Harper government using 'slash-and-burn tactics' to reduce online information

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: stesciuba / flickr

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) had recently received leaked documents detailing a new federal government plan to make government websites a whole lot less informative.

Since being tipped off to the plan, FIPA has attempted to obtain details under the Access to Information Act. Unfortunately, we keep running into roadblocks thrown up by the Treasury Board, the domain of -- you guessed it -- open government minister Tony Clement. First, Clement's department demanded thousands of dollars in fees to process the request. Now they're insisting on hundreds of days of delays to allow for unspecified "consultations."

Frustrating as this process has been, our leaked documents show it's no surprise that the government is dragging things out.

In our hot little hands, we hold a PowerPoint presentation that outlines the federal government's Web Renewal Action! Plan (available in two parts here and here). Scheduled to roll out at the end of this month, the plan will bring about some major changes in how government information is posted and archived online, and not for the better.

Authorized by the prime minister himself (see slide 2 of part one), it clearly outlines the government's intention to drastically cut the number of government websites available to Canadians. Initially, the page count will be slashed to six, with the ultimate goal of consolidating all online Government of Canada information into one big website.

Even more worrisome is the fact that the government is also contemplating making content available according to popularity (see slides 4 and 6 of part one), preserving only that which receives a suitable number of clicks. Because everyone knows the most important information is always the most popular.

Although the deadline for the change is the end of this month, many of the proposed changes have already taken place.

Note, for example, the new blue and white motif that now graces some ministerial websites, as well as the Government of Canada landing page. More standardized layouts have also been introduced.

But that consolidation is coming at a steep cost. Information has already started to disappear from the revamped websites. The Department of Justice website used to include a section for minister's speeches, archived by year. In the transition to the new format, that section was apparently axed. Though perhaps this is because Justice Minister Rob Nicholson hadn't posted a single speech since March 2010 and it was starting to get embarrassing.

The Aboriginal Portal, established in 2001, is also gone. Today, the site simply hosts a piece of text declaring that, since there is now more information on aboriginal issues available elsewhere online, the records once archived in the portal are no longer necessary. According to the government, "search engines and social media have rendered the portal website obsolete." Apparently Twitter has displaced properly vetted and archived government records.

These slash-and-burn tactics, though, are not without opposition. Librarians at the Universities of Toronto and Alberta wisely crawl-captured the content before it was stuffed down the memory hole. Clearly these information experts aren't convinced that information has a "best before" date. Many of the links they managed to grab, however, are already dead.

A number of these cuts to archived materials were announced in the last federal budget:

Further to the 2012 Budget, the decision has been made to completely transition all publications published by the Publishing Program and publications provided by departments to the Depository Services Program from traditional print to exclusively electronic publication in two years.

But there's a small problem. The staff for digitization at Libraries and Archives Canada has also been cut by 50 per cent. This means that new publications will go up online, but older information in hard copy is even less likely to become available.

Long-term research and evidence-based policy making are about to get a lot tougher.

This is all on top of the frequent erasure and/or alteration of electronic information under this government. Recall the mysterious disappearance of information about environmental protection from the Navigable Waters Act online FAQ after a Harper government minister was embarrassed in the House.

But we are saying this based on the information that has leaked out so far. So if anyone at Treasury Board has concerns with the completeness of the details in this blog post, feel free to send us any information you wish. Starting with what we have already requested through ATI.

All of it.


Vincent Gogolek is the Executive Director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. You can follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@BCFIPA

Photo: stesciuba / flickr 

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.