Close to politicians, but not really an insider

According to the following article by Colin Horgan (see the article below), I must be in the category of “insiders”, although I do not really feel as being one.

I have been passionate about politics for a long time. During my childhood, I watched the passion of my father. Later, politics caught up with me.

Yves Robichaud (1930-2009)

My father, Yves Robichaud, was a general contractor in excavating. He build the Highway 40 connecting Montreal to the City of Quebec, over 300 kilometers of road. He build the concrete pylons that support the Laviolette Bridge, which links Trois-Rivières to the south shore, from one bank to another of the beautiful St. Lawrence River. My father, besides being passionate about Caterpillar, John Deer and other heavy machinery, talked about politics all the time. I grew up listening to stories of politicians. I used to visit shops of construction equipment around the country, where I accompanied my father in his business trips, from the age of 8 years old. Of course, the favorite topics of conversation were politics, along with heavy machinery, and hunting. I know as many good stories of caribou and bison as of politicians. Government officials were often invited for dinner at our house or for weekends at our chalet.

My father had three large garages for his excavating business, on top of owning a gas station, dozens of machines for excavation, and about half the land in the city of Trois-Rivières. He employed about thirty men, in addition to the contractors, such as 10-wheel trucks that carried day and night sand and rocks on construction sites.

I realized from a very early age, that in order to earn a living, entrepreneurs in construction had no choice but to stay very close to the politicians. My father attended many political events. He knew the Prime Minister of Canada and of Quebec, MPs, and was aware of every government decision. General election days were very dramatic in my family. I cannot forget the day when the Liberals lost their elections, and the Parti Québécois won in 1976. I thought my father had turned mad, mad with rage.

I have never built links with a political party in particular. However, I developed relationships with all parties at once.

When I became an adult, I wanted to make art. Not politics. I became interested in government business the day I received a tax bill of $ 3000 for an artist’s studio of 300 square feet. I lived in this small studio, and was taxed as a business. This is how my relationship with elected officials began, and they never really stopped since.

Since I have been 25 years old, the people I think about the most, who are constantly before my mind as a kind of screen saver, have been politicians. They are so close to my thoughts that I can almost read their minds.

I have always gone directly to the elected members of parliament or of city council. Most of my interventions aimed at this audience, not to government managers, who have little room to maneuver.

In the past, I was able to influence enough to change the law. Although I am not a lawyer, I can read the legislation and see where are the ‘holes’. Intuitive in nature, this played me tricks more than once, because I demanded changes even before having the arguments to explain my complaints. Often, I gathered the pieces of the final arguments through my discussions with officials, members of the community and reporters.

I continue to act in the same way I always acted. But this does not give anymore results.

Before, I managed to achieve goals by obtaining the support from organizations. For example, an artists’ association elected me as their president (I was therefore the designated spokesperson), while another association hired me to financially support my lobbying.

In the case of open government, there is nothing, no group, no institution, which exists in this area, which could be contacted and asked to provide support and funding. There is nothing at all.

As a simple citizen - just a citizen, it is beyond my financial capacity to fund the development of open government throughout Francophonie out of my own pocket. I would love to be able to do it. If I were a millionaire, I would happily build structures for development of open government everywhere. But this is not the case, unfortunately, I have no personal fortune. My father lost everything he had after the 1976 election. Such a financial burden should not be carried by the citizens. The government should invest money towards its own transformation into a new form of governance.

Politically disengaged Canadians not apathetic or uninformed, study finds

Wed, Dec 7, 2011, 12:45 pm by Colin Horgan, iPolitics

Politically disengaged Canadians may seem disinterested, apathetic or uninformed, but they are actually politically aware, but believe the system doesn’t work for them, according to new research from Samara.

The study,”The Real Outsiders: Politically disengaged views on politics and democracy”, was released by the citizen engagement research organization Wednesday.

While Samara admits that “no study, no matter how nuanced or far reaching, can fully explain all the complex factors that determine how we relate to our political system,” its research shows a “troubling situation.”

