Ontario’s Digital and Data StrategySeptember 6th, 2023
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative (PC) government has highly prioritized digitization since first forming government in 2018. Ontario’s first digital and data strategy, Building a Digital Ontario (released in 2021), has been accompanied by a litany of incremental measures aimed at ushering Ontario into a new digital age of government service delivery. To this end, Ontario’s digital strategy aims to equip Ontarians with the skills they need to effectively navigate digital landscapes, and ensure open, safe, and secure access to government data related to education, health, and business. These pillars extend from the PC government’s ongoing commitments to reduce red tape and provide better customer service across government ministries and platforms. Ontario also introduced its Digital first for health, Broadband and Cellular Action Plan, and Digital Main Street initiatives as part of its strategy. These are aimed at improving digital health solutions for frontline personnel, expanding broadband infrastructure, and helping small businesses build and improve their online capabilities, and have been recently supplemented by successive announcements of improvements to digital infrastructure and security across government ministries and departments.
The shifting landscape, in terms of how Ontarians are storing, accessing, and sharing information – now predominantly online – created an impetus for the government to move quickly toward improving its digital and data management capabilities to better serve the needs of consumers in accessing government services. This is an issue that cuts across party lines and one whose importance was significantly elevated amid the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which there were prolonged lockdowns and a rapid shift to a remote working environment that could only be effectively facilitated through transferring a great deal of internal and external government operations online. Every party had an interest in supporting such measures amid the crisis. With the anticipated efficiencies in time and costs to be gained for the government through implementing new artificial intelligence technologies, in the interests of saving taxpayers’ money and improving outcomes, Ontario’s PC government has added motivation at this moment to propel digitization forward to new frontiers.
THE NATIONAL LANDSCAPE
Every provincial jurisdiction in Canada faces the same reality in terms of the shift of business and consumer activities online, and therefore, must continue to respond to the challenges and opportunities this presents. Canadians are increasingly accessing government, business, and banking services online. This has created new pathways for improving the customer experience by enabling them to access essential products and services at their fingertips – on their laptops, tablets, and smartphones. And it has also created novel challenges in protecting against new forms of cyber threats and crime. In their Online Safety in Canada report, released in 2022, Statistics Canada noted that 40 percent of those surveyed had recently received fraudulent content via various forms of digital communications, such as emails and social media. For this reason, trust in the security of those platforms, and newer platforms related to artificial intelligence technologies, remains low, at 55 and 31 percent among respondents respectively. It is no wonder, then, that over 75 percent of respondents indicated that they had enabled security features online. All this demonstrates the seriousness with which government must treat cyber security-related issues related to managing consumer data and access to their services.
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT IS SAYING
- “Reliable, high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, it is necessary for everyday life.”
– The Hon. Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario (4 November 2020)
- “Connecting homes, schools, and communities is critical as we build a modern economy and support the next generation of innovators in Ontario. Expanding internet access to families… will support our government’s commitment to get every home connected by 2025.”
– Hon. Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education and Member of Provincial Parliament for King—Vaughan (27 July 2021)
- “By reducing barriers and costs for internet providers to use existing electricity infrastructure, we are creating a path forward to deliver cost-effective and timely broadband service to communities across our vast province.”
– Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines (4 March 2021)
WHAT EXPERTS ARE SAYING
- “Canada’s future competitiveness and growth prospects are inextricably linked to our ability to seize the opportunities created by the rapidly evolving digital economy.”
– Institute for Research on Public Policy, A Digital Strategy for Canada: The Current Challenge (February 2019)
- “Communitech has been helping companies start, grow and succeed for more than 20 years. We are proud to now help future-proof Ontario businesses through the Digital Main Street initiative. Alongside our regional innovation partners, we’re ready to get to work and help businesses engage with their communities online, embrace e-commerce and reach new customers.”
– Iain Klugman, CEO and president at Communitech (11 June 2020)
- “Ontario’s economy and local communities thrive when small businesses succeed. We welcome the Government of Ontario’s support for small business to get online and embrace digital tools to grow their organizations.”
– Rocco Rossi, President & CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce (11 June 2020)
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
- “Canadian tech companies… work tirelessly to bring new products and processes to markets that will benefit our regional economies, expand our local tourism industries and most importantly, support Canadians. The Government of Canada is committed to supporting businesses as they adopt new digital solutions and create local jobs that will contribute to a growing economy that works for everyone.”
– The Honourable Filomena Tassi, Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (28 June 2023)
- “Canadians rely on wireless and Internet services for virtually everything: working, school, commuting, as well as staying in touch with loved ones.”
– The Hon. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (17 October 2022)
This year has been marked by repeated announcements related to moving more government services (such as, vehicle registrations and justice services) online, bolstering cyber security frameworks and mechanisms, and expanding access to high-speed internet across the province. Such initiatives should be expected to continue in the years to come as the government executes its expansive digital and data strategy.
JB+A Senior Management Team: