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Globe & Mail on Hillwatch's Submission to Industry Committee

Globe & Mail POSTED AT 12:11 AM EDT    Friday, April 27/01

Lobby group urges government to use Web for policy discussions

Globe and Mail Update

Toronto — Government must regard the Internet as a "pre-digestion chamber" for public policy discussions, a leading lobby group urges.

In a submission to the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Industry, which is reviewing the Lobbyist Registration Act, Hillwatch said that the Internet is providing the policy-making process with unprecedented access to public opinion, and conversely that the public should have greater access to government.

Scott Proudfoot, a lobbyist with Hillwatch, an Ottawa-based lobby group, told the committee reviewing the act that the primary goal of consultation, which has traditionally been done by a series public of hearings, must be as transparent as possible.

Using the Internet, Mr. Proudfoot said, will usher in a "new era of on-line government.”

"Imagine civil society advocacy groups asking their supporters to donate their excess desktop computing power to allow them to cheaply create television-quality broadcasts over the Internet," he said.

He used as an example of a new system introduced in Britain by Prime Minister Tony Blair called UK Online UK Online and particularly a feature in it called Citizen Space. These mechanisms, Mr. Proudfoot said, will improve the efficiency of the consultation process.

By law, the Lobbyist Registration Act must be reviewed regularly by the industry committee.

"What you want to do is three things," he told Globetechnology.com. "You want to make the process as transparent as possible, include all the people who should be included, and make sure they know when the consultations are going to happen."

He gave an example of government public and private e-mail lists that would automatically be sent notifying interested people when a government hearing has been scheduled and what it will be about.

He had particular praise for the new Department of Finance Web site, which has added a "consultations" button on its home page leading to a list of scheduled public hearings with details of the kind of input the government wants to hear.

"This is routine technology right now," he said. "So why doesn't government just do it?"

Hillwatch Inc., 45 O’Connor St. Suite 1150, Ottawa ON K1P 1A4 tel: (613) 238-8700 fax: (866) 310-4955