‘No downside’ to open data policy

Digital key in pixeled keyhole, 3d renderThere was a great article discussing Greg Norton‘s “Open Data” motion to Saint John Common Council in today’s Telegraph Journal!

The article below was written by Ryan Melanson:

City Council is set to revisit the idea of establishing an open data policy for municipal information at Monday night’s meeting, with Coun. Greg Norton pushing a motion that will define clear guidelines on what city data should be released, when it should be done and by what standards.

Open data, as Norton’s motions describes it, refers to the free publishing of city information, in accessible and machine-readable formats, without any restrictions on use.

This means anything from geographic data like transit routes and stops, financial information dealing with the spending of public money, where steps have recently been taken around posting salaries and funding details to external agencies, or more specific, obscure data like a percentage of people who don’t pay their water bill on time, or police traffic enforcement statistics. The possibilities are endless, and may even depend on what people want to see or use, Norton said.

The city already does a fair job in terms of having information available, Norton said, but it’s not always easy to retrieve, buried in archives or requiring other steps.

“This will mean we’re not layering all our information in red tape for the folks who want to use it to create solutions to societal or governmental issues.”

While increased transparency is key, Norton said the problem-solving and innovation possibilities are a kicker that gets him excited.

Shawn Peterson, an award winning developer and ICT worker at T4G in Saint John, said having raw data in the right open formats creates opportunities for the private sector to come up with solutions in a way governments simply don’t have the time or resources for.

Peterson’s mines data from the provincial government to help users compare their property tax assessments with others nearby. He took government data, analyzed it and developed it into a useful application with money-making potential.

Those are the possibilities with open data, new solutions and job creation, he said.

“You see governments throwing money at this and that, that’s the worst thing you can do. How about you start putting data out there, and then someone can create a business based off that, how cool would that be?”

Norton pointed to HotSpot Parking Inc., led by Fredericton business student Phillip Curley, who created a mobile parking payment system with information from the city’s traffic department. The company is expected to test in Saint John soon.

“He created an app and a company using that data he mined from the municipality,” Norton said.

He added these possibilities could be increased further if the province’s three major cities could work to create open-data pools under the same consistent standards. Similar steps have been taken between municipalities in Ontario.

“Because that increases the usability of the information we’re going to disclose to the public and to the people who want to access and mine it.”

With increased co-operation between Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton a new priority, a new budget looming, and a bustling tech sector ready to jump at sets of raw data and their possible uses, the time is right to draft a true policy, Norton said.

“There’s no downside to this,” Peterson added, noting so much data is already in existence, just simply not available, or only available in a hard-to-find PDF files, useless to developers.

“The worst case scenario is the city releases some data sets and nobody uses it.”

Norton said if his motion passes, a priority for him will be ensuring any data policy is implemented correctly, with sets released consistently and in a timely manner.

“I’ll be pushing for strict implementation guidelines, so that once this information is available, it’s not antiquated by the time we post it,” he said, referencing large amounts of dated information on department sections of the city’s website.

“If we do it right we could release data sets that other cities aren’t, and do it in a way that’s useful and improves openness and transparency.

Councillor Norton’s motion is below:

Open Data Policy: October 28, 2013

Mayor Mel Norton and Members of Common Council

Your Worship and Councillors:

Subject: Open Data Policy



The City of Saint John has demonstrated a commitment to transparent and inclusive government. The benefits of establishing an open data policy framing this commitment can lead to improved coordination and information sharing between City of Saint John agencies, while the development of such a policy can also fuel economic development in the civic-tech sector and with a healthy ICT sector in our community the time is ripe. It is also widely understood that beyond just improving transparency a clear open data policy improves governance itself.

Open Data is a philosophy and practice to provide some of the municipally-generated data to the public in a machine-readable format, without the restrictions of copyright, patent or other control mechanisms and, most importantly, free of charge. The most commonly used open data focuses on structured data, such as geographic data, scheduling, statistics, and demographic data. It is important to highlight that the City of Saint John is a leader in accessible, open and transparent information by way of many departments. For example, the GIS department, is a leader in geographic data that is mined by many agencies external to the City of Saint John, the Common Clerk is also instrumental in maintaining and archiving all official records, contracts and deeds. Many of our departments provided open data in their respective commitment to transparent and inclusive government.

