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Policy Geek Posts

Government of Canada e-Petitions

On December 4, 2015, the Parliament of Canada announced an electronic petition system called e-petitions which will allow Canadians to submit and sign petitions to the Parliament of Canada online via an electronic form.  This move follows moves by the United States and United Kingdom to introduce electronic means of petitioning the Government.

The new system can be accessed via a relatively straightforward Parliament of Canada e-Petition website.  The site is accompanied by a PDF Technical Guide for e-Petitioners.

The signature threshold involved remains at the quite low 500 signatories required for the petition to proceed and be forwarded to the sponsoring MP to be presented in the house.  As per the Standing Orders, the Government must respond to all petitions presented within 45 days.

This all seems extremely reasonable and a welcome step forward into the digital age.  Some comments from me, the peanut gallery:

  • Let’s make a video tutorial, or at the very least a clear and concise web-page on how to use the e-Petition site. The current PDF doesn’t really mesh with the clean modern Web 2.0 looking e-Petition site and isn’t particularly great at conveying the information
  • Let’s make the e-Petition process clearer and more evident.  The Guide for e-Petitioners is long and hidden on a tertiary page.  A great brief overview of the thresholds and process on the main page would go a long way to simplifying use and having users engage with the new product rather than put it off until a later date.  Both the UK and US versions clearly cover the process and thresholds on the front page.
  • Finally, I’m interested to look back at this in a year’s time and see how we’re doing.  The success of an electronic petition mechanism lies partially in the implementation and partially (and most importantly) in the responsiveness of the Government to the petitions put forward.

Those minor points aside, I think this is an amazing move forward and I look forward to following it’s growth and development.

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We should all be Feminists

Like many Canadians, I was thinking yesterday what we can do to end violence against women.  Other countries lead in the push for a gender-equal and inclusive society.  Sweden will give a copy of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s incredible book “We Should All be Feminists” to every 16 year-old across the country. The Swedish translation “Alla borde vara feminister” has been translated by Niclas Hval and Albert Bonniers and 100,000 copies have already been distributed.

I love the concept of talking to children early and often about these issues.  They are already facing them individually and collectively.  We should be supporting them and guiding them towards inclusive solutions.  We need to change the way we pressure both men and women into conformist gender-roles.  This type of thinking only widens the divide and increases the inequality.

The recent article in the Svenska Dagbladet put it far more eloquently than I ever could, even with my clumsy translation:

Svensk text/ English follows

“Många unga idag är mer medvetna än tidigare generationer, men de är också mer utsatta. De oroar sig för framtiden, kommer de att klara skolan och kommer de att få ett jobb? Var tredje ung mellan 10 och 16 år har blivit utsatt för kränkningar på nätet och i sociala medier (Friends 2015). För tjejer handlar det ofta om sexuella trakasserier, i vardagen och på nätet. Den psykiska ohälsan är också som störst bland unga tjejer, som oftare drabbas av depressioner och ätstörningar.

Unga killar är också utsatta. De känner sig pressade att prestera och leva upp till förväntningar på hur man ska vara som kille. Samtidigt som det är viktigt med bra betyg anses det ofta omanligt att plugga. Det är ett tydligt exempel på hur stereotypa och begränsande normer ser olika ut för killar och tjejer.

‘Jag skulle vilja att vi börjar drömma om en plan för ett annorlunda samhälle. En rättvisare värld. En värld med lyckligare män och lyckligare kvinnor som är ärligare mot sig själva. Och det är så här vi ska börja: vi måste uppfostra våra döttrar annorlunda. Vi måste även uppfostra våra söner annorlunda.'”

English text/Svensk text föregår

Many young people today are more aware than previous generations, but they are also more vulnerable. They worry about the future, will they pass school and will they get a job? One third of youth between 10 and 16 years have been the victim of harassment online and in social media (Friends 2015). For girls it is often sexual harassment in everyday life and online. Mental illness is also greatest among young women, who often suffer from depression and eating disorders.

Young boys are also vulnerable. They feel pressured to perform and live up to expectations on how to be a guy. While it is important to have good grades, it is often considered unmanly to study. It is a clear example of how stereotyped and restrictive standards are different for boys and girls.

“I would like us to start dreaming of a plan for a different society. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are more honest with themselves. And this is how we start: we must educate our daughters differently. We must also educate our sons differently. ”

I had an incredible discussion with my husband yesterday about the ways that Canada could actively work to dismantle the infrastructure which supports gender-inequity.There is more we can do from a national perspective.  We can create policies which support increased involvement by fathers during the early years of childhood development by removing systemic and cultural barriers to paternity leave. This single move has been widely successful in the Scandinavian states and has far reaching benefits, not just for gender-equality, but for mental health, family cohesiveness, and many more.

This story comes from Sweden, one of the undisputed leaders in gender-equality. But, I do not think it is unreasonable to believe that Canada could follow Sweden’s lead and work towards an inclusive society in which men and women are supported and protected. In which gender doesn’t play a role in what type of job you will get, or whether you will even get one. One where gender doesn’t play such a significant role in whether you will be a victim of harassment or violence.

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Access to “Access to Information” Information

Through the Government of Canada’s Open Government Portal, you can access and search Completed Access to Information Requests.  You can search by keyword and filter the results by organization and date using the sidebar.  The results consist of the following data elements:

  • Request number – The request number of the corresponding ATI Request
  • Organization – The organization from which the information was requested
  • Disposition – Information on the disposition of the results (All disclosed, Disclosed in part, etc.)
  • Year and Month
  • Number of Pages
  • Request Summary

Finally, each request is closed of with a link with the text “Make an Informal Request for: {Request Number} ({Department Acronym}).”  Clicking this link brings you to a form which allows you to complete all of your personal information and request a copy of the information released.

I’ll start by saying making it this easy to find any Access to Information request to which the government has responded is great.  Additionally, consolidating the information in one searchable location frees the user from having to search multiple government databases and contacting various ATIP officials throughout the government.  This is definitely a step towards a more user-centric and open government.

My question is this: If the information has already been reviewed, prepared, and released, why does a user have to fill out all of their personal info to request a copy of the release?  Is there a compelling reason that we couldn’t just publish all released Access to Information Requests online?


Happy Hanukkah / חַג שָׂמֵחַ

Tonight, marks the first day of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights.  One of my gifts this year, in addition to good health and wonderful family is this blog.  I have been really inspired lately thinking about the future of Canada and the role that the public service can play in meeting the challenges of the future.  I hope to write about these challenges and my ideas for solving them and, along the way, connect with others looking to do the same.

So as I embark on this adventure on this special day, Cody and I would like to wish everyone:

שמחה בחיינו,
אוהב את בלבנו,
שלום בעולמנו.

חג שמח

Joy in our lives,
love in our hearts
peace in our world

Have a Happy Hanukkah

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