable citizens and the government to work together to stimulate Canada’s economy, create innovative industries and formulate evidence based public policy.

It is quite surprising that this was not the norm, to manage the public good!

the Federal Court of Canada released late yesterday that it will force the federal government to stop withholding data on one of Canada’s largest sources of pollution – millions of tonnes of toxic mine tailings and waste rock from mining operations throughout the country.

The Federal Court sided with the groups and issued an Order demanding that the federal government immediately begin publicly reporting mining pollution data from 2006 onward to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). The strongly worded decision describes the government’s pace as “glacial” and chastises the government for turning a “blind eye” to the issue and dragging its feet for “more than 16 years”.

I look forward to reading the court order. According to Ecojustice (Formerly the Sierra Legal Defence Fund) the ruling includes the following strong wording:

* It calls the federal government’s pace “glacial”[paragraph 145];
* It says the government’s approach has been simply to turn a “blind eye”[207];
* It notes that the frustration felt by advocates trying to uncover this information “after more than 16 years of consultation” is “perfectly understandable” [124];
* It states that not reporting “denies the Canadian public its rights to know how it is threatened by a major source of pollution”[127];
* It highlights that the minister has chosen not to publish the pollution data “in deference to” the mining industry[220];
* It used unusually simple language even I understand when it said that the government was simply “wrong”[177].

The advocates were: Justin Duncan and Marlene Cashin and their dedicated clients at Great Lakes United and Mining Watch Canada who launched the case in 2007.

It is uncertain how these data will be released. Currently, these types of pollutant data are released on the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) which is:

The National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) is Canada’s legislated, publicly accessible inventory of pollutant releases (to air, water and land), disposals and transfers for recycling. (Mining Watch)

The NPRI is fairly usable & accessible, includes georeferencing and some mapping services. I tried to use their library and it was however not working!

The Mining Association of Canada wants to read the ruling “carefully” to assess how Environment Canada should release these data. I find this confusing, since I thought the Government got to decide how these data are to be released and what is to be included, and that decision was based on ensuring the public good and the public right to know. The fight is not yet quite over. It will be important to ensure the data are not watered down for public consumption.

It is another wonderful example of creating an infrastructure – NPRI + law – to distribute public data. This also teaches us something about gouvernementalité, and who the government thinks with, in this case the mineral and mining industry and not citizens. Citizens should not have to lobby for 16 years and expend incredible resources to get the courts to get the government to ensure the public good!


  • Court orders pollution data from mining made public, By Juliet O’Neill, Canwest News ServiceApril 24, 2009
  • Environment Canada forced to reveal full extent of pollution from mines
    Court ruling considered major victory for green organizations
    , MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT, Saturday’s Globe and Mail, April 24, 2009
  • Great Lakes United Press Release, Court victory forces Canada to report pollution data for mines, April 24, 2009 – 11:16am — Brent Gibson
  • Mining Watch Press Release: Court Victory Forces Canada to Report Pollution Data for Mines, Friday April 24, 2009 11:31 AM

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