The objective of open data is to eliminate burdens to access data created or managed by government agencies, while respecting privacy and sensitivity concerns.  It enables entrepreneurs, academics, community groups, other learning communities, developers, and interested citizens to use data to improve the social experience and stimulate economic growth through data applications. Open data has been fueling economic development as reported by a recent study, which found that half a million jobs have been created around mobile and web apps. Lastly, the overarching aim of this motion is to set in policy what many divisions of the City of Saint John are currently practicing on a continual and timely basis.


(1.) Engage all City of Saint John departments, agencies, boards and commissions, including the Saint John Police, Power Commission of the City of Saint John and Saint John Water for input in the drafting of a City of Saint John Open Data Policy.

(2.) Request the City Manager to draft an open data policy that reflects the input received during the engagement process to be considered for adoption by Saint John Common Council and subsequently all departments, agencies boards and commissions.


Yours Sincerely,

Greg Norton

Councillor (Ward 1)

City of Saint John

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ZoneSJ – Saint John’s New Zoning Bylaw

It’s an exciting time for Saint John – a new draft zoning bylaw has just been released for public review!

Why do we need a new zoning bylaw?

The City must adopt a new zoning bylaw that conforms with the municipal plan, PlanSJ.  When PlanSJ was adopted by common council in January 2012, a new land use map was adopted and conflicting and incompatible land uses identified.  ZoneSJ, the zoning bylaw, will establish provisions and regulations that implement the policies set out in PlanSJ.

What is ZoneSJ?

The city has a website up with everything you need to know:

My suggestion is to start with the Guide to ZoneSJ document, it’s a great source of information – including many common questions and answers.

The Draft Zoning Bylaw

The complete draft zoning bylaw is now available to read:

How will my property be affected?

The city has provided a great online mapping tool to allow you to view the proposed zoning changes at

Clicking on an area will provide information about the proposed new zoning type along with links to additional details about the new zone.


An address search is also available – letting you quickly find a specific property:



ZoneSJ Open House Events

The city is hosting open house events across the city to present the draft bylaw.

These events will be a great opportunity to learn more and to ask any questions that you may have:

ZoneSJ Open House Events



Have comments about the draft bylaw?

Send them along to – and do so before the cut-off date:

The Growth & Community Development Service is asking for final comments to be submitted no later than Friday November 29, 2013 in order to facilitate a timely turn-around and report back to Council on what has been heard about the new draft Zoning By-law.

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Saint John Ward 3 By-Election Prediction Results

2012 PredictionsThroughout the Saint John Ward 3 By-Election, I ran a poll asking people to predict the outcome.

I posted a snapshot of the results prior to Election day:

After that post, I received additional entries to bring the total submissions up to 40.

As there was only one candidate to choose from, I also asked people to predict the number of votes they would receive (along with total votes cast in case of a tie).

Prediction Winner

Bragging rights (until the next Ward 3 By-Election) now go to:

  • Dave Drinnan – who lives in Ward 3successfully predicted the winning candidate (Gerry Lowe), and he was closest to predicting  the total votes received 1000 (actual was 1028).  He was also pretty close on the total votes cast, predicting 2,400 (actual was 2,782).

Group Prediction Results

When looking at the total responses for the entire group, people were strongly predicting a Michelle Hooton victory (with a close race between Gerry Lowe and Graeme Stewart-Robertson for second place):



Michelle Hooton


Gerry Lowe


Graeme Stewart-Robertson


Group Prediction Surprises

The group ended up predicting the wrong candidate, and the percentages were quite off when compared to the actual the vote breakdown: Saint John Ward 3 By-Election Results

If you only look at Ward 3 predictors, the results closer; but, Michelle Hooton was still clearly leading within that group.

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Saint John Ward 3 By-Election Results

Below are the unofficial results of the Saint John Ward 3 By-Election:



Brian Boyd


Barbara Ellemberg


Michelle Hooton


Mark LeBlanc


Allen Leslie


Gerry Lowe


Anne-Marie Mullin


Graeme Stewart-Robertson


Voter turnout was 2,782 out of 11,663 voters (23.85%).

