“open & transparent”… yeah, like my a#*… please stop the blather bumpf!

This is one of the emptiest of empty statements. I ask: why even bother?

This is what I call “democracy bumpf” — meaning, saying something without really saying anything at all, with some false pretense that you actually mean what you say.

I hear this phrase and groan every time, comfortable in my coming cynicism.

It’s right there with folks who half way through a conversation say: “I have to be honest with you…”

Oh great, what the hell have you been for the first half of this conversation… half honest, untruthful?

Here’s a fine example from the world superpower:

Transparency and Open Government

Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies

SUBJECT:      Transparency and Open Government

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset…

Bla, Bla, Bla

Signed by, yup you guessed it…

This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA

_ _ _ _ _ _

I was as excited as the next person about the hope and change that Obama represented… but come on… if things were so damn “open and transparent” then why are some American politicians calling for the ‘assassination’ of Julian Assange the founder of Wikileaks.

If things are so damn “open and transparent” then why even the need for Wikileaks?

And what the hell is a “system of transparency”?

(oh right… it’s called Saran Wrap… or a window…)

_ _ _ _ _ _

Or, there’s this fine piece of Canadian democracy-bumpf from April, 2006:

Through the Federal Accountability Act and Action Plan, the Government of Canada is bringing forward specific measures to help strengthen accountability and increase transparency and oversight in government operations.

This was introduced by Chuck Strahl, Conservative MP in Parliament in early April, 2006:

Canadians expect a government that will spend their money wisely and properly, Strahl said.  They also expect a clear set of rules that is fair, open and transparent.  The FAA [Federal Accountability Act] will deliver on all of these objectives to once again restore trust in government.

Uh, huh… how’s your trust in government these days? And fair to whom?

I tell ya… things sure feel more “open and transparent” since April 2006…

(yeah, whatever…)

And how does one “increase transparency”?  Open the window, I suppose, or take that frosting off the bathroom window…or take off the layers of saran wrap (but then we’d smell the truth of what lies underneath… moldy, smelly leftovers from a bygone era rotting at the back of the fridge…)

_ _ _ _ _

And, the democracy-bumpf blather continues:

In December — a few weeks ago — the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced its new Aquaculture regulations. (After, of course, their decision to hand over aquaculture regulation to the Province of BC a decade or so ago — had to be overturned in a legal court case):

As of December 18, 2010, the management and regulation of aquaculture in B.C. has transferred from provincial to federal jurisdiction.

DFO is committed to being open and transparent in its regulation and management of aquaculture in B.C.  In the coming months, information and data on sea lice levels, fish health and disease, production levels, antibiotic use, and other aspects of aquaculture production will be available on this website.

This must be some sort of mantra for senior government officials, as this was repeated in a press release captured in the Province newspaper in July:

Trevor Swerdfager, DFO’s director general of fisheries and aquaculture management, said the department will create a new section with about 50 new staff — including 10 to 15 new fisheries officers whose sole job will be aquaculture enforcement.

He said the new regulations will “substantially enhance the transparency of the industry” and that Ottawa estimates the cost of the proposed regulatory regime to between $8-million and $8.5-million a year, part of which will be recouped through “expected” licensing fees.

The new Pacific aquaculture regulations, which will be implemented on Dec. 18 when DFO takes official control, are to “ensure the proper management of aquaculture, particularly with respect to protection and conservation of fish and fish habitat, in an open and transparent manner.”

_ _ _ _ _

Sadly, I say horseshit… (a substance certainly not open and transparent)

Of course, language can be a curious thing. Read the wording again carefully: “committed to being open and transparent.”

Yeah… and you know those over 50% of marriages that end these days… those folks also “committed” to not ending their marriages and being “open and transparent” with each other. (you know… the old “in good and bad, sickness and in health, etc. etc…”).

There’s a pretty big difference between committing to be open and transparent and actually being open and transparent.

Just like the next sentence says “information and data…” — it certainly does not say “all information”…

But then someone might rightfully argue that maybe I’m a bit too cynical… maybe change will actually occur.