Canada’s political system has, according to Samara, “separated the Canadian public into insiders who have the capacity and energy to fight and remain engaged in the system, and outsiders who simply walk away out of frustration or disappointment.”

The study was based on eight focus groups, two made up entirely of women — one of Francophone women from Quebec, and another of English-speaking Quebec women. The researchers also spoke with groups made up of lower-income Canadians, less-educated young people, urban aboriginals, new citizens and rural Canadians. A group of engaged Canadians was also included for comparison.

Samara asked why and how individuals became disinterested in the political process.

Both engaged and disengaged Canadians were found to have a negative view of politics, and used words including “boring,” “greedy” or “untrustworthy” when describing Canadian politics. Similarly, politicians received the same treatment.

At the same time, Samara found participants still liked democracy and the rights and freedoms that come with it.

“Even disengaged participants, who admitted they did not regularly exercise their rights, described democracy in terms of freedom of expression and their right to vote,” the study found.

The problem is, those concepts remain abstract and Samara found that disengaged Canadians see no place for themselves within the political system.

“The disengaged never spoke of the political system as if it belonged to them,” says the study. “They never felt that they had any power to influence or control what happens inside the political system. Instead, they viewed themselves as passive observers of politics — not by choice, but simply by virtue of their place as outsiders.”

For the disengaged, politics is not a priority and not worth the energy when there are other personal matters to deal with. It’s rendered effectively irrelevant.

While some of those who were disengaged became that way after a bad experience — for example, attempting to affect change locally and finding little progress by contacting politicians — the study found others who were “taught the futility of engagement before they even had a chance to engage.” That was particularly true among less-educated youth.

That feeling, says the study, was reinforced by messaging that failed to speak to them. As a result, they expect little from their government.

As for the solution, it’s complex, the study said.

The study admits a solution will “not likely come in the form of a silver bullet.” However, it points to the media, Parliament and political parties as all having a role to play in reinvigorating the system, based on the findings.

“There is a silver lining to our research,” says Heather Bastedo, research and project director at Samara. “Disengagement is reversible given the right conditions, and Canadians told us they are not asking for much. They simply want to feel heard, they want their problems to matter and they want promises kept — they want to feel represented.”

You are touching upon a very important point

There is a need for financial support mechanisms in the open government realm.  There are some organizations, such as the Knight Foundation, that provide support, but there is no global system in place to fully support open government models and systems.  A model is needed.

I have been thinking more and more about creating a non-profit focused on this area, too much to do and to little time continues to be my biggest barrier.

Do others agree, though, that the need for financial support mechanisms is a problem that we must overcome?

Are others aware?

Are ‘others’ aware that, for instance, Government in the Lab is not receiving financial support?

Out of the 41,700 followers you have on Twitter, I bet that very few people understand the situation. They are probably very happy with the service you freely and generously offer them, but do not understand how you do it.

‘Others’ are also governments. Bah, those are much too scared! And they do not know what to do. No need to dig very far, only look at the very low number of countries that managed to deliver an action plan to the Open Government Partnership.

Together, we have reviewed this problem for months. Flipping it on all sides. Seeking information about existing funding programs. Meeting people to get their advice. Building strategies in our heads that could have made this new social business fit criteria in order to get support. We came through with a strategy that might have worked. Except that governments were not at the rendez-vous.

It cannot continue like this! Someone, somewhere, will open their eyes?


The mission of the Knight Foundation is to “work to create informed & engaged communities.” They support transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. They do not fund international programs and organizations, only US-based projects.

A recent announcement about the creation of an institute (only in one country so far), suggests that other states might want to follow this path. But this institute is for open data, and not open government. United Kingdom will invest £10 million over five years to support the Open Data Institute (ODI) (ref).

