21 March 2014

Talk is cheap. #nlpoli

It was only a matter of time before the government that says more and more about less and less figured out that its best mouthpiece was Steve Kent, right, the minister of perpetual self-parody.

No one can talk more while saying little of substance and so it is quite natural that Kent – the ultimate Johnny-Cab minister -  was the centre of attention at a Thursday event announcing something called the Open Government Initiative. He took a microphone at one point and wandered around reading his script.  The effect was far less impressive than that description makes it sound.

He was demonstrating technology that was a couple of decades old to do something that researchers have been doing for almost a century:  ask a group of people to answer a bunch of questions.  There was nothing new in it at all.

The group of people that took part in the event were all invited and about three quarters were Conservative politicians, bureaucrats, and Conservative political staffers.  The rest were people from not-for-profits and a few reporters, who didn’t take one of the voting boxes.  Kent posed the questions and the crowd pressed buttons to record their answers.

The really sharp ones among you have already figured out the big punch line in all this.  The political party that has sustained itself in office for the past decade by rigging polls used the ultimate rigged poll as a tool to show how they had – supposedly  - completely reformed their ways.

That wasn’t the only groaner of the day, either. 

The Conservatives promised in 2003 to release reports for government within 30 days of getting them.

So far the Conservatives have honoured their promise in the breach rather than the observance. 

And so it remained on the day they launched the Great Openness Initiative:  a news release trumpeting the release of a housing needs assessment in Nunatsiavut didn’t actually involve releasing the report.

The truly sad part about the stunt on Thursday is not Steve Kent’s poor imitation of Damian Killian.

Nor is it the $4,566 the stunt cost the taxpayers.


The truly sad part about the event is that if the provincial Conservatives were sincere in their efforts both to run an open and transparent government and win back public trust in their intentions, they only had to do something.

Not promise to do something in the future, which is what Thursday’s stunt was.

Do something now.

You see, the idea of open data isn’t new.  Lots of governments have information that people can use to find new mineral deposits,  to research disease patterns,  study populations and what people are doing.  Government has all sorts of information.  Unfortunately, it is mostly locked away both literally in the sense of file rooms and locked cabinets and figuratively in the sense of attitudes that make it hard for people to get the information.

So all a government would have to do is more thing like they do already with Community Accounts.

Open information?  Well, that’s another thing the provincial government could just do, rather than think about it or talk about.  Just do it. They could start by giving people information rather than trying to charge them more than $1,600 for simple facts and figures that should be readily available as part of the Open Data or Open Information “pillars” of the Open Government Initiative Steve Kent announced on Thursday.

This would be the same Steve Kent, incidentally, who  - knowing that the OGI was coming  - less than a month ago insisted that people had to pay for information on how much money government spent on advertising.

It’s the huge gap between what Steve Kent and his associates say and what they do that’s been causing them a problem with voters in the first place. 

You see, talk is cheap.

And talk is  - quite obviously  - all Steve Kent has ever had.