Hype, new website and big promises are part of package
Public Engagement Minister Steve Kent repeatedly told people Thursday the government is sincerely committed to being more open, in whatever way people want it to be more open.
© — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Premier Tom Marshall speaks to government officials and invited guests about the “Open Government Initiative” Thursday at Confederation Building.
Kent, along with Premier Tom Marshall, held an event in the lobby of Confederation Building to take the wraps off the “Open Government Initiative” that was first announced in the throne speech last week.
It starts with a new Open Government website, which will now become the hub for public consultation and disclosure of information. There’s also a new section that makes raw government data available for people to use and analyze.
Thus far, the Open Government website pulls together information that was already available in other places, but Kent promised more will be coming — just as soon as people tell him what they want.
“Like other governments, we, too, struggle with the question, how can we make our government more open? We need your help to answer that question,” he said.
Demonstrating what he was talking about, Kent asked the civil servants, politicians and invited guests in the room to use handheld keypads to vote on questions such as, which is the most important attribute of open governance: Collaboration, dialogue, data or information? Audience members were also asked to say whether they agree with the statement “I want my government to be more open,” and 84 per cent of the audience said they agreed.
As part of the “Open Government” ethos, Kent said the government will develop an Open Government Action Plan based on consultations with people across the province.
Marshall said he wants the new open government philosophy to influence the way it does everything.
“We very much want and value your input. This is not doing it in an ad hoc manner. This is about putting in place a systematic process that ensures that government hears from the citizens and gets their input, and through that, their oversight,” he said. “This will lead to a public that is more informed and engaged, which in turn will lead to better government decisions.”
In recent months, Marshall seems to be trying just about anything he can do to overcome the public perception that the Progressive Conservative government is secretive and out of touch with the population.
That has been the consistent refrain from the Liberals and the NDP, who have hammered the government on secrecy issues ever since June 2012, when then-premier Kathy Dunderdale passed the Bill 29 amendments to the province’s access to information law.
Following the big event in the lobby, opposition politicians were underwhelmed by what they heard.
“If they went and they listened to people in this province today, they would not need to invite some people in a room this morning with a few little hand-held clickers to get the message that they need to change and be more open,” Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said. “To me it’s just another desperate attempt of this government.”
NDP MHA Gerry Rogers said she hopes Kent and Marshall mean what they say, but she’s skeptical.
“When we look at the pre-budget consultations, for example, they happen so close to when the budget is coming down. So was that real consultation? Was the government really listening?” she said. “This government has been at the helm for 11 years. It’s about time they started going in this direction, but is it more than window dressing? I don’t know.”