Since there is no existing model, what Government in the Lab proposed, in 2010, in its Open Government and Francophonie project, was to apply to funding institutions that “work in close collaboration with researchers from the developing world in their search for the means to build healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous societies”, such as the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Propose to such institutions an experimental project involving 3-4 countries from the developing world, with a financial support of about twenty organizations and several States. Present the results of the experimental project to an umbrella organisation, in this case, the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, in the hope that it serves as a catalyst, it snaps into place an international partnership that leads to the implementation of a five-year open government implementation plan, and ultimately leads to the creation of a new vector, an international association of open government states.

The only existing global ‘system’ in place is a multilateral partnership, the Open Governmnet Partnership. The European umbrellas are not participating at this partnership. And the main Francophone States are not there either.

The mission of the OGP is “to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.” (ref)

The OGP participation of States grosso modo sums up to:

  1. Sign a Declaration;

  2. Present their action plan.

  3. Agree to be evaluated.

The detailed 8 steps of participation to OGP can be read here.

There was no question of investing money in a joint collective effort to develop open government.

You mentioned that there is a need for a model.

We could look at existing models in other areas, to see what solutions they considered using and what are their main issues and challenges. We could invite Edgeryders participant Michel Filippi to explore with us, since he excels at making models (this is his special skill). We could also look for other participants, or though leaders specialized in this area that could serve as model examples.

Staying small

As I understand it, this stuff is never going to generate paying demand. By definition it is providing a pure public good. If governments do it, as they should, they pay for it with taxpayer money: that’s your financial support mechanism.

Private initiatives in this area can only be charities. The good thing is that you can achieve a lot with very little money. Indeed, I think that large scale opengov initiatives should be viewed with suspicion. So no, I don’t think finance is a major issue, not any bigger that it is for any other kind of nonprofit initiatives.

On this point we disagree

But you will have to give me 12 months to prove you wrong.  :slight_smile:

In one year from today lets have a glass of wine somewhere and discuss.  I have a plan that will lead to public good and recurring revenues, just have to pull it off and, if I do, you buy the wine.

Of course, if I don’t, the wine is on me my friend.

A pleasure regardless

Looking forward :slight_smile:

Financial support mechanisms

Whoa, guys, you crack me up!

I won’t venture on betting on anything, because my self-confidence has been badly compromised in this area.

As Michel Filippi pointed out this week, system theorist Ervin Laszlo explained that “in times of transformation of society, voluntary and well-led action can create and promote ideas and movements that could become the new basis for people and societies”. As was shown in Jonas Salk ‘The Anatomy of Reality’, it is quite possible that the ability to look ahead, to think, reason, and try to gauge is sufficiently strong in a number of people to generate the existence of a critical mass, which will enabled to encourage humanity to respond to the challenges of changes more appropriately than we do today. Evolution of our societies is in our hands.

We probably all agree on this.

How can we do this, and get paid for it?

Alberto, we had the same vision that you have of financial support mechanism, ie governments should pay for it with taxpayer’s money.

We acted in line with this vision, and unfortunately we got lost in a maze of roadblocks, to finally run into a dead-end. At first, we had planned to go directly to the OIF. I knew from the start that it was useless to expect anything from Quebec. I figured that if everyone else turned open government, they would “look stupid”, to use your own expression (as you mentioned in your report about the Spaghetti Open data). In a sense, we could say that what we proposed was a sort of You-will-look-stupid-if-you-don’t-do-it strategy, a different approach from the one applied to Spaghetti open data, but nonetheless having some similarity (in the goals). But former secretary general of the umbrella organization explained us that there would be no listening from the headquarters, if we did not meet these 2 requirements:

  1. Obtain the agreement of 3-4 countries to participate in an experimental project;

  2. Engage vectors of this organization.

It made sense, what the former secretary general recommended. Get there with empty hands, without showing evidence of some grass-root support (in this case, it meant the States, and not just citizens), would have probably resulted in a rejection.

Therefore, despite the insistence of my little finger which predicted me that we would crash into failure, we changed our course of action, and went knocking at the door of Quebec, because this province acts as Chairman of the main francophone vector, the association of parliamentarians.

