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North Cowichan MLA not impressed with new open data website

For Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley, perusing the province’s new open data website is like discovering you’ve got 200 channels on your television, but nothing to watch.

The DataBC website was launched last week by the B.C. government.

It’s called a citizen-focused government website that catalogues open datasets, freedom of information requests, and government expenses.

Available information ranges from birth rates and carbon emissions statistics, to details about schools.

“We are changing our approach to governing by putting citizens at the centre of our web services and making government data and information more freely available,” Premier Christy Clark said in a press release.

But Routley, who serves as the B.C. NDP’s open government critic, said pomp about the website is misleading.

“We’ve asked for proactive disclosure and this does not meet the task,” he said.

“If you search for anything mildly controversial, such as B.C. Rail information, you’ll come up with zero (results).

“So far, it seems to be millions of pages of information that’s already on different government websites.”

Routley said the website is little more than “data dumping.”

“You throw reporters and the opposition off course by dumping millions of pages of data that is mostly meaningless, but it allows them to say they’ve shared a huge volume of information,” Routley said.

“But what really counts politically is being held back.”

Routley’s other concern is FOI requests, which will now be made available to the general public between 72 hours and five days after the applicant has received the information.

“This is a disincentive to making requests, which cost a lot of money,” Routley said. “Reporters doing investigative work will only have a few days to use the data before all their competitors have it as well, and that’s a disincentive to use the process. If they eliminated fees at the same time that might be a bit more reasonable, but the same obstacles to holding government accountable still exist.”

The free DataBC website is found at www.data.gov.bc.ca.

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