Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
I traditionally use this space to gleefully slag government, especially for being secretive and stingy with what ought to be public information.
In this case, I offer praise for what I think is the best example of open government in the province (which is maybe not saying much, but, hey, it's summer).
This kudo lands on unlikely shoulders – the province’s petroleum branch, the folks who oversee the big bad oil companies and the booming oilpatch that Bartley Kives has been writing about.
For those less nerdy, the concept of open government holds that citizens have the right to access the maximum amount of raw government information as a key element of good governance. That means we should get access to everything from paving contracts to political donation lists to nursing home inspections to solitary confinement records so we can hold government accountable (and also, potentially, use information to make cool apps.)
Manitoba and Winnipeg are woefully, embarrassingly, undemocratically behind on this, except maybe for those excellent nerds in the petroleum branch.
The amount of information on the branch’s website recently made my Brandon Sun colleague and fellow geek Grant Hamilton drool on his keyboard. You can download spreadsheets with production, water usage and gas flaring data for every oil well since before Excel was invented. You can download mapping stuff like GIS and shapefiles. There are stats and lists and license applications. And the staff there are remarkably quick to send over other data, explain what things like pool codes and UWIs are, and check facts.
It’s not perfect. I always want more. There should be more information about specific oil spills, and the government is considering a plan to create a database of fracking fluid usage.
And, it’s one thing to throw data up on a website, but if no one knows it’s there or what to do with it, it’s doesn’t quite meet the test of open government.
But, as someone who would be professionally inclined to mistrust big oil, the province’s openness dampens that cynicism considerably. (This is especially helpful when virtually no oil company operating in the province will return calls for comment).
To every other department, branch, office, division, unit and of civic and provincial government: Please catch up to the oil guys.
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About Mary Agnes Welch
Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first as a general assignment reporter and then covering city hall and the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter.
Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.
Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school, has won several Western Ontario Newspaper Awards and has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.
She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.
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