The Green Party of Canada has become the first Canadian political party to officially support free and open source software in its election platform. The policy has both philosophical and technical motivations.
The Green Party’s policy explains briefly how free and open source software is compatible with Green ideas:
As computer hardware improves, it is important that software programs are readily modifiable by the people who buy and use them.
Free software gives users the ability to work together enhancing and refining the programs they use. It is a pure public good rather than a private good.
The Green Party supports the goals and ideals of Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) and believes that Canada’s competitiveness in global information technology (IT) will be greatly enhanced by strongly supporting FLOSS.
They outline two specific “Green Solutions”:
- Ensure that all new software developed for or by government is based on open standards and encourage and support a nationwide transition to FLOSS in all critical government IT systems. This will make Canada’s IT infrastructure more secure and robust, lower administration and licensing costs and develop IT skills.
- Support the transition to FLOSS throughout the educational system.
Although the Green Party has yet to win a seat in any federal or provincial elections in Canada, they are becoming more and more relevant with support reaching double-digits (in terms of their percentage of the popular vote) in recent years. They are breaking new ground by including free and open source software in their party policy, and although it’s quite unlikely that they’ll be in power anytime soon, they may be able to help raise some support and awareness for the cause. And who knows, maybe one day they’ll make enough noise that they might get the attention of other parties.
The policy is rather simple, but it makes perfect sense. For a government to rely on proprietary software puts its country at the mercy of a (most often foreign) private corporation for its IT needs. By using free and open source software, Canada can have real control over its own IT. Open standards are important for the government as well, since, for example, public documents should be accessible to everyone, not just the users of one particular proprietary operating system. (Just look at the trouble the BBC is having for snubbing non-Windows users – they’re not even government.)
Free software also makes sense for schools, especially secondary and tertiary schools. There’s the fact that it tends to cost a lot less (and is often available at no cost), the enhanced security that it provides, but there’s a very simple reason why free software is a must for academic institutions: you can learn from it. You can’t learn from proprietary software. Not only are you not given the source, but you’re usually legally forbidden to reverse engineer a program to try to discover how it works. Free software on the other hand protects your freedom to study the code to see what a program does, not only for security reasons but also for the purpose of education.
People tend to associate the Green Party with the environment, and while their policies are much wider reaching, environmental issues are still often at the core. And free software is no exception. Free software allows you to make use of older hardware in a way that the forced-upgrade business models of proprietary software developers never will. To run Windows Vista, most people need to buy a new computer. Meanwhile, with GNU/Linux, 10 year old computers are being recycled as workstations and web servers. Recently, the Green Party in the UK joined up with the Free Software Foundation in support for free software to boycott Vista because of the environmental concerns of forced hardware upgrades.
Linux.com also points out that the combination of technical and economic advantages free software provides allows the Greens to stay competitive on a much smaller budget.
There are so many reasons why free software makes sense, and it’s great that the Green Party of Canada has taken the lead on trying to bring the issue into the political arena.