A New Age of Digital Government

Joyce Murray was appointed Canada’s first standalone minister of digital government following the October 2019 election. What does this move signal to Canadians, and what should they expect when it comes to things like simplifying access to government services, or the privacy and security measures that protect it? What implications will this have for business across the country? Sixth Estate’s Before the Bell assembled a panel of stakeholders and experts, along with the minister, to discuss these questions.

“Digital government will put the Canadian citizen at the centre of our thinking and organize around that, which is a challenge,”

Hon. Joyce Murray MP, Minister of Digital Government

On the question of whether Canadians are ready for digital government, polling numbers courtesy of Abacus Data showed that only ten percent of millennials read print newspapers, compared to 36 percent of baby boomers, while 71 percent of millennials say that they love being digitally connected constantly, compared to only 36 percent of baby boomers.

Sixth Estate host Andrew Beattie led off with Murray, who said that digital government starts from the point of view of who need services rather than organizing government around departments.

“Digital government will put the Canadian citizen at the centre of our thinking and organize around that, which is a challenge,” said Murray. “Yes, we use information technology, yes there are some ‘elderly’ systems and applications that we’re using and we want to use more modern tools, but at the core of this is that we want Canadians to experience their transactions and services from government as being as quick, effective, and secure as they can transact with Amazon to buy something or deposit a cheque at the bank with their iPhone.”

Murray says that Canada is in the top half-dozen nations when it comes to using digital tools, and that Canada meets with other “digital nations” in annual meetings so that they can learn from each other. She added that digital governance requires a change not only in structures and authorities of government, but also a shift in thinking within the public service.

“It’s an organizational change that will take some time, and will be done step-by-step,” says Murray, crediting her predecessor at Treasury Board, Scott Brison, for taking the first steps.

During the Pulse segment, with host David AkinElizabeth Roscoe, senior vice-president and national practice leader in public affairs for Hill+Knowlton Strategies, said that the idea of a ministry for digital government is possibly a bit late in coming when compared to some other nations.

“I would suggest that Minister Murray has the right approach of having a group of public servants that are going to work with her across government to achieve these ends,” said Roscoe. “There is the priority question — what can you accomplish in fairly short order to change the way that citizens interact with government? There needs to be a ‘carrot’ and the systems behind that carrot to make people realize they can do that with government now.”

Rick Anderson, principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, pointed to Estonia, where everyone has a digital ID as part of their move to digital governance.

“We need to step back and find a way do this in a way that exists across party lines and across terms of a particular government, because rebuilding your digital presence, rebuilding the government’s web presence, rebuilding the single-window that the minister is charged with creating — that can’t be done in the term of a single government,” said Anderson.

During the Policy segment, hosted by Beattie, Michel Girard, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said that while there is political will for a number of their issues, there need to be building-blocks put in place in the backrooms to ensure that there is implementation for the transition to digital.

“There are no internationally-recognized standards to manage this new sector of the economy,” said Girard. “When you think about data, think about data governance, think about data value-chains, think about data-valuation — there’s nothing out there. It’s an entirely new sector of the economy, and we are looking at thousands of new standards that are required so that you achieve inter-operability, so that data can be shared, and that when you get data, you know you can trust it.”

Girard says that Canada is ahead of the curve of other countries in these areas, and if Canada can set standards, we can see our values reflected globally in this field.

Michael Klubal, national industry leader for infrastructure, government and healthcare with KPMG, said that the most important element of becoming digital is having leadership change-agents, who define an ambition for their organizations and empower their people to make a difference.

“Barriers need to be taken away for people to be able to think horizontally and become more citizen-centric,” said Klubal. “Part of that shift is not thinking about what the organization is good at doing internally, but it’s about looking externally, talking to citizens, creating personas and using journey-maps, and mapping out what kind of an experience that we would want as citizens when we interact with our government.”

Klubal added that challenges for public sector leaders will be not only in breaking down silos, but changing the culture around risk-aversion, which will mean creating space for experimentation.

Angela Mondou, president and CEO of TECHNATIONca, said that Canada doesn’t have an innovation problem so much as an innovation adoption problem, particularly given that Canada sits at 23rd on the UN index of e-government, and tenth out of ten countries when it comes to AI adoption.

“As much as we’re thought leaders and innovators and great technology leaders, we are going down in terms of our adoption, and that is impacting our competitiveness as a nation,” said Mondou.

Mondou said that Canada is behind in terms of modernization as a government, and in terms of the digital economy. “We have work to do,” she added, saying that could mean harnessing private sector solutions.

Watch the full show here:

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