Louis Sebert: Public Engagement and Open Government

Delivered on March 9, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to again update this House on some of the work our government is doing to further enhance public engagement and transparency. When I last updated Members in early November, I announced that I would soon be engaging directly with NWT residents about open government. I also committed to provide this House with an update.

Mr. Speaker, in December I began public engagement sessions on open government, and I am continuing to travel to various communities to hear directly from residents. At each of these public sessions, I have asked the local MLA to accompany me so that we can hear from the public together.

Discussions have included a review of key principles on open government previously considered by Caucus and are being guided by a consistent set of questions, including: how can government better include residents in decision making, how do residents access information about the government, are there areas where residents would like to see more information made available, and is the information government provides easily accessible.

Sessions with the public have already been held in Fort Smith and in Hay River. Both sessions were informative and the people who attended were very interested in the discussion. We are planning further public sessions for Norman Wells, Inuvik, Fort McPherson, Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, Fort Simpson, Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte, Fort Resolution, Behchoko and Yellowknife after Session, Mr. Speaker. We are also planning targeted sessions in Yellowknife for media and a session for Non-Government Organizations and businesses to understand whether these groups have unique interests and needs with respect to open government.

Mr. Speaker, by asking residents how they interact with our government, we begin to get a better sense of how residents receive information from government, what type of government information is most valued, and – most importantly – how the government can improve two-way communications with residents. We will use this public feedback in the development of an open government policy to be implemented by all departments and to help guide the sharing of information, publication of data, and consistent approaches to engagement.

Mr. Speaker, even though this work is squarely focused on the needs and expectations of NWT residents, we realize that our work on open government is part of broader national and international efforts. In recognition of on-going national dialogues about open government, last November I participated in a full-day roundtable hosted by Canada 2020, a national think tank, to seek input from non-governmental organizations, educators, business leaders, and students on the principles and practices of open government in Canada. Feedback from these sectors will also help in the formulation of an open government policy, just as insights from the NWT will help in the formation of national ideas about open government.

Mr. Speaker, the development of an open government policy is just some of the work our government is doing to enhance transparency and engagement. This spring, in addition to a draft open government policy, I also expect to bring forward a legislative proposal to establish an independent parliamentary office of the ombudsman and a legislative proposal to amend our access to information laws. Later this year, the government will add an information portal about ways to appeal government decisions. We will continue to add open data sets, as we’ve already done with data on ministerial travel and meetings, board appointments, contract data, and environmental data. As well the Premier and Cabinet will continue to hold open houses in various communities to hear directly concerns and questions from residents.

Mr. Speaker, improving the way that government provides information about its activities to residents and engages with citizens to help inform policies and decisions is an ongoing process, not a destination. We have begun that process and remain committed to updating the way that we do business consistent with our mandate and the priorities of this Legislative Assembly through the remainder of our term.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.