Before we could explain our vision, we realized that we had first to explain what is an open government, and influence this government to accept and endorse these principles. Which is not even done yet, after 16 months of analysis.

We learned that there are pre-steps to open government. Analysis of open government is not a synonym of a future commitment. It does not necessarily lead to new policies and implementation of initiatives, especially when the highest levels of power remain indifferent to these issues. We also learned that leadership is an essential element of success in open government implementation.

Now that the French Republic is building on open data and gradually adding, besides transparency, the 2 other components of open government, ie participation and collaboration (ref Enjeux et opportunités de l’open data, Étalab, January 16, 2012) , we could try again, go knock at the door of France, which has the role of executive secretary of the association of parliamentarians. We could go know at many doors…

This is all very well and very good, but are we do this for the next 30 years without pay? This strikes me as being very… euh… impractical.

IDÉtr and Emploi Quebec programs

I tried to give John a hand with ‘creating a non-profit focused on this area’.

I applied to the program Innovation and Economic Development (IDÉtr) of City of Trois-Rivières (where I live). This program offers candidates a 3-month training about how to write a business plan. They also donate to new social businesses up to $25,000 in start-up funds. On their web site, IDÉtr has a page about social economy. Social business projects are welcomed, in theory.

IDÉtr’s team totally freaked when they read our project! The director said that I was ‘too good and that they lacked the skills and knowledge to coach me properly. I suggested them to create a coaching committee composed of a couple experts from governments around the world to help the City of Trois-Rivières and the Government of Quebec to coach this bold open government project. For instance, David Hume, Executive Director, Citizen Engagement, from the Government of British Columbia (in Canada), would probably have agreed to participate to such a committee.

I think he would have agreed to play a role as coach because at the same time that I was applying to the IDÉtr program, there occured an attempt to create a bilateral partnership between the Government of Québec and the Government of British Columbia, around open government issues. This suggestion of collaboration was accepted by both parties in September 2011. And I was the only citizen allowed to attend to the meeting between 4 gov officials from BC and 13 gov officials from Quebec.

They could have used this meeting as an opportunity to give me a hand with the project I submitted. Instead, the meeting finished up in the air. Why did they bother to invite me to this meeting? I did not understand what justified my presence at this meeting. Henri-François Gautrin said it was to help me in ‘my research.

Idétr did not know how to ‘politically’ refuse me. Because I challenged their decision, the General Director, Yves Marchand, appealed to an elected member of the National Assembly of Quebec to block me access to this program.

I met in person with the Deputy of Maskinongé, Jean-Paul Diamond, and his attaché politique, to explain them my suggestion of coaching committee and ask them to re-consider my application to IDÉtr’s program.

A 3-month period would have allowed me to write a decent business plan, and meet with various mentors, and several experts of the government of Quebec, the Association des parlementaires de la Franocphonie, and the City of Trois-Rivièeres, to come up with a decent financial plan. They would have explained what are the legal aspects that should be considered. I could have seeked for guidance to many people, during these months of start-up training.

The IDÉtr program also gives access to self-employed workers program of Emploi Québec (Soutien aux travailleurs autonomes). This program provides up to 52 weeks of salary ($20,000/yr).

In total, the application to IDÉtr could have granted us a total of $45.000.


Even peanuts were too much to ask.

Go get opengov included on the agenda of next OIF Summit

Last week, a Quebec lobbyist asked me: “Go get opengov included on the agenda of the next OIF Summit”(October 2012).

Sure…  Would you like me to give you a piece of the moon with it?

He proposed no support and no money from his consultant firm.

The government of Quebec has blocked all the exits so well that no bridge has been established with authorities responsible for the Francophonie.

The Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, is solely responsible for Youth. He does not have a Twitter account, and it is practically impossible to get in touch with him. I consider that it is not worth wasting one second to try to contact him.

The MP in charge of the open government analysis is 69 years old. He is currently on sick leave, recovering from surgery.

