Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/5/2015 (1143 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Admitedly, it ain't Watergate. When we asked, in September 2013, for the city's dog licence database, including the first three digits of each dog's postal code, we knew it wouldn't be the kind of hard-hitting news some databases make. But it would have been a great talker that also helped us improve our online mapping and graphic skills.
Plus, readers love dog stories. Are there really more pitbulls in the North End? How many Labradoodles named Sophie are there in Tuxedo? How many downtown dogs are there who might actually use Mayor Brian Bowman's proposed dog park?
If you've got $900, I could answer some of those questions.
After nearly two years of wrangling with the ombudsman's office, the city finally agreed late last month to release the dog data we asked for.
Naturally, we did not ask for any owner's name or address. But we did want each dog's breed and its postal code prefix, so we could see which dogs are more popular in what region of Winnipeg.
The city refused for two reasons:
You cannot be serious, I said. Are people going to walk through the 57 parks in R3C, calling Yoda's name, hoping to figure out who owns her?
The Ombudsman agreed, noting the city could not provide "cogent evidence" that people's privacy would be violated.
This is the latest favourite of governments that don't want to release data, and it's so patently at odds with all modern notions of government transparency and open data that it's enraging.
By that standard, every piece of data ought to be kept secret. Restaurant inspections? Those are just for our inspectors, not the public. ER wait times? Just for Arlene Wilgosh, not for the public. CFS kids in hotels? We keep those only for internal purposes.
Even though the city finally relented and agreed to give us the dog data we'd asked for, there's one hitch: The $900 fee still applies.
All this comes on the heels of a very frustrating few months, data-wise.
Last week, we begged - and I mean BEGGED - the city to send one lousy email to our Statistics Canada guy, allowing him to release one column of ward-by-ward data to us. That column was part of a big custom data order Stats Can was making for the city. Stats Can would have flipped a tiny part of it to us with the city's permission.
The city hemmed and hawed and essentially refused. So, our data journalist, Inayat Singh, spent hours making this map using methods that are not as accurate as they would have been had the city sent a one-sentence email to Stats Can.
The point of open data should be to share information that allows us to make accurate analyses about our city. So much for that.
And, as part of our ongoing day care series, we've been working on a mega daycare database. We asked the province for its database and got one that was 80 per cent beautiful.
The missing 20 per cent - the names of centres, the addresses - was vital, and a nightmare to add. It amounted to basically searching the online licensing site for each of the 1,100 day cares and adding the names and addresses.
I did a lot of it while watching Entertainment Tonight. Even though I can't understand why the province wouldn't just give us the names and addresses - they're all online anyway - it was faster than appealing to the ombudsman.
Anyway, back to dogs. I've largely lost interest. There's no way my boss is going to pony up $900 for a non-Watergate database. (Though, I note here, it would have cost taxpayers far, far less than $900 in wasted man-hours had the city just done what nearly every other city did and give us the data.)
In the meantime, bloody Jacques Marcoux at the bloody CBC beat us to a version of the dog story.
Ours would have had snazzier, more detailed maps, but I'm only saying that to make myself feel better.