Anyone who has spent even a minimal amount of time searching for information on government websites will understand what complicated labyrinths they can sometimes be. So, news that the Government of Canada is attempting to improve Canadians’ online experience should be positive, right?
Readers of this blog alerted me to a story from earlier this year, when the British Columbia Freedom of Information Society obtained leaked documents detailing new federal government plans to consolidate 1,500 individual websites into as few as five websites, and then eventually into one website at Canada.ca. The leaked documents also described federal government plans for standard social media-useage guidelines and standards for mobile applications.
The website consolidation plan was included in the Conservative government’s “Canada’s Economic Action Plan,” and it was announced that the first release of the new website was scheduled to be launched by December 31, 2013. The implementation plan states that the first release will be followed by the systematic migration of content from individual government departmental websites.
This consolidation is not necessarily bad in principle, as it could increase user-friendliness and the website’s abilities as a communications tool. But in practice, the consolidation could mean that Canadians might have significantly reduced access to the information their tax dollars generate.
There is concern that some of the data that is likely to be lost, or made inaccessible online will include the geographic service maps that are used for Aboriginal land claims.
It is suspected that one of the first websites that could soon participate in the consolidation could be the Department of Citizenship and Immigration website. There is some concern that important data regarding Temporary Foreign Workers could be lost or made inaccessible in the consolidation.
Despite controversy around alleged abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, Conservative politicians in Ottawa remain supportive of the program. The ongoing criticisms have created suspicions that important immigration data related to the program, which is now accessible online, could be removed in the website consolidation process.
The consolidation of more than one thousand government websites should be encouraged in order to increase user-friendliness and accessibility. But in a hyper-partisan political environment where control over information is an obsession, Canadians should be aware that important data their tax dollars have paid for could be made inaccessible to the general public online.