Congratulations Gerry!

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Saint John 2013 Ward 3 By-Election Election Prediction

Update: I’ve updated the charts below to reflect the additional predictions made yesterday; however, the percentages have remained relatively stable.

Tomorrow is election day in Saint John – the Ward 3 By-Election is nearly over; but, you still have a chance to change the outcome!

As everyone keeps asking me how the “prediction contest” is going, I’ve decided to post the current survey snapshot in the hope that this may spur more people into casting a ballot.

There are currently 36 responses from people – the majority of responses coming from within Ward 3.

Ward 3 Areas

The Prediction:

The chart below shows who these 36 people are “predicting” to win a seat:

Ward 3 Predictions


It appears that is Michelle Hooton is the favorite to win – with both Gerry Lowe and Graeme Stewart-Robertson close behind.  What do you think?  Are they right?

For your reference, during the last Ward 3 By-Election (Dec 2010), Mel Norton was elected with 516 votes. Total number of votes cast was: 1,941.

Note: This contest is simply for fun.  I’m very curious to see if anyone can accurately pick the winning candidate – along with number of votes (for bragging rights).  The actual outcome, as always, is decided by the people to go and vote.  If you want to see your candidates win – get out and vote!


Additional Information

Looking to get your picks submitted into the contest?  Submit your picks here (up until 8pm on Election Night):

Looking to learn more about the candidates?

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Ward 3 Candidate Video Interviews

YouTubeVarious broadcast students attending Atlantica Centre for the Arts have created video interviews of the Saint John Ward 3 By-Election Candidates.

Check them out below!

Read more about the candidates here:

Brian Boyd

Barbara Ellemberg

Michelle Hooton

Mark LeBlanc

No interview.

Allen Leslie

Gerry Lowe

Anne-Marie Mullin

Graeme Stewart-Robertson


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Predict the Ward 3 By-Election Winner

Voting MachineThink you have what it takes to correctly pick the winning candidate for the Ward 3 Municipal By-Election?

You did so well at predicting the winners in the 2012 election, that I’m curious if you can do it again.

You can submit your pick here:

Also, don’t forget to actually vote!

Looking to learn more about the candidates?

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Saint John 2013 Ward 3 By-Election – Candidate’s Email Answers

Social Media ElectionAs was done during the 2012 Saint John Municipal Election, Sarah Ingalls (@s_ingalls) and Sally Blount (@SaintJohnSally), are reaching out to the various Ward 3 by-election candidates to ask a set of questions, and I will be posting the responses for everyone to see.

The questions and answers generated a lot of traffic last time, and we hope to do the same again – allowing voters in Ward 3 an opportunity to hear more from each candidate to allow them to make an informed decision!

Below are the questions being asked to each candidate via email:

1. What are your top two priorities?

2. What is your professional background and training?

3. What is your volunteer experience?

4. What are your thoughts on the current city transit situation?

5. Are you familiar with the bus system and have you used it on a regular basis?

6. What do you see as Ward 3’s biggest issues?

7. Are you willing to address issues with city staff and do any restructuring that may need to be done?

8. Do you support the creation of a Multiplex in Saint John?

9. What improvements do you feel can be made to Saint John’s current garbage/compost collection?

10. Do you support the return of food trucks to Saint John?

11. There has been recent discussion on the state of the Jellybean Houses (purchased by the city in case they were needed when constructing the Peel Plaza complex and parking garage) and how the city should proceed with these houses. Opinions vary between the buildings being unsalvageable and should be torn down, to restoring the properties. How do you feel the city should proceed?

12. Recent news articles have highlighted issues with upcoming union contract negotiations, specifically the guaranteed staffing levels for Outside Workers Local 18, and the no layoff clause for the Saint John Police Association (with the understanding they report to the Police Commission). Given these provisions are not carried over in other union contracts, or to other departments within the city, what challenges/opportunities do you feel this presents for the city of Saint John?

Below are the answers received (so far):

Read more…

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LNG property assessment was referenced in a recent story on CBC NB about the LNG Tax Deal:

Saint John’s Canaport LNG facility once again ranks as the province’s priciest real estate, but a controversial eight-year-old property tax deal it cut with the city has kept its bill low.

