Open Government and Political Leadership – Canadian Government Executive

NEWS

SEARCH

Digital Governance with Jeffrey RoyLeadershipManagementPublic Sector
February 19, 2016

Open Government and Political Leadership

Prime Minister Trudeau has signalled a willingness to empower his Ministers (and by extension, public servants), and to work with other political leaders both foreign and domestic. Hopefully, this inclusiveness will extend to both Parliament and the citizenry.

That the new Liberal Government has embraced ‘open government’ is hardly surprising. President Obama promised much the same in 2008 (passing an inaugural Openness Directive early in 2009), as did Stephen Harper in 2006 with his post-Gomery Federal Accountability Act (an uncomfortable lesson for Liberals, as Ontarians know well, is that scandal is fertile breeding ground for openness pledges).

With a fresh start, Trudeau’s team can now pursue openness on their own terms, free from past transgressions. The Liberal manifesto defined open government in four ways: restoring the long-form census; expanding open data; improving access to information (and the transparency of requests and response times); and a new online portal to track government spending.

In gauging such measures, a bit of a reality check is called for: the first is already redundant in leading digital jurisdictions; the second builds on the one area where the Conservatives can legitimately claimed to have invested; and the fourth, as the Liberal platform itself noted, draws from reforms implemented years ago south of the border. The four steps, in other words, amount to incrementalism of the first order.

In fairness, however, other aspects of the Liberal plan address openness in indirect yet important ways: electoral and Parliamentary reforms and expanded political oversight of the national security apparatus are prime examples. The conduct of the public service also matters: providing oxygen to government scientists to speak more freely – in person and online, is a notable first step.

In short, the pursuit of more open government is now a given. The more salient choice for the Trudeau Government is fundamentally about how it views the relationship between openness and power, and between information and governance. In building on electoral pledges, a more traditional stance seeks heightened transparency as a means of deepening accountability and public trust. Through a more transformative lens, openness enables shared decision-making, both administratively and politically.

Such a choice rests first and foremost with the Prime Minister and his own calculus as to what matters to most Canadians: stronger results within existing institutions or a rethink of the institutions themselves? Outside of Canada, autocratic regimes are on the rise in places such as Turkey and Egypt – and anti-democratic tendencies are growing across much of Eastern Europe, both within and outside of the European Union.

Rising extremism and a stagnant economy have prodded French President Hollande to become more assertive in legislative affairs, largely abandoning past pledges of Parliamentary empowerment. Such context helps to explain Harper’s success in 2011 in portraying stability in the face of global economic turbulence – an approach that would backfire four years later due to a toxic mixture of security, immigration, and culture.

Shaped by Harper’s worldview, it is not surprising that amongst the three pillars of the prior Government’s formal Open Government Action Plan – Data, Information, and Dialogue, only the first would find any political traction. The others were simply too far removed from the confines of command and control governance for any meaningful action.

An alternative worldview of political leadership also exists. Dubbed the world’s most powerful woman by Forbes Magazine, most every decision made by Angela Merkel stems from negotiations within the legislature. The most open countries in the world (according to rankings by Transparency International) are typically governed by such power-sharing arrangements. Politics often correlates with technology: Estonia’s e-voting platform is open-source.

Electoral and Parliamentary reforms are thus essential ingredients of more open and digital government (see my previous column for a bit more discussion of such themes). Linking openness, collaboration, and participation was the aim of President Obama’s Inaugural Directive back in 2009. Yet despite significant achievements, by his own admission he has failed to loosen partisan gridlock and polarizing rhetoric (thereby feeding the ‘Washington is broken’ mantra of outsider candidates that, ironically, was the centrepiece of Obama’s first Presidential campaign).

In tackling our widely recognized democratic deficit, then, transparency is important though insufficient. Prime Minister Trudeau has signalled a willingness to empower his Ministers (and by extension, public servants), and to work with other political leaders both foreign and domestic. Hopefully, this inclusiveness will extend to both Parliament and the citizenry. Such is the essence of genuinely more open and transformative governance.

