By Neal Jennings (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By Neal Jennings (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Digital Canada 150: Why the Canadian Strategy Misses Key Issues and Lags Behind Peer Countries

In my first post on Digital Canada 150, Canada’s digital strategy, I argued that it provided a summation of past accomplishments and some guidance on future policies, but that it was curiously lacking in actual strategies and goals. Yesterday I reviewed how Canada’s universal broadband access target lags behind much of the OECD (Peter Nowak characterizes the target as the Jar Jar Binks of the strategy). The problems with Digital Canada 150 extend far beyond connectivity, however.  In comparing the Canadian strategy with countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, it becomes immediately apparent that other countries offer far more sophisticated and detailed visions for their digital futures. While there is no requirement that Canada match other countries on specific goals, it is disappointing that years of policy development – other countries were 5 to 10 years ahead of Canada – ultimately resulted in a document short on strategy, specifics, and analysis.

For example, compare the clarity of goals between Canada and Australia:

By 2020, Australia will rank in the top 5 OECD countries in the portion of households that connect to broadband at home. “Over 98% of all Canadians will have access to high-speed Internet at 5 megabits per second (Mbps) – a rate that enables e-commerce, high-resolution video, employment opportunities and distance education – providing rural and remote communities with faster, more reliable online services.”
By 2020, Australia will rank in the top 5 OECD countries in the portion of businesses and not-for-profits using online opportunities to drive productivity improvements, expand their customer base, and enable jobs growth “Canadian companies, large and small, will use digital tools to boost productivity, develop their businesses and capture growing markets and home and abroad.”
By 2020, the majority of Australian households, businesses, and other organizations will have access to smart technology to better manage their energy use. No discussion of energy use.
By 2020, 90% of high prority consumers (older Australians, babies, etc.) will have access to individual electronic health records. No discussion of health records. Closest goal is “Canada will be one of the global leaders in applying ‘big data’ to change how we think about and carry out health care, research and development, as well as the myriad of activities of business and government.”
By 2020, Australia schools will have connectivity to develop and collaborate on innovative and flexible educational services and resources to extend online learning resources to the home and workplace No discussion of schools (only reference is to support for Computers for Schools program).
By 2020, Australia will have at least doubled its level of teleworking so that at least 12% of Australian employees report having teleworking arrangements with their employer No discussion of teleworking.
By 2020, 80% of Australians will choose to engage with the government through the Internet or other type of online service. “The Government of Canada will be a leader in using digital technologies to interact with Canadians, making it simpler and quicker to access services and information online.”
By 2020, gap between households and businesses in capital cities and those in regional areas will have narrowed significantly No discussion of urban vs. rural divide.

The Canadian strategy simply ignores many key areas commonly found in digital strategies such as telework, telehealth, and education.  Moreover, even where the strategy addresses similar issues there are few targets that can be used to measure success. Instead, the Canadian strategy frequently talks about being a “leader”.

Not only does the Australia strategy establish measurable goals, it openly discusses where the country stands and why action is needed. For example, the strategy examines Internet usage data, noting that:

“About 26 per cent of Australians 15 years or over did not use the internet in 2008–09. This figure is much higher for retired persons, low-income earners,
 Indigenous Australians and those living in remote areas.

There are similar statistics available in Canada. Internet use among the richer half of the country is actually over 90 per cent with the top quartile of household income at 94.5 per cent and the second quartile at 90.2 per cent. Internet use among the bottom quartile of Canadians stands at only 62.5 per cent (the third quartile is 77.8 per cent). The digital divide remains consistent across all demographics with wealthier households far likelier to use the Internet than poorer ones regardless of their age.

Last year, the Australian government released a 152 page update on its strategy, identifying dozens of actions that had been taken or that were underway.  In addition to cybercrime initiatives similar to those in Canada, actions included developing a new curriculum for technologies and promoting the adoption of cloud computing in Australia.  The update also provided data on whether the government was meeting its target goals.

The United Kingdom’s Digital Britain report, which dates back to 2009 and is 245 pages length (roughly 10 times the size of Digital Canada 150), is even more extensive. For example, on the issue of connectivity, it discusses both access and affordability, recognizing that access alone is insufficient. To address affordability, it proposed a 300 million pound Home Access program for low income families. Digital Britain also discusses the future of its public broadcaster, the BBC, to address how it can remain relevant in the online world. There is no reference to the CBC in Digital Canada 150.  Digital Britain also reaches into issues such as health, transport, energy, and education, areas largely ignored in Digital Canada 150. Moreover, Digital Britain has been followed by Digital Britain One and Digital Britain Two, both focused specifically on enhancing government online.

Digital Canada 150 need not be identical to the strategies found in Australia, the United Kingdom or any of the other myriad of countries that have released digital strategies. Yet after years of waiting, it is not unreasonable to expect something more than 26 pages that is focused primarily on past accomplishments, establishes few measurable goals, and ignores crucial areas such as affordability of computers and connectivity, health care, energy, and education.

One Comment

  1. Digital Fail
    Beyond the channel bundling issue, Canada’s digital strategy fails to consider broadcasting and satellite relay of digital signals. This is a significant failure and omission of the approach… Basically, Canada continues to rely on the piracy of American digital broadcast signals and this is a crutch that handicaps Canada’s capacity to develop and promote a viable strategy of its own across the telco spectrum.