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Canada:Ontario Fails at Its Own Open Government Strategy Once Again
Source: o.canada.com
Source Date: Friday, March 28, 2014
Focus: Citizens’ Service Delivery
Country: Canada
Created: Apr 01, 2014

The Government of Ontario has once again failed in its commitment to open government and open data.

After patting itself on the back for opening an open data portal in 2012, the governmnet has done little to live up to that commitment and, in fact, is doubling down on releasing information in closed formats that are difficult to navigate and read.

Under provincial law, the salary and position of every public sector employee earning more that $100,000 per year must be disclosed annually. The so-called sunshine list is a measure of accountability.

Since it began being posted online, the list of government employees and their salaries has been posted in a series of closed HTML files and PDFs.

In the 2012 release, the list of employees included more than 70,000 records. To most governments in Canada, and in accordance with Ontario’s own OpenData strategy, that’s a simple spreadsheet posted to a website where interested parties can download and peruse the relevant information.

But Ontario bureaucrats decided to post that information as raw text spread across 60 different web pages in 2012. That’s a 6. Followed by a 0. And they called it disclosure.

Backlash from journalists and open data advocates rang loudly and this year was supposed to be different. The government evolved, leadership changed and the open data site expanded.

But no dice.

Instead of being truly transparent and encouraging citizens to mine the data, the Ontario Ministry of Finance has posted the data across more than 60 different web pages. Alternatively, 14 different PDF files could be downloaded and converted manually.

When asked why, a representative from the government told me: “It is possible to copy and paste the information from the HTML version on the website into an Excel spreadsheet.”

Meanwhile, many of the names and salaries contain duplicate information and are poorly sorted to begin with. With incredible frequency, there are duplicate entries in the data which is published online, entries like this:

Algoma District School Board DUNSEATH JONATHAN  Elementary Vice Principal $102,557.41 $413.46

Algoma District School Board DUNSEATH JONATHAN  Elementary Vice Principal $102,557.41 $413.46

Algoma District School Board EDWARDS JANICE  Elementary Vice Principal $102,557.32 $413.46

Algoma District School Board EDWARDS JANICE  Elementary Vice Principal $102,557.32 $413.46

Algoma District School Board EVANS PETER  Secondary Vice Principal $113,394.55 $413.46

Algoma District School Board EVANS PETER  Secondary Vice Principal $113,394.55 $413.46

Algoma District School Board FORBES LAURIE  Elementary Principal $115,790.28 $413.46

Algoma District School Board FORBES LAURIE  Elementary Principal $115,790.28 $413.46

The Government of Ontario opened a new Open Data site in late 2012 that promised to increase government transparency by making key government data downloadable in machine-readable formats like spreadsheets and databases.

Meanwhile, journalists are using automated computer programs to compile the data and strip away duplicate information anyway. Journalists are then posting this information online for all to see and use.

Journalists are doing the rest of the job the government, which is mandated to provide the information, is simply too lazy or inept to do.

(By William Wolfe-Wylie)

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