“The Canadian Government does not wish to be held accountable”, said CBC Radio One’s The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti, moderator of Access Denied panel at Toronto’s Now Lounge on Church, May 10, 2011. She was joined by expert panelists Ottawa Deputy Bureau Chief Dean Beeby of the Canadian Press, former Information Commissioner John Reid and investigative journalist with CTV’s W5, Paula Todd to talk about the changing state of Canada’s Freedom of Information act.
The 2-hour panel conversation and question and answer that followed was hot, well-paced, and grumpy. The experts and many of the 70 others in attendance expressed upset with the current state and service of the Information Office.
Requests for information can only be honoured through the mail and by using a paper check. The $5.00 fee per request, Reid said, costs the Government $45.00 to process. Each. The system is slow and an unreliable source of timely and relevant data. Secrecy in Canadian Government is growing. Minister’s privacy privileges are expanding in scope.
Rather than spend energy using imagination to make meaning out of the information, another question surfaced in my mind: Are the changing rules governing Freedom of Information in Canada signalling a transformation?
Changing Rules Signal Transformation is Afoot
I was deeply influenced hearing George Land, author of Grow or Die, (video below) present his general theory of transformation, in the late 1970’s. He showed a pattern of growth that all natural systems go through, from single cell organisms, through to families and organizations.
In each stage a different kind of behaviour/thinking is required for success. What marks the moving on to the next phase is simply this: the rules change. [briefly stated below].
- Experimentation – the entity does its best to find a connection to its environment, through trial and error, accidental miracles, and the like. When success is achieved, the rules change and new behaviours are needed to sustain survival success.
- Replication – the entity capitalizes on its connection to the contextual environment by repeating its pattern for survival success and survival. No longer in experimental mode, it settles into and strengthens predictable repetitive behaviours to assure growth using surrounding resources. Then, it uses up available resources, or something unexpected occurs, and the rules change because it can’t survive doing what its been doing.
- Diversification – the entity reinvents itself to find new connections to a new environment, and continues repeating the sequence of continual transformation.
I am sensitive to signals that rules are changing because, according to this theory, it marks a move to the next stage along the transformation path. George said ‘watch the fringe, not the mainstream because it is there you will foresee what’s coming next.’
Changing Rules and Freedom of Information in Canada
Let’s imagine that Freedom of Information (FOI) in Canada is moving along the path of transformation because the rules are changing under the aegis of the Harper Government. The technology revolution might be having an impact too. John Reid said the office hasn’t modernized one bit and little effort being made to update how it works.
- FOI can no longer repeat what it has been doing for years and is at the stage of innovating, reinventing itself, in search of a new connection with the environment to ensure its success. How might it look after the transformation occurs, especially under the current Government?
- Is it possible that our assumptions about a Government’s moral integrity to support democracy are false? Have the rules changed there too?
- If you could design the best 21st century scenario for the FOI office, one that serves the needs of Government to conduct its business and the needs of people to be able to hold Government accountable, what would it look like?
Harper Influences Transformation in Journalists
Prime Minister Harper limited journalists to four questions during the election campaign. He changed the rule of open-ended questioning.
The journalists were outraged, then they adapted. Normally competitive, they banded together to decide which four questions would be asked. New ideas, new decisions. Transformation. New futures. New relationships.
- stage one – find a way that works, when you do, the rules change
- stage two – keep on doing what you’ve been doing. When you’ve exhausted current methods and resources the rules change
- stage three – find a new way that works
That’s what the journalists did and are doing. In fact, that’s what we’re all doing individually and collectively. Rules change every day.
What about you, what stage are you in right now? What support do you need to allow for transformation and growth? Keep this mind. New ideas, new decisions, new futures. This is an age of Creativity and Innovation indeed.