Canada, we have a transparency problem when it comes to policy-making

Monday, January 31, 2022 - 07:03

In our new Eyes on Evidence report, we find that federal policies scored low when it came to the transparency of evidence usage

At E4D, our mission is clear: we work to promote the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada, because we all benefit when governments make decisions informed by the best available evidence.

Notably, the call for evidence is being driven by key policy actors at the federal level. Under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tenure, mandate letters issued to Cabinet ministers in 2015, 2019 and 2021 have all stated a commitment to the “use of science and evidence-based decision-making.”

If members of the public are to assess what progress has been made in this endeavour, they must be given the opportunity to scrutinize the relationship between evidence and policy decisions. This gives them the chance to consider whether they agree with how evidence is being used to formulate and justify public policy. In this sense, transparency is crucial.

Yet, conversations on evidence-informed decision-making tend to devote little focus to the public’s ability to understand the relationship between evidence and policy decisions. Since government policy is in essence a public good, it is important for policy-making to be as transparent as possible so that the public can understand what considerations lead to a decision, and why. 

At E4D, we’ve spent the past year digging into the issue of transparency in policy-making. Today, we’re thrilled to share our newest report with you: “Eyes on Evidence II: An assessment of the transparency of evidence usage in the Government of Canada.” 

Our report builds on our earlier work, where we adapted a framework, originally developed in the U.K. by Sense About Science, for the Canadian context. In this second phase, we applied the transparency framework to assess the transparency of evidence usage in a total of 100 policies from the Government of Canada. For each policy, we asked the question: can the evidence behind policy decisions be found by the public?

Based on our assessment, we found that the answer is a resounding no. 

Federal policies scored low when it came to the transparency of evidence usage, meaning that it’s very difficult for members of the public to find the evidence behind government policy. Too often, policies failed to provide a reference or citation for any evidence mentioned, and rarely acknowledged alternative policy options, or any absent, weak or contradictory evidence.

We’ll dive into our key findings further in our upcoming webinar, taking place at 12:30 PM ET on Tuesday 15th February 2022. Join us to share your thoughts, and together, we'll explore some of the bigger questions around transparency in policy-making.

This report is the beginning of a much needed examination of the essential role of transparency in evidence-informed decision-making — and we’re just getting started.

This project is being conducted in partnership with the Evidence to Action Research Institute. We thank the Trottier Family Foundation for making this work possible.


Farah Qaiser

Director of Research and Policy

In 2020, Farah completed a Master of Science at the University of Toronto, where she carried out DNA sequencing to better understand neurological disorders, and later worked as a researcher at the University Health Network’s Epilepsy Genetics Clinic.