This recovering MP is also in charge of chairing the association of francophone parliamentarians. He is the Deputy Chairman of APF.

The MP which has been designated to completely terminate GovintheLab’s opengov and Francophonie project is 71 years old. He represents the constituency in which I live (Maskinongé).

The Direction of the Francophonie as well as the Interparliamentary Affairs of the Department of International Relations, have ruled against the proposed GovintheLab’s project. They said that they do not care about open government issues. They said that they have other priorities.

The secretary of the America section of the APF (Assemblée régionale Amérique de l’Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie) said that he would not support the proposed GovintheLab’s project, as long as the Deputy Chairman of the APF is not in favor of this project. He will block all attempts to contact the headquarters of APF, located in Paris.

Members of the Canadian Section of the APF explained to me that they do not take decision on any project whatsoever. They apparently simply sign documents. They wait for the Deputy Chairman (of Quebec) to decide what to do, and then they do like he does.

Are all decisions concentrated on the shoulders of one government official, the Deputy Chairman of APF? He is no longer there, because he had to have surgery.

There was apparently no transfer of his responsibilities to someone else. The government chose instead to suspend projects and postpone to months later. Gautrin’s report on the potential of Web 2.0, which was to be delivered on December 15, 2011, has not been delivered yet.

Block and freeze. That is what this government does.

Therefore, even though Quebec is hosting an important OIF event in the spring, all exits are blocked. I had hoped that we could have succeeded in including the topic of open government at the agenda of the first OIF Forum on the French language (Forum mondial de la langue française, July 2-6, 2012, in Quebec City).

This forum is under the responsibility of the Minister of International relations. And this ministry has blocked the proposed GovintheLab’s project.

At the French language Forum, it would have been possible to meet with many delegates from the 75 member States of the OIF.

In addition, GovintheLab presented an experimental incubator open government project to the G8 G20 Youth Summits ( organized by Youth Diplomacy.  Therefore, we would have had a project already designed. This draft project could have been adapted to the context of the OIF forum. This could have helped us prepare the ground, by submitting to as many delegates as possible, the idea of including the topic of open government at the next OIF Summit.

Furthermore, the Premier Jean Charest, responsible for Youth, invited in Quebec, in the Fall of 2011, the French minister of Digital economy, Eric Besson. This minister visited for a week facilities of the Plan Nord (see this press release by the Consulat général de France au Québec, and this article by Radio-Canada announcing that France and Quebec signed a deal, and this other article about France’s goal to become Quebec’s No.1 Partner).

Subsequently, the Premier of Quebec was also invited to France, and was welcomed by the Minister of the digital economy. They spent more time together.

Not a word was exchanged about open data and open government perspectives during these numerous meetings.

During the visit the Minister Besson in Quebec, he contacted me directly (via Twitter) and agreed that I transmit him GovintheLab’s project. He put me in touch with his office. I sent information about the project, but I never received a response. Many citizens from around the world have seen the minister discuss with me on Twitter, and they showed solidarity. But it stopped there. There was no follow up from any government official of the French Republic.

The command, to get open government on the agenda of the next OIF Summit, was back on my desk last week.

I cannot do it. There are too many roadblocks. And I’m tired of volunteering lobbying without receiving any financial support. I cannot continue like this. Since the refusal of the project, on September 1st, 2011, I gave up everything. I no longer lift a finger. In any case, even if I tried, the man on whom everything depends… is gone. And the others are too preoccupied with making money with the Plan Nord.

Do you have suggestions?

Lack of political will

Furthermore, one month after he spent a week with the minister of digital economy, the responsible for the Youth, Premier Jean Charest, met in person in October 2011 with the Secretary General of the OIF, Abdou Diouf. They talked about preps for the upcoming Forum about the French language. (ref: Abdou Diouf rencontre Jean Charest

Photo: Francophone leaders, Jean Charest and Abdou Diouf

The Francophone policy-makers who should, in theory, address the issues of open government, are working together, hand in hand, on other projects. They talk and regularly meet with one another. Opportunities are there, to discuss topics. But since these things do not interest them, they do not address these issues.

