The government posted its Reports on Plans and Priorities for dozens of departments and agencies yesterday. The Industry Canada report makes for interesting reading as there is a section on the still missing Digital Economy Strategy that includes targets for e-commerce buying and selling in Canada. The department states:
Industry Canada will continue to implement measures in support of the Digital Economy Strategy to accelerate adoption of digital technologies, promote trust and confidence in the online marketplace and foster a globally competitive ICT sector based on a modern legislative framework, a robust digital infrastructure and a digitally skilled workforce.
Leaving aside the fact that there is no digital economy strategy – or at least the government has still not released the long overdue document – the report also includes a target to determine whether the Canadian online economy is “governed by an effective policy and regulatory framework.” The government’s performance indicator is the percentage of Canadians buying and selling online, with the targets set at 43% of Canadians buying and 15% selling.
If anyone needed confirmation that the government, now led on this file by Industry Minister Christian Paradis, is completely clueless when it comes to the digital economy strategy, these targets provide it. First, there are multiple factors that comprise success in the Canadian digital economy (overall sales, new Canadian Internet companies, venture capital investment, global traffic, business use of e-commerce, etc.) such that merely relying on purchasing habits are insufficient.
Second, the government could not have set a less ambitious target. According to the Statistics Canada 2010 Canadian Internet Use survey, 51% of Canadian Internet users ordered goods or services for personal or household use in 2010, while 19% of Internet users sold goods or services. The Statscan data admittedly covers Internet users (as discussed below comprising 80% of the population), while the government is interested in all Canadians, but the two-year old data suggests Canadians are already at or above the digital economy targets. This week’s Industry Committee report on e-commerce cites similar data and indicates that 54% of Internet users had placed online orders by 2009. Given how long Canadians have waited for a digital economy strategy, it is hard to believe the government is setting outdated targets before even releasing the strategy document.
In fact, Industry Canada also identifies two additional targets with respect to e-commerce that provide further cause for concern. First, it sets a target of 65% of Canadian businesses being aware of their responsibilities and compliance obligations under Canada’s privacy laws. Given that private sector privacy legislation took effect in 2001 (broadly applicable in 2004), setting a target that acknowledges that one-third of all Canadian businesses will not even be aware of their legal obligations with respect to privacy is incredibly weak. In fact, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada sets a target of 90% awareness among private sector organizations in its report.
In addition, the department has set a target of 86% of Canadians using the Internet. The last Canadian Internet Use Survey, based on 2010 data, found that 80% of Canadians use the Internet. While increasing the 80% figure is laudable, it may be difficult to do with the government’s decision to cancel the Community Access Program, which was particularly instrumental in providing access to lower income Canadians. According to Statistics Canada, nearly 4 in 10 non-users (39%) come from households in the lowest income quartile.