You can view the video below:

You can see the assessments here:

A story later appeared online to go with the above video that included my Dad’s story:

Saint John’s Canaport LNG facility — New Brunswick’s most expensive piece of property — continues to grow in value, but its taxes are holding steady because of an eight-year-old property tax deal it cut with the city.

The liquid natural gas terminal is New Brunswick’s most valuable piece of assessed property at just under $300 million.

The facility’s value grew $4.3 million this year, on top of a $4.4-million increase last year.

A 25-year property tax deal struck by former Saint John mayor Norm McFarlane for the LNG development froze its bill at $500,000 a year.

The property tax deal caused protests in the city for weeks.

Eight years later the gap between LNG and other facilities continues to grow.

By comparison, the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station now pays $5.8 million in property tax — 12 times more than the LNG terminal — even though its assessment is $66 million lower.

“I’m assuming they’re sending someone down each and every year to determine what the value is and it seems to be going up a few million dollars each and every year,” says Shawn Peterson, who runs the, a website that provides searchable tax assessment information.

Peterson said provincial assessors do keep track of the LNG plant, although, in the end, it’s salt in the wound for a city forbidden from cashing in on its growing property value.

Last month, former Liberal premier Frank McKenna said the LNG plant may yet trigger an economic rebirth for Saint John, well beyond the modest annual contribution it makes to the city’s tax haul.

Homeowners facing hikes

Meanwhile, New Brunswick has lifted a three-per-cent property tax freeze that’s been in place for the last two years.

That has been causing some tax bill jumps, including in Saint John where some residents and other property owners are facing huge increases.

Isaac Miller is a frequent user of the city’s four-year-old skateboard park.

“It’s really great to have a public park that has no costs,” said Miller.

Provincial assessors slapped the park with a $1,051 tax bill — 150 times more than the $7 it was charged the last two years.

Last year, Walter Peterson did energy efficiency renovations on his 30-year-old eastside bungalow, including new windows and vinyl siding.

Peterson was expecting a bump in his tax bill.

The province added $148,000 to his assessment.

“I almost fell off the chair because it went up 122 per cent,” said Peterson

His house, valued at $121,000 each of the last two years, is now assessed at just under $270,000 with a $4,300 property tax bill to match.

The renovations were encouraged by the province and partially paid for by Efficiency NB.

“Well if I get $269,000, it’s sold. Anyone who wants to come with a cheque, it’s gone,” he said.

Peterson has already filed an appeal, one of thousands the province deals with annually.

Related information:

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True Growth 2.0 Executive Summary

It’s been a busy few days!

True Growth 2.0 was handed over to the Regional Mayor’s last night after several months of work.

At the public portion of the event, Deputy Mayor Shelley Rinehart gave a high level overview of the plan.  Below are a few snippets from today’s Telegraph-Journal article on the event and plan:

A proposed strategy to bolster economic growth in the region will focus on attracting jobs and investment in six sectors that range from health sciences to financial services.

The economic development plan for Greater Saint John seeks to build on the region’s strengths, such as affordable living and the port that offers a shipping gateway to the world, to draw more workers and businesses.

Deputy Mayor Shelley Rinehart, chairwoman of a steering committee behind the proposal, said business leaders and the region’s economic development agency will be responsible for setting goals and seeing them through.

“In January there will be a call to action, and I hope all of you are ready to roll up your sleeves and work hard,” Rinehart told a crowd of business executives and politicians at the Diamond Jubilee Cruise Terminal.

The new strategy focuses on attracting jobs and investment in six areas: tourism, energy, financial, insurance and professional services, advanced manufacturing and industrial fabrication, information and communications technology and health sciences.

Many of those were part of the old plan, dubbed True Growth, but Rinehart said her steering committee confirmed over the last few months that there is still great opportunity to grow these sectors even more.

via (written by Reid Southwick)


The executive summary of the report was handed out at the event, and I wanted to make sure was shared online for anyone that wasn’t able to attend.  Click the image below to download a copy:


Update: The full report can be viewed here!

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