Elections and Open Data

24 Oct

With only a few days to go before Toronto’s municipal election I want to highlight one of my latest endeavours: EveryCandidate.org. It is a website that mashes up open data to provide insights and analysis on candidates for City Council.

I worked on this project with the amazing Phillip Smith, who was interviewed about the site on CBC’s Metro Morning.

One of the elements I enjoyed about this project was the challenge that Philip approached me with: What is the most amount of research you can do on candidates for the least amount of hours. Using the names, emails and postal codes of candidates, we were able to gather large amounts of information on candidates without looking each one up one at a time.

The site includes a profile page for each candidates for City Council and Public School Trustee. Each of these profiles include information such as if their name appears in the lobbyist registry, if they ran for office, or donated money in the last two elections, if they live inside the ward they are running in – and if not, how far away they live, as well as contact information and links to surveys on the councillors activities from other websites.

As well as these profile pages we created several articles and blog posts. One looked at the fact that over 35% of candidates for city council live outside the ward they are running in and explored a range of views on if living inside the ward is relevant. Another showed how many twitter followers each candidate has. We also used councillors twitter accounts to create a page that show the faces of almost all the candidates for city council.

I also published a chart that shows what portion of the current councillors’ donations in the last election came from inside their own ward and what portion came from outside of city limits. The results are fascinating, for example Giorgio Mammoliti had only 1% of his funds come from his own constituents. I had originally created this graphic a few months ago, but earlier efforts to publish it fell through, and I wanted to get it out before the election. A write up is found here, but I have also pasted the chart at the bottom of this post.

The election is almost over, but in order to make this project happen I had to learn a lot of new skills and I am looking forward to finding other places I can put them to use.


Spying, intelligence and Canada’s energy interests

24 Nov

Last month I wrote an article with Martin Lukacs that was published in the Guardian the explored the focus of Canada’s intelligence agencies on energy interests, and specifically looks at an ongoing series of events where Canadian agencies brief  energy companies on classified intelligence.

The article came on the heels of revelations by TV Globo and Glenn Greenwald, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, that the Communications Security Establishment Canada(CSEC)  had been spying on the Brazil Ministry of Mines and Energy.

There is a no indication that  intelligence gathered in Brazil, was shared with energy companies, but the briefings reveal another aspect of how Canada’s focus on supporting energy interests influences Canada’s spy agencies.

In the last week two article were published that show that the National Energy Board collaborated with CSIS and the RCMP to keep tabs on both environmental and indigenous groups who were taking an interest in Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline.

The first article in the Vancouver Observer, by Matthew Millar, shows documents that directly reference one of the classified briefings discussed in the Guardian article. Two days later the Globe and Mail published an article is by Shawn McCarthy based on the documents in the Vancouver Observer story.

You can find links documents on the briefings at the bottom of this article.  I originally wrote an article on these briefings a year earlier in the Dominion.

The PowerPoint on Canada’s Spying on Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy that was revealed by TV Globo has been republished here.

Government rolls out new Access to Information requests tools

18 Nov

I recently became aware of two new tools that were rolled out by the Canadian Government related to Access to Information request. One is a tool to search Completed Access to information requests and the other is a way to file Access to Information requests online

In April, I created my own tool to search completed Access to Information request but the government tool is much more robust and replaces any need for the one I created.

The tool allows you search completed Access to Information requests completed in 2012 and 2013. It searches 50 out of about 170 Institutions that are subject to Access to Information legislation, however it seems to cover the most important government departments, as well as bodies like Canada Post and the CBC. A list of institutions on the left hand side of screen allows you to filter your search to only the in institutions which you click on. And each result includes links to the contact information for the department so that you can request copies of the information provided in each competed request (it is free). It will be particularly useful when researching specific topics to get a quick sense of what requests have already been filed and easily get my hands on the documents. There is also a link on the page that allows you to download a list of the summaries of all completed Access to Information (right now just for Spring 2013).

The other tool is a way to file access requests online. Up until now Access to Information requests had to be filed and paid for through the post. But it seems that the government is trying out a system to file request online. At present you can only file online with three departments: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Shared Services Canada, and Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS). I imagine that they are testing it out now and may phase in other department overtime, if the system works for them.

I filed a request to test it out, and found the system fairly straight forward and simple. It basically consisted of filling out a series of web forms. Mostly I was prompted to provide the same information I provide in a letter, but I also had to indicate whether I was a Canadian Citizen, Permanent resident, or business; If I was requesting on my own behalf or on behalf of someone else;  the format I wish to receive the documents in; and whether I am media, business, academia, an organization, or member of the public. The other major difference is that unlike with a letter I needed to provide ID to show I am a Canadian Citizen / Resident.

On the whole I am impressed with both these tool, they are useful, display well, and are easy to use.  I am pleasantly surprised by this effort by government to make public records more accessible.

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Missing Plaque Coverage

9 Sep

The Missing Plaque Project recently received more coverage, this time an article in the Toronto Star:  http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/08/20/missing_plaque_project_unveils_torontos_untold_history.html

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Shape of the Harbour

13 Aug

ShapeofHarbour 2x3





Or an alternate version:


ShapeofHabour 1x6




Wonscotanach River

9 Aug


This is a remake of Missing Plaque Project poster I made several years ago.

Cherry Beach Express

8 Aug
Missing Plaque Project

Missing Plaque Project

After a hiatus for a few years I have started making new posters for the Missing Plaque Project





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