Letter to Hon. Mauril Bélanger: Citizens need help with Democratic Deficit problem.

The following letter was sent to Mauril Bélanger, Minister responsible for democratic reform.

Dear Mr. Bélanger,

I am a citizen actively trying to engage other Canadians in politics. I want to make you aware of a barrier I have found that you might be able to help with.

When setting up websites to encourage citizens to engage in the politics of the day, a system which allows people to type in a postal code to find their member of parliament is very convenient. This is a feature that I have tried to add to my own Digital-copyright.ca website, and is a feature used on one of my customer websites, MakePovertyHistory.ca . Our sites are based on incomplete databases, with my site using postal codes extracted by a tool that tries to pull the information from the Elections Canada website.

This is data that Statistics Canada is already maintaining, but rather than making this important information freely available to Canadians it charges a fee of $2,900.00 for a one-year subscription.

Postal Codes by Federal Ridings (2003 Representation Order) File (PCFRF), 2001 Census (geography products: attribute information products) 92F0193X

The Make Poverty History campaign felt forced to pay this fee, and I am in the process of integrating this data within their website. The documentation claims that the CD can only be used by customers of Microsoft using their Microsoft Windows operating system. It turns out that there is absolutely no technical reason to have indicated this limitation, and I was able to extract the postal code information using the Unix 'unzip' utility on my Linux-based desktop. I suspect there are many government policies violated by including this invalid claim of "Minimum Computer Requirements". While I was able to extract this information, most Statistics Canada customers would have believed the information on the CD and would have had this specific brand of operating system imposed on them by Statistics Canada.

It is frustrating that this information is not only under crown copyright when it should be in the public domain, but that this information is only being made available by the government at an extremely high cost, under an extremely restrictive copyright license, and includes very inappropriate promotion of a foreign IT vendor.

If this information were made freely available, shareable, and in an accessible and vendor-neutral format it would greatly help Canadians. Please let me know if there is anything your office can do to help remove this barrier to democratic participation.

Thank you

Russell McOrmond
305 Southcrest Private
Ottawa, Ontario
K1V 2B7
Website: http://www.flora.ca/