Francophones Need Not Chime In? Ontario’s Open Government Partnership Consultations

I recently attended one of the Government of Ontario’s Open Government Partnership Consultations, which took place at the University of Ottawa on October 26th. The workshop was part of the Open Government Consultation which, Open Government Consultation details on its website:

In 2016, Ontario was selected to be one of 15 participants in a new pilot program run by the Open Government Partnership, an international organization committed to making governments more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.

The goal of the pilot program is to promote open government through increased transparency, accountability, public participation, technology and innovation.

Through this pilot program, we will:

  • work in partnership with the public, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and community groups to create new open government commitments that help Ontario improve openness
  • support Ontario’s digital government initiative to re-invent government for the digital age and make life easier for people.

Ontario’s commitments must be finalized by December 2016 and implemented by December 31, 2017.

It’s a genuine fluke that I found out about this event at all. Despite being on pretty much every open data listserv ever, and being pretty in tune with the open data community, I hadn’t even heard about the consultations process until my husband clued me in. He does contract work for a national non-profit organization, who was contacted directly by one of the public service employees charged with organizing the event. That non-profit had received a direct invitation. While my husband was unable to attend, he [correctly] figured his data librarian wife would be interested in going.

Let me tell you, this Open Government Partnership Consultation meeting was my plan B for the evening. You see, Open Data Ottawa had a conflicting event taking place that same day. If it hadn’t been sold out by the time I got around to registering, I would have totally been at the Open Data Ottawa event. While we’re on the subject, let’s take a moment to consider this. The Government of Ontario plans an Open Government consultation in Ottawa, intended to get input from key partners, on the same exact day as the city’s [arguably] most popular Open Data group – who would be an excellent partner from whom to solicit a perspective – is hosting an [arguably] way more interesting event.

So I register for the Ontario Open Government event, which conveniently was taking place in the same building where I work.

I showed up on time, ready to be consulted. The room was as sparse as expected. About eight or so people, small enough to warrant a who-are-you round table. I was the only person there who was not a member of the federal or provincial public service, which is pretty par-for-the-course in Ottawa. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a diverse range of individuals they could have gathered for this workshop if they had actually solicited the Open community.

The event was being facilitated by Reboot.

Once the shindig started we were handed an information packet titled “Ontario’s Open Government Partnership Consultation” and were given a run down of how the consultation process was to take place. The information packet, which contained a list of 15 actionable steps toward Open Government, was to be consulted in an effort to gauge which steps were most pressing to the members of the group. We were to do the work in partners, then in small groups. There was chart paper. Sharpies. Sticky notes. We were being consulted.

When asked by the facilitators, “Are there any questions before we begin?” I stuck up my hand.

“Will these consultations also be happening in French?”

“No,” responded the facilitator.

“Ok. Will this information packet be available in French?”

“No. But we did receive those same questions from the online consultation group.”

This is heinous. The whole Open Government process is available in both official languages, except the part where they actually talk to Ontarians. So you could be the greatest, most ground breaking Open Government idea, and as long as you aren’t a unilingual Franco-Ontarian your voice will be heard. In my opinion, this is not enough. I understand that you may not be able to rustle up enough Francophones to warrant a separate French language meeting in a place like Toronto. Maybe you figure you don’t even need to give the French option in Ottawa. But would it have been so hard to have an online consultation in French? Then Francophones from across the province would also have the chance to voice their priorities.

If you know me, you know I’m not the type to complain without action.
So I wrote an e-mail to the Manager of the Outreach and Change unit on the evening of October 26:

Hello [redacted],

I am writing to follow up from the Open Government Partnership Consultation that took place in Ottawa today. I was among the participants in this workshop. I work at the University of Ottawa as a Data Librarian, and have a keen interest in open data. However, I work in a bilingual environment and I was disappointed that the consultations were only available in English. We have a large Francophone population in Ottawa, and while I understand that conducting French or bilingual consultation groups may not be possible in cities with smaller Francophone populations, I think it would have certainly been feasible in Ottawa. Furthermore, the documentation that was provided at the event was only available in English. I would have loved to see the handouts available in both official languages.

I know today’s session was a smaller group than the others, but the numbers may be attributed to a competing open Parliamentary data event that was held at the same time. I know a few of my colleagues who would have liked to attend both ended up going to the federal event.

I really thought the consultation process was valuable and important, so it really would be a great thing to include Franco-Ontarians in it as well.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

Best,

Catie Sahadath

It is currently November 2nd, and I have not received a response back from the Manager. No confirmation of receipt. Not an out-of-office.

So today I did something I’ve never done before at the provincial level: I filed an Official Languages Complaint. I’ve filed federal complaints before, but never a provincial one. Well, until today of course.

Part of the complaints process includes detailing what happened, and what you think a satisfactory resolution would be. My suggested resolutions were:

  1. Make the documentation from the Consultation meetings available in French
  2. Hold another online consultation meeting in French
  3. Communicate to Ontarians exactly how French language consultations will be integrated with existing English-language consultations.

I really don’t think it’s too much to ask to have these consultations available in both official languages. Do you agree? Disagree? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts.

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