Technology, transparency and trust

In seeking the trust of Ontarians, the campaigning premier of Ontario promised to expand the scope of transparency throughout government. Indeed, Dalton McGuinty’s actions since the election surrounding the mysterious budget shortfall seemed almost designed to draw attention to the issue of openness, or lack of it.

With the well-travelled routine of new governments blaming predecessors for cooking the books now behind us, it may be time to envision a world where such antics would be pointless. Much as stronger corporate governance in the private sector would heighten investor confidence and ease the need for restated results, public institutions – accountable to all – must be above suspicion. In both spheres greater transparency holds the key.

A profound shift is under way. From intensifying scrutiny and greater access to information comes an openness that can be embraced, but not eluded. During the Ontario election campaign, only Conservative cabinet members (perhaps) believed their budget projections, as private sector groups, the media and various think-tanks generated enough information to cast doubt and provide equally credible, if rather bleak, alternatives.

Mr. McGuinty’s political calculation was to suspend final judgement until after the election – until the real books could be examined. Whether he overplayed the shock and dismay routine could be a matter of some debate; yet, it is worth asking whether or not such actions would be warranted in a truly open system of governance. In fact, the Liberal campaign platform offered much to fuel discussion and reform.

Fixed election dates, real-time public disclosure of political contributions and more independent scrutiny of contracting and communications are the main contours of this new agenda of openness. The Liberal platform commits to a requirement “that all future contracts signed by the government be subject to public scrutiny, including calls to tender, successful bids, asset sales and long-term leases.” When coupled with the promises of electoral reform and direct public engagement, there is real potential for change – and high expectations on which the new government will be held to account.

Similar signs are emerging elsewhere, welcome or otherwise. In Ottawa, expense account abuses led a prominent Chr

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