"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Elections Dannystan rides again

As happened after the 2007 election, and as happened after the 2011 election, Elections Newfoundland and Labrador, for some inexplicable reason, took the full nine months given to it under statute to publish the "book" containing poll-by-poll results of the latest provincial election.

This length of time to publish such detailed results is entirely out of line with the practice in every other province; each of which, with the exception of PEI, has more polling stations, votes, parties, and candidates whose vote tallies need counting and verification.

This corner is not going to link to that "book".

Why not? Because for equally inexplicable reasons, Elections NL has published a PDF "book" that clocks in at an absolutely staggering 218.9 megabytes in size.

Try downloading that in Makkovik.

That bloated file size, incidentally, runs counter to the provincial government's own web-publishing standards, which state:
Compression and optimization techniques should be used to keep file sizes small. This includes all files which are delivered to the web browser, such as html/css/scripting files, images, audio and video files, and document/application files (pdf, word, etc.)

By way of comparison, here are the file sizes for the PDF version of the last six provincial election results. The first two of these (1996 and 1999) are simply black-and-white graphical scans of a printed copy, because apparently computers and internets and digital pre-press and so forth didn't exist in the mid- to late-1990s.

To their credit, Elections NL did, for the first time ever, publish the detailed results on-line in a machine-readable format. (Zipped Excel file link.)

To their debit, each electoral district is a separate page. Sheesh.

And, not for the first time, the "book" of detailed election results was not actually published for more than a month after the date which the "book" itself bears:

But wait! There's more! The PDF version was not posted to the internet for computers for more than two weeks after the date on which the incredibly bloated PDF was generated using InDesign:
The poll-by-poll data itself has existed in its final form for months — at least since early June, if not before. For reasons that remain mysterious and unique to Elections NL, it was not made public until now.
Again, this bears repeating and underlining: just because the statute gives you a nine-month limit in which to do something for the public's benefit, does not mean you have to take all nine months.
The acting Chief Electoral Officer also alludes to the forthcoming report on candidates' expenditures. If past shoddy practice at Elections NL is anything to go on, the financial returns relative to the 2015 general election campaign, and political contributions for calendar year 2015, may be published by December. (Next door in Nova Scotia, the 2015 financial figures, which incorporates many more data points than the comparable NL reports, were published in June.)
If the provincial government is looking to engage in a little democratic reform, as promised at para 1.4.2 of their election platform last fall, tightening up the practices of the elections office, which are completely out of wack with comparable practices in every other Canadian jurisdiction, would be a most excellent place to start.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Raising awareness

The new Information Commissioner spots a surge:
"It's my understanding that there's been a substantial increase in the number of requests since 2015," said Molloy.

"One public body that I dealt with last week asked for an extension because amongst other things they said they had more requests this fiscal year than they had in the previous three." 
Molloy has been at the helm of office since July 22, and he said the changes and increased number of access to information requests have made the job more demanding for many in the office.  
"It's a real struggle right now in terms of volume, keeping up with the number of requests."
During the 2014 review of the Access to Information Act designed to undo the unaccountable and undemocratic Bill 29 changes made during the Dunderämmerung in 2012 – changes made to satisfy the intolerance towards access to information shown by Danny Williams –  Commissioner Ring, who never met a Williams-era attempt to restrict access that he couldn't enthusiastically endorse, compiled some statistics in his supplemental submission of August 2014. (See p. 21 of this PDF)

Supplementing these statistics with a quick search of the completed requests database (not quite apples:apples, but close enough), and graphing the result, one can’t help but spot less of a “surge”, and more of a return to business as usual.

Between fiscal years 2008-09 and 2012-13, there was a slow but steady increase in the number of ATI requests being made, averaging about 535 per year until 2012-13, when there truly was a mini-“surge” to nearly 700 requests.

That “surge” during that period could well have been in response to Bill 29, which came into effect part way through that fiscal year, as frequent users of the Act tried to cram their pre-Bill 29 requests in “under the wire”: Bill 29 had a transitional clause which provided that requests received before a certain date would be processed under the law as it existed before the Danny-Dunderdale Tories gutted it.

(Many departments and agencies cleverly short-circuited the transitional provision by simply refusing to open mail addressed to their ATI co-ordinator until the day after Bill 29 received Royal Assent.)

Did Bill 29 have the Danny-Dunderdale desired effect of suppressing ATI activity? You betcha. For the first two full fiscal years that Bill 29 was in force, ATI request volumes dropped to nearly half their pre-29 levels.

Mission accomplished!

After the Wells commission reported, the Davis government, tail between its legs from having been beaten up on the issue for three years, passed the new Act recommended in that report. A few months into fiscal year 2015-16, the new, de-Bill-29’d version of the Act received Royal Assent.

Lo and behold, request volumes returned to their pre-29 levels.

So far this fiscal year, 343 ATI requests have been completed. Projecting forward, and assuming that the pace of request-completion stays constant throughout the year, that works out to 800-and-some requests completed for the year, which would be something of a surge compared to Bill 29 levels, and even, to a lesser degree, compared to pre-29 levels.*

But, apart from a hypothetical surge during the balance of the fiscal year, the statistics do not support the Commissioner’s concerns. On the contrary, they show that the Bill 29 “reforms”, meant as they were to suppress the public’s access to government records, worked, and worked well. To the extent that there has been a surge in request volume since the 2015 unravelling of Bill 29, that may just as easily be accounted for by the fact that, in the post-Bill-29 era, the public is simply more aware of their right to access public records, and, thanks to the elimination of application fees and the praiseworthy creation of an online filing system, more able to exercise that right.

That, in a deliciously perverse way, might be the best legacy of the process, kick-started by Danny Williams in 2009 and dutifully completed by his successors, that was intended to gut that access and deny such accountability in the first place.

* The projected figure for the rest of this fiscal year is "ghosted" in the graph above.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

How'd they vote?

As usual, it is taking Elections Newfoundland and Labrador an unusual amount of time, compared to its peers in other Canadian jurisdictions, and given the small number of data points involved, to publish the final poll-by-poll results of last November's provincial election.

So here they are, in cleverly colour-coded map format. Enjoy.

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