The government of Canada is outsourcing public consultations on a new electoral system to a private firm, even as it juggles dozens of other consultative processes in-house.
According to government documents made public earlier this week, Ottawa wants to use taxpayer dollars to purchase “an online digital consultation and engagement strategy and platform to gather the views of Canadians on the values that they want to see reflected in a complex area of public policy.”
Vox Pop Labs is the preferred contender for the contract, the documents state.
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On Friday, a spokesperson for the Privy Council Office (PCO) confirmed that the “complex area of public policy” is indeed electoral reform.
“The Government of Canada wants to hear from Canadians about how we can strengthen our democracy and improve our electoral system,” said Raymond Rivet in an emailed statement.
“Given the importance of engaging with Canadians on electoral reform, the Government feels it necessary to contract with a company that has a proven track record in delivering this kind of service.”
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The building, maintenance, operation and analysis of results of the online platform are expected to cost no more than $250,000, he said.
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The consultations done by Vox Pop Labs will “complement” the consultations already taking place through the government’s Special Committee on Electoral Reform, Rivet said, “as well as the many other outreach activities being conducted by the Government including the national tour, virtual events and other resources available online at Canada.ca/democracy.”
The online consultation platform will include “an educational experience” to help Canadians “understand their own value preferences,” the government documents state, and must be launched by November.
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Vox Pop Labs, an independent, non-partisan group of social researchers and data scientists, is considered by Ottawa to be the only supplier that can meet all the requirements in such a tight time-frame. But any other company that thinks it can manage it is being told to contact the government by Sept. 16.
Vox Pop Labs is also the firm behind Vote Compass, an online tool that allows voters to compare their own political views to those of the major parties during an election campaign.
The company’s founder and CEO, Cliff van der Linden, said he could not provide any further information on the contract at this point.