Jeffrey Roy is professor in the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University (roy@dal.ca).

About this author

Jeffrey Roy

Jeffrey Roy

Jeffrey Roy is Professor in the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Management. He is a widely published observer and critic of the impacts of digital technologies on government and democracy. He has worked with the United Nations, the OECD, multinational corporations, and all levels of government in Canada. He has produced more than eighty peer-reviewed articles and chapters and his most recent book was published in 2013 by Springer: From Machinery to Mobility: Government and Democracy in a Participative Age. Among other bodies, his research has been funded by the IBM Center for the Business of Government and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He may be reached at: roy@dal.ca

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Digital Governance with Jeffrey Roy
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
The arrival of President Trump in the White House marks a...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
In January, the BBC and BuzzFeed jointly released an exposé on...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
That the new Liberal Government has embraced ‘open government’ is hardly...
 
In 2011, the World Economic Forum presented its vision of a...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
With a seemingly ubiquitous Internet and mobile devices at every turn,...
 
At the end of November, the Council of Europe hosted the...
 
For the casual observer, openness and transparency are terms that can...
 
At stake is the evolving apparatus enjoining Canadians with the information...
 
Faced with the Newtown tragedy, President Obama has sought to make...
 
The now, seemingly distant 2012 holiday season proved to be fertile...
 
In 2008, President Obama refashioned American politics for a more digital...
 
As governments seek transformational change to shift from austerity to agility,...
 
In recent months, Apple and Samsung have been clobbering one another...
 
During the month of October tens of millions of viewers will...
 
For Egyptians and Mexicans, this past summer showcased the imperfections of...
 
With the federal public service in a state of budgetary retrenchment,...
 
Do we read books anymore? Travel on airplanes or trains these...
 
In February, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper announced the formation...
 
Is there reason to hope? Once again, the federal government has...
 
Au moment où s’amorce la présidence d’Obama, les spéculations vont bon...
 
As the Obama Presidency begins, there is much speculation as to...
 
A strange paradox has emerged in the quest for Gov 2.0....
 
One of the peculiarities of the 21st century is the correlation...
 
When President Barack Obama campaigns during the coming months for re-election,...
 
As the iCloud takes hold – along with numerous other private,...
 
A new year is a good time to reflect on the...
 
If only it were so. While Shared Services Canada promises simplicity...
 
The securing of a much-coveted majority by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives surely...
 
The federal election campaign has not been particularly kind to cities...
 
Despite the occasional ministerial tweet and public banter about the federal...
 
More than a decade ago, some enterprising folks at Industry Canada...
 
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are one of Canada’s most critical...
 
Toronto’s new mayor, Rob Ford, has pledged to cut city council...
 
As BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion negotiates with many governments around the...
 
To start with a timeless question: what do woman want? Presumably,...
 
One important consequence of climate change is rising ocean levels. The...
 
Shortly after the Quebec referendum of October 1995 that brought the...
 
As this column goes to print (literally or online as the...
 
Full disclosure – the Conservative government has serious problems with the...
 
Students of public administration struggle with an important contradiction of Westminster...
 
L’opération de promotion à laquelle l’Alberta s’est récemment livrée souligne les...
 
Alberta’s recent branding exercise underscores the tensions and risks inherent in...
 
La plupart des organismes se voient affecter des « directeurs des...
 
With Parliament once again open and a new federal budget in...
 
Two important global events are garnering much attention: the upcoming Winter...
 
The recent scandals plaguing Ontario’s e-health agency carry important lessons for...
 
The Obama administration is appointing “Directors of New Media” for most...
 
Y a-t-il de l’espoir? Une fois de plus, le gouvernement fédéral...
 
Dans le numéro de janvier, Ruth Hubbard et David Zussman nous...
 
In the January issue, Ruth Hubbard and David Zussman discussed the...
 
The past decade has given rise to tremendous experimentation in public...
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...

Member Login

Forgot Password?

Join Us

Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.