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New report finds Government of Canada scores low on transparency of evidence usage

Ottawa - January 31, 2022

In a new report, titled “Eyes On Evidence II: An assessment of the transparency of evidence usage in the Government of Canada,” Evidence for Democracy (E4D) evaluated 100 policies from the Government of Canada using a transparency framework. E4D found that federal policies scored low on the transparency of evidence usage, meaning that it’s difficult for the public to find the evidence behind government policy.

“In Eyes On Evidence, we asked: can the evidence behind policy decisions be found by the lay public?” said Farah Qaiser, E4D’s Director of Research and Policy. “It’s an important question because government policy is in essence a public good. Policy-making must be as transparent as possible so that we can understand what considerations lead to a decision, and why.”

In recent years, the Government of Canada has repeatedly committed to using the best available science and evidence in its decision-making. 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.” 
E4D’s assessment found that policies often failed to provide a reference or citation for any evidence mentioned. Almost all policies scored poorly in the testing and evaluation section (i.e., to know how and when a policy has worked), and rarely explored the merits of alternative policy options, or acknowledged any absent, weak or contradictory evidence.

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

“Being upfront about the evidence shaping policy is one way for governments to demonstrate that they trust the public to grasp the realities of an issue, even when decisions are being made within margins of uncertainty, contradictory evidence, or gaps in knowledge,” said Rachael Maxwell, E4D’s Executive Director. “We all need to get a lot more comfortable in admitting there are no absolutes, not in science and not in public policy, but that we are making decisions with what we know and don’t know at that moment.”

Read the full report:

Media Contact
Rachael Maxwell
Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy 
Phone: 514-589-3784

Evidence for Democracy is the leading, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada.

Rachael Maxwell

Executive Director (On leave until October 2023)

Rachael Maxwell joins Evidence for Democracy with a deep knowledge of the science landscape in Canada and a strong track record of success working at national not-for-profit research organizations. From 2018-21 she held progressively responsible roles at Genome Canada, working across the organization on key priorities in communications, public affairs and strategic planning. Previously, Rachael worked at Mitacs on the Canadian Science Policy Fellowship where she managed the design and delivery of the program from its inception through its first three cohorts. Rachael is also a member of the Board of the Directors at the Science and Policy Exchange. Rachael is passionate about working at the intersection of science, society and policy. She speaks to diverse audiences at home and abroad about the need to improve the mechanisms that connect science and policy. Rachael also brings years of experience working in arts management and an academic background in cultural studies.