I just can’t help myself. With folks from all sorts of organizations running around touting “open and transparent” this; “open and transparent” that — I just keep asking: “well what were you before then?… closed and opaque? slightly ajar and foggy? open a smidgen, hazy and blurry?”

If you’ve got to spell it out like that, it simply begs questions of your past practices.

_ _ _ _ _

So, Puulease!

Next time you find yourself plopping “open and transparent” in any document, email, policy, best practice, benchmarking conversation, etc.: STOP!

Instead: say what you mean and mean what you say.

This bumpfy, empty, fluffy phrase has entered so many documents, so many organizations, so many folks day-to-day conversation — including the salmon world of enviros, small regional fisheries organizations, and so on.

If you find yourself saying it, or putting it in your latest PPoint slide, stop… then ask yourself: “as opposed to what?” and “if I’m saying this now, what does this say about how I/we used to do things?”

It’s no different than someone telling you near the end of your conversation that they now will be honest with you…

4 thoughts on ““open & transparent”… yeah, like my a#*… please stop the blather bumpf!

  1. Brian

    Quote from Salmonguy: “And, the democracy-bumpf blather continues:

    In December — a few weeks ago — the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced its new Aquaculture regulations. (After, of course, their decision to hand over aquaculture regulation to the Province of BC a decade or so ago — had to be overturned in a legal court case)”

    In regards to this issue, your assertion that this is democracy-bumpf blather is nonsense. There was extensive consultation on this since December 2009! Where were you during this time? DFO obtained feedback from hundreds of emails as well as input from First Nations and environmental NGOs (you know…those individuals that whine that nobody in government listens to the them). DFO even setup an online consultation tool where individuals (like you and me) could comment and provide submissions on the regulations. In July 2010, the proposed regulations were pre-published in the Canada Gazette website for all to see. Feedback gained from these consultations where used to make any changes needed. It was open and transparent. You also need to remember that “consultation” does not mean that a stakeholder group or individual gets everything they are asking for. No hiding….No token jestures…..No anti-democratic bumpf.

    http://canadagazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2010/2010-12-08/html/sor-dors270-eng.html

    In regards to your comments on the Federal Accountability Act are off the mark as well. What experience do you even have with this type of legislation? I can tell you that if you have to adhere to this legislation you will have a much different opinion. In comparison, how financially accountable are many environmental NGOs to the public they “speak out” for? I do not imagine they get their funds from bottle drives and bake sales.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    Thanks again Brian for the comments.
    Sounds like you’re one of those folks in the minority that actually votes and thinks government is doing a good job? Fair enough.

    Also seems pretty clear where your bread gets buttered and that you feel positively about your employer. Fair enough as well. That, i suppose, is the benefit for all of us in this part of the world living in a quasi-democracy. Many folks can have a range of opinions and feelings on things — and feel comfortable sharing them.

    Just as I alluded to in posts… if things are so “open and transparent” in government then Wikileaks would be no more popular than my blog — and Freedom of Information legislation would only need to be utilized about as often as some obscure legislation on train steam engines…

    NGO’s… of which you seem to carry such a low opinion (other than their effectiveness, judging by your last comment)… well… their accountability is to the folks that fund them — and their membership.

    Just like a publicly-traded corporation, you want a say, then go become a member or run for their executive. I’m not a member of any, so I don’t really get too worked up about their accountability…

    Many enviro-NGOs are often little different then some government MP, or the PM carrying on about “all Canadians”…

    Your work for government… well… that’s paid for by taxpayers. With that comes accountability, responsibility, and having to answer to those same taxpayers. Maybe not you personally, but certainly the folks that either hire you or contract you.

    big difference.

    And yup, sure there was consultation on the aquaculture regs… but what about the bigger question of whether open pen farms should even be there or not? Or, closed containment land-based systems as a better option? or the choice by the great scientific department to ignore the hallowed “peer-reviewed” published papers, from around the world where salmon are farmed, saying “open pen salmon farming… not such a good idea… even worse when wild salmon swim the same waters”?

