Open source advocates step up government lobby efforts

A Canadian open source group focused on the public sector is bypassing this week’s GTEC conference in favour of a direct marketing approach to members of parliament.

Getting Open Source Logic Into Government (GOSLING) recently distributed a package containing two CDs with open source software and a backgrounder on Canadian use of the technology to the offices of 308 MPs. The campaign is part of an effort to educate the Harper government on the benefits of what GOSLING members refer to as free/libre open source software, or FLOSS.

“The Government of Canada spends billions each year on custom software development, software licences, and integration of proprietary systems and standards. Governments worldwide have been depending on FLOSS for decades, and the trend continues to increase,” the backgrounder says. “During your work as an MP, we encourage you to ask the public service where they are including free/libre open source approaches in their acquisition, use, production and distribution of software. We hope you might encourage further investigation of its benefits within the Canadian Government.”

Mike Richardson, principal of an Ottawa-based IT consultancy and a GOSLING member, said volunteers will be following up individually with MPs in their area to gauge their familiarity and interest in open source issues. GOSLING was not expecting a deluge of e-mails, he said, or even for MPs to put a strange CD received through the mail into their office computer.

“If they take the CD out of the package and use it as a coaster, we consider that to be a win,” he said. “If one of their staffers hands it to their 16-year-olds and asks, ‘What the hell is this?’ that’s even better.”

While many public sector IT workers and government officials are attending this week’s GTEC conference in Ottawa, Richardson said GOSLING will not be taking part. He said GTEC organizers have approached members in the past about speaking at the event, but rescinded the invitation after GOSLING refused to buy booth space.

“It hasn’t been a very good working relationship,” he said. “Maybe they have turnover and their staff don’t remember what they did from year to year.”

Although it has been active for several years, GOSLING has primarily been an informal knowledge-sharing group for open source users. Russell McOrmond, a GOSLING member who is also based in Ottawa, said the important thing is not just increasing open source adoption in the public sector.

“My goal is to get parliamentarians aware of it so when they’re regulating the software industry, they’re aware there are multiple competing business models, and that they’re not destroying the industry in order to protect it,” he said.

While GOSLING had found a sympathetic ear in former MP Reg Alcock, McOrmond said the regime change in Ottawa has meant searching among new faces for support. One possibility, he said, is James Ragotte, MP for Edmonton-Leduc who used to act as Industry critic when the Conservative Party was still in opposition.

“Normally you can’t tell who the important people are before they become important,” McOrmond said.

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