Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is planning to release vast swaths of government data, making public everything from hospital wait times to student achievement to traffic gridlock.
The information will be posted online in a centralized location, the government’s Open Data Portal. Ontarians will vote online on what data the government will make public first.
Ms. Wynne laid out this plan Monday at Ryerson University’s incubator for digital media companies in downtown Toronto.
“I promised to lead the most open and transparent government in the country … technology is allowing us to, and obliging us, to do government differently,” she said. “The notion that somehow all of the information and processes belong to government is a flawed one. The information, the process of decision-making belongs to people.”
It is not clear when exactly the data will become available, but one source suggested the process could begin in January. Every government ministry has been asked to submit ideas on what sort of important data it could provide.
Under the plan, the government will also solicit Ontarians’ input on policy decisions online, using a centralized website.
The government is appointing a panel to make recommendations on the subject and come up with better ways for the public to take part in government decisions.
Ms. Wynne promised the public will have “a greater say” on transit, economic development and fiscal responsibility.
The government created the Open Data Portal last year. The current plan would massively expand the amount of government information available on it.
The move comes as Ms. Wynne’s Liberals continue to face accusations they deliberately hid government information on the costly cancellations of two gas-fired power plants. The government low-balled estimates on the price tags for pulling the plug, and also tried to hold back some documents related to the plants.
Earlier this month, the province’s Auditor-General revealed that killing the plants could cost as much as $1.1-billion.
Progressive Conservative Opposition Leader Tim Hudak criticized Ms. Wynne for touting her government’s commitment to open data rather than fighting unemployment.
“I’d rather see the Premier focusing on open access to jobs – giving our young people some hope and future in this great province,” he said. “Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals are a bunch of hypocrites. How dare they talk about open access to information when they spent years covering up the gas plant scandal.”
Asked whether Ms. Wynne can be “open and transparent,” Mr. Hudak replied: “That ship sailed long ago.”
New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath, meanwhile, said the Liberals had to be dragged “kicking and screaming” to answer questions about the gas plants, and cast aspersions on Ms. Wynne’s claim she was creating more transparency.
“I think people expect their government to be open and transparent, and apparently Kathleen Wynne needs a panel to show her how to do it,” Ms. Horwath said. “Actions speak louder than words, and we haven’t seen openness or transparency from this government at all.”
Ms. Wynne touted releasing government information as a way to help develop better public policy. If people can access the data, she said, they can help come up with suggestions for the government on what it can do differently.
Software developers, for instance, can use the data to create new mobile apps, and academics can crunch the numbers to show the government where it could be delivering services better.
“A big part of our emphasis is engagement – how do we do processes that involve the public more directly in policy development?” said Don Lenihan, an executive at the Public Policy Forum think tank, who will chair the panel. “We can’t do good policy development and good dialogue unless you’ve got good data and information to support it.”
The panel will report back in the spring. It’s other members include former Tory cabinet minister Norm Sterling, Google Canada communications chief Leslie Church and open government activist David Eaves, among others.