    But then we both know that science isn’t what drives decision-making on these issues (or the consultation) — politics, egos and $$ do.

    For example, if “science” drove decision-making then we wouldn’t have a society that is now well over 50% overweight and obese. We know this is going to be a massive drain on our healthcare system in years to come, science continually tells us high fat, high sugar, low activity lifestyles are bad, yet little is done at a political level to get a handle on it. (just as one example).

    Regardless… if you’re comfortable with government decision-making, consultation guidelines, and the like… excellent. I think it might make you a minority, but at least it’s good that someone out there is feeling good about it. you probably sleep better because of it…

    Me… not changing my mind anytime soon, but then not losing sleep either. The system in place in many federal government ministries is so outdated, tired, broken, and so far behind the times that I’m not sure a little jiggy here, a little jiggy there is going to fix it (or an Iggy, for that fact).

    Another suggested read: the follow-up to the book Wikinomics has recently come out in hard cover. Macrowikinomics: rebooting business and the world. http://www.macrowikinomics.com/
    The first chapter tells a great story about how a collaborative open-source effort made incredible differences during the early hours of the Haiti earthquake disaster. Ushahidi.
    http://www.ushahidi.com/
    (there’s past posts on Ushahidi on this site too).

    Also maybe read about how Facebook (and other social media) is one of the biggest reasons Obama became president.

    That type of stuff and efforts, largely run by average every day folks, collaborative efforts, open source, and — yes, your favorite, NGOs (like the Red Cross) — is the new way. Or the new-old way.

    times-are-a-changin

  3. Brian

    Hello there,
    It is not about me feeling about whether I am on one side or the other…..or feeling whether I am in the minority or not. I am not one to jump on the bandwagon because everyone is thinks it’s the “in-thing” or you make more friends going with the crowd. My opinion is that there are many out there that are willingly foregoing any effort to find out the actual facts about an issue and are more willing to do what the larger group is doing no matter is factual or not. We seem to be forgetting the simplest way to find out information – asking the people involved. The internet can be a good source of information, but there are many out there competing for public opinion rather than providing any meaningful resource. The information is out there – it is not hidden. It just takes someone willing to filter out the garbage as well as use some common sense, such as remembering there are usually two sides to every story. What you see in the media may only be part of the actual story, misquoted or entirely misrepresented. Some of us have permanently parked our critical thinking skills and instead have others do the thinking for us. The reports and studies are out there, but if the person is too lazy to actually find out then it is their own fault and nobody else. For some this filtering is too much work. In the end, they are the ones that miss out on being informed.

    Is government totally right about everything they do? No…I have never made such a claim; however, there is a time when a person needs to be objective and fair about an issue or topic and give recognition when it is deserved. The example I provided was with the new aquaculture regulations as you alluded to in your first post. It is normal to be cynical, but you clearly did not do your homework on this issue. Instead of going on a big cynical rant about how government is not being so transparent on these new regulations there was clearly information out there in the public domain to the contrary. These consultations had been going on for a least a year now. Was someone from government supposed to call you personally to tell you about them and drive you to the workshops? I also find it kind of strange that you would be highly critical of a process you were not even apart of yet find so many things wrong with it. I could see if you had provided some input, but you decided to “go balls-to-the-wall” and basically call the whole process a circus pratically. You may have been part of some other flawed process, but it certainly should not be used as some brush to paint everything with the same colour. Did you even attempt to ask those that were part of the consultation process what it was all about? More importantly, it certainly show absolutely no respect to those involved in the process trying to gather public input. On one hand you want government to be more open, transparent and engaging; however, when government is doing what you are asking for it is never good enough or appreciated. It is kind of no win situation. As far as I am concern you have kind of back yourself into a corner now where you are so cynical that objectivity seems to be absence.

