Data, Economic Development, Government

Canada and Open Data – the Lay of the Land

You’re reading the second part of Townfolio’s mini-series deep-dive into the state of open data today. Last week’s article focused on an introduction to open data – what it is, how it’s being used, and where it might take us in the future.

This week’s article will investigate how our government in Canada is approaching open data. 

A Long, Long Time Ago

If you weren’t already aware, it’s time you were – our nation has a surprisingly long relationship with open data, and has long been considered among the world leaders for publishing open data. 

Canada’s history with open data dates back many decades, most notably to the Data Liberation Act in the early 1990’s. Perhaps the most significant series of events occurred in 2009, when Canada, amongst select other nations, began announcing new initiatives towards increasing the transparency and accessibility of public information.

Open Government Partnership

In 2011, Canada became an official member of the Open Government Partnership – an organization of reformers inside and outside of government, working to transform how government serves its people.

In that same year, Canada also released the first iteration of its Open Data Portal which has since been continually updated with added functionality.

Speaking of the Open Government Partnership (which now represents 79 nations), Canada is currently chairing the current OGP action plan for 2018-19. Over a 3-year period from 2018-2020, the goals of this plan will tackle items ranging from financial and corporate responsibility, information accessibility, and gender equality.

Canada’s stance on open data is built largely on the same 10 principles as the Sunlight Foundation’s Principles for Opening Up Government Information. The Sunlight Foundation, an American nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, is dedicated to making all politics and governments more accountable and transparent.

Present Day

Of course, while Canada was one of the first nations on the open data scene, it’s also true that progress has begun to slow down somewhat. 

In 2016, Canada was ranked 2nd in the world for its efforts towards publishing open data, as reported by the World Wide Web Foundation’s 1st Open Data Barometer. However, just two short years later, our government had slipped 5 positions, into a tie with Norway at number 7 for the WWWF’s 2nd edition of the report.

Notably, the WWWF focused on Canada’s resistance against the publication of post code data, indicating a potential disinterest in making certain high-value datasets completely public.

It’s likely that much of the “slide” had more to do with a more competitive landscape of national open data policies.

In the 4th edition of the Open Data Barometer, Canada had again climbed back into the 2nd position – albeit with the WWWF specifically mentioning “the restrictive licensing of several datasets is one of the primary reasons it has not overtaken the UK’s long standing leadership position in the ranking.

In Closing

So while it is certainly true that Canada has earned it’s position as an open data leader, it’s important to acknowledge stagnation in certain key areas affecting issues such as entrepreneurship and the greater economy.

With that said, our next article is going to focus on the key areas preventing Canada from being a true world-leader in open data policy. Specifically, we’ll take a look at the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and how it pertains to data acquisition.

We hope this series on open data is helping you to gain a better understanding of how data freedom can affect your life in many different ways. 

As always, if you’re interested in learning more about how Townfolio helps governments of all levels across the continent utilize data and technologies more efficiently, let’s chat. You can email me at or you can request a demo of our platform through this link.