January 26, 2006

Free software advocate finishes third in Canadian election

Author: Bruce Byfield

Mathieu Allard, the free software advocate who ran for the New Democrats in the riding of Saint Boniface, Manitoba, finished third in the Canadian national election on January 23. Since he was not elected, he is returning to his job as executive assistant to Christine Melnick, the Minister of Housing and Social Services in the Manitoba provincial government. He plans to look for new ways to promote the use of free software in government.

As in many ridings across Canada, the Saint Boniface race was a replay of the June 2004 federal election. The major political parties had the same candidates, who finished in the same order. According to unofficial
figures from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Raymond Simard, the Liberal incumbent in the riding, finished first with 16,417 votes, followed by Conservative Ken Cooper with 14,893 votes, and Allard with 9,311.

In keeping with the general disenchantment with the Liberal Party across Canada, Simard's votes declined from his total of 17,989 in the official count from 2004. Conversely, Cooper increased his votes from 11,956 while Allard increased his count from 6,954. Voter turnout in Saint Boniface was 66%, up slightly from 2004.

In a phone interview, Allard says that he was "satisfied" with his performance.

Allard says that he is uncertain what his next steps in free software advocacy will be. He is considering introducing a resolution at the next federal New Democratic Party convention, similar to the one he introduced in 2005 at the Manitoba NDP convention.

Allard is also considering looking into software procurement by the Manitoba and federal Canadian governments. However, he admits that he needs to research the issue. "Where do you
really start?" he asks. "How does the government make its software purchasing decisions? I think, in some cases, it's department by department. I'm still thinking, policy-wise, where to start."

In response to a comment made after our earlier article about his candidacy, Allard is also thinking about the promotion of open standards. He expresses interest in the OpenDocument format and the decision to adopt it in Massachusetts.

One way or the other, Allard hopes to step up his advocacy. On the telephone, he talked about using Plone or another free software content management system to provide a site that would help bring together people with similar interests. "I'm basically looking for people who would be willing to work with me as to where they think the next step should be for free software in government," he says.

Although free software issues were not prominent in the recent election, Allard remains convinced that their time has come. "I'm going to continue using [free software] and talking about it," Allard says. "Philosophy aside, I think there's a definite cost saving to be had from using free software."

"I'll keep working on these things," Allard promises.

Bruce Byfield is a course designer and instructor, and a computer journalist who writes regularly for NewsForge, Linux.com and IT Manager's Journal.

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