    Surprisingly it also has little to do with where my bread is buttered. In fact, I have been on both side of the coin. Experience has taught me that what really goes on does not get the credit it deserves because it is seen by many as boring, does not sell many papers, or get as many hits on the internet like some blogs or YouTube videos. Yes, I do see things from a different perspective.

    To turn the tables, you seem to carry such a low opinion of government and its employees. These folks are very accountable to general public as witnessed in the federal legislation you brushed over in your last post as well as the Value and Ethics Code of Conduct. All can be found on our friend called the “internet”. I would suggest that government employees are actually more scrutinized than many of the individuals that work for NGOs. List all the legislation they are accountable to? Many individuals in government are also part of professional organizations which also have their own rules and codes of conduct. I realize that you will suggest that they should be more accountable because they are funded by taxpayers which is true. It is a big difference given the responsibility level. So much so that environmental NGOs do not have much of a leg to stand on when they question the accountability and responsibility of government employees. The playing fields are not even comparable. You should also keep in mind that NGOs obtain money from public sources as well. In the media, NGOs can basically make comment on whatever they want (truth, omission of the truth or pure fabrication) and criticise government agencies as much as they want; whereas, the majority of public servants basically have to watch what they say and take most of it on the chin. This is where the playing field is completely one-sided.

    As for your criticism of open pen salmon farms I only have short response for this because I can go on for another 3 pages. You really need to look at each study and base it on what is going on in BC and not so much in other parts of the world. Yes, we can learn from other countries and their experiences….and in many cases BC has in regards to this issue. Again, you need to look beyond the hype and see what is done in other countries like Chile that is done differently in BC. Now you can just stop there and believe what environmental groups like the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform tells you on the issue on their blog, press releases or paddle trips….or you can look into this further and compare the expansion and regulatory environment of the Chilean industry with that in BC by talking to fish farmers and reading reports. As for the multitude of studies against fish farms, again you need to critically analyze them and see if the conclusions they make are valid for the methods used. For instance, correlation does not equal causation. There are lots of correlative studies done by researchers on this issue, but it is erroneous making them to be what they are not. You also have to ground truth your mathematical models with what the fish are actually doing. Upon further examination of the evidence you will notice that pink salmon are not heading for local extinction. Doom and gloom was predicted by environmental NGOs for the 2008 Fraser Sockeye outmigrants. Well…guess what…it didn’t materialize. This is when one has to pause and think “maybe there is much more going on that what we think”. I have gone to great lengths to educate myself on this issue. The choice is up to the individual whether they want to follow NGOs like sheep or not. The information is out there, but it is up to the individual to inform themselves with the facts.

  4. salmon guy Post author

    nice work Brian,
    like I said, you should really consider starting a blog – you have lots to say. You also seem hell-bent on an anti-NGO path. All of your comments directed towards my feeling of some government ministries (and some upper managers) can be flipped right back at you in your opinion of NGOs. For example, when it comes to disaster relief around the world, or even collecting blood here in Canada — if it wasn’t for NGOs, the world would be a much different place, and prob. not for the better.

    You make some great assumptions as well about where my efforts or research may or may not going — or which material I’ve read or not read to form my own opinions. For example, last time i checked there weren’t wild runs of salmon in Chile migrating through where the fish farms are. NGO material or not, the history of salmon farming and its impacts in other countries is not positive.

    The history of government consultation processes is also not all that great — I’ve participated in far more than enough to recognize language at the beginning that suggests the decisions have already been made; participated in far more than enough to hear “your feedback is important to us” to then see the end result which in fact takes none of the consultation into consideration — because the decision was made before the consultation started.

    Are all ‘consultation’ processes like this. No, on this you’re right. However, on ones as hot as salmon farming. Yes. (suppose will just have to wait for Cohen Commission results as well).

    it still goes back to language and to discretionary decision making power of politicians who know little on the issues. (e.g. it’s hard to know the issues when you sit in your office in Ottawa, your riding is on PEI for example and get memo’s from parliamentary secretaries or otherwise).

    thanks again for the comments.

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