As Mario Asselin pointed out in Voir, on January 21, (my translation) " There are more citizens in favor of Nerd Plan than of a Northern plan, which is proposed by the Quebecker’s political class." What he said is rather hard to translate, here is the original quote: «Il est davantage le fait d’un groupe de citoyens qui souhaitent un Plan Nerd plutôt qu’un plan Nord pour le Québec que de la classe politique.» (And he included the following link to Plan Nerd)

If you follow this link by Sylvain Carle, you will read: “What we lack here is POLITICAL WILL, it is the first fundamental condition” [for the development of innovation].

I would add another condition. Diversification of strategies.

As we have explored, in Jamel’s mission report about innovation in Algeria, one single minded ideology (ie putting all the eggs in one basket) tends to limit success. What we have here is a massive investment in projects that do not retain the support of the population, while the projects that citizens would prefer continue to be ignored.

If the Open government partnership had never existed, I would have been inclined to think that the ideas that we proposed are ridiculous, too ambitious, impossible to achieve. While on one hand, on September 1st, 2011, a government leader said, ‘There is no solution’, 20 days later, more than 40 countries were mobilized by the United States and Brazil, around similar ideas. There was a gathering of Heads of State and senior officials from 46 countries in New York on September 20, 2011, to launch the OGP.

USA and Brazil, 2 countries, have led the efforts that led to the ratification of the Declaration of the OGP at the UN.

To hope for open government to become a priority of the OIF, this is not utopia. And I don’t think that it should be considered either as ahead of its time. No, I’m sorry but I think that these issues are contemporary and should be explored now.

Phtos: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton

Photos: Maria Otero, Dilma Rousseff, and Antonio Patriota

Leaders, like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Maria Otero, from the USA, and Dilma Rousseff (president), Antonio Patriota (Minister of Foreign Relations) from Brazil, had a similar vision, and they did something about it.

Quebec and France, 2 States, are current leaders in the Francophonie. These two countries should take the lead, like USA and Brazil did, to deploy a movement in favor of open government throughout the Francophonie. These 2 States, Quebec and France, should also join the OGP, and propose to the 43 members of this movement strategies based on diversification and cultural diversity.

Money and in-kind donations were given by the public and corporate sector, as well as foundations, for the OGP project to take place. Thus, to imagine a financial plan, with several partners as providing financial support, this is not a utopia.

Contributions to date to the OGP ( As you can see, from this list of donations below, it takes a little bit more than… $45,000 (what was asked last Summer to the government of Quebec) to launch a bold project of multilateral partnership around open government issues. It takes millions of dollars.  $1,083,500 in money has been raised, and in-kind donations from about a dozen of partners have not been evaluated by the OGP team.

Transparency and Accountability Initiative: $733,500

(Donor collaborative of DFID, Ford Foundation, Hivos, Hewlett Foundation, International Budget Partnership, Omidyar Network, Open Society Foundations and Revenue Watch Institute).

Includes support for civil society participation in January, July and September 2011 OGP meetings, OGP Networking Mechanism, and OGP Support Unit Director and Interactive Media Manager positions

United States Government: In-kind donation

Provided financial support for July and September OGP meetings.

Google: $350,000

Includes support for OGP’s website development and hosting the Sept 20, 2011 Power of Open meeting.

PhaseOne Consulting: In-kind donation

Provided meeting support for September 20,2011 Power of Open event.

O’Reilly Media: In-kind donation

Provided media assistance for September 20, 2011 Power of Open event.

iStrategy Labs: In-kind donation

Provided branding assitance for September 20, 2011 Power of Open event.

World Bank Institute: In-kind donation

Provied In-kind donation of staff support for OGP networking mechanism.

The Academy: In-kind donation

Provided animated OGP promotional video.

J. Ralph: In-kind donation

Provided music for OGP promotional video.