A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Digital Government Access

Recently Senator McCoy brought the senate report on Digital Communications from the Standing Committee on transport & communications to our attention. Whilst I have yet to read the full report, the Executive Overview and recommendations give a good idea of where they are going with this. They start by saying “Over twenty countries in the world have comprehensive digital strategies. Every country the committee visited had one” they avoid saying “but Canada does not!”
They seem to have been impressed by Estonia “who began implementing its program a dozen years before Canada launched consultations” they have it seems “introduced paperless cabinet meetings, e-voting, digital IDs, online and secure citizen access to government files.” Also a program called Tiger Leap to help citizens become familiar with the technology.

Unfortunately I am not so impressed by their recommendations which although moving in the right direction seem to be missing a more focused set of recommendations, NOTHING is said about “citizen access to government files” in the recommendations. I find it all rather wishy-washy. Here then is a quick overview of said recommendations and some of my comments on same.

Canada should present a strategy for an inclusive digital society and appoint a Minister for Digital Policy, who should focus on the broadband speeds necessary to bring essential digital services to 100 per cent of its citizens.

I am not sure that appointing a minister has any effect upon actually getting things done, there are already programs designed to bring high speed Internet to rural areas but they are moving very slowly and are not affordable to many residents. In that these schemes are left in the hands of private companies the coverage, cost and conditions vary greatly across the country, perhaps a minimum service level and a maximum cost should be set for this “universal” network.
See this update from Hullabaloos for some news on that front, also of interest is that the Liberals have said they “will achieve the goal of 100 percent high-speed internet connectivity within three years of being elected, and expand mobile phone coverage for rural and remote Canada.” .

The Minister for Digital Policy should receive an annual report from each department outlining its progress in making its programs more accessible and easier to use over the Internet and should work to develop a secure Internet platform that would allow citizens to review their government files over the Internet.

Great except we must be able not only to review OUR files but THEIR files also, it all very well making programs more accessible but at the same time said programs and ministries must be held accountable by publishing as much data as possible on expenditures and decisions. We know our current regime is going in the opposite direction on this one.

Elections Canada should move expeditiously to develop major test projects involving e-Registration and e-Voting and (the government) examine the possible necessity of having digital IDs to have a viable, comprehensive and secure digital society.

I believe EC are already working on this and provided that the security and recount / review issues can be addressed it may do much to increase the participation in our electoral process.

Industry Canada, in establishing policies to allocate and price spectrum, promote wireless service in currently unserved or underserved areas and consider pricing regimes in other countries as well as provide incentives for the efficient use of spectrum.

This could mean almost anything, if as they say they want 100% of the population to have access to broadband Internet then the word “affordable” should be included as a minimum. That of course means different things to different families and regions and for many includes the cost of a computer. If you want to move to a digital society then programs must be put in place to provide low cost equipment and connections, that may include communal connections and equipment at librarys, schools or even post offices as suggested by the Liberals . I note that in Ontario the addition of federal tax upon the implementation of HST has just raised the cost 8%!

Within one year from the release of the Digital Strategy, cabinet meetings should be paperless.

I don't know where this came from or what it has to do with having a digital “society” but given the current regimes penchant for hiding and withholding paperwork that may hold the accountable for past actions one wonders if this is a good idea. We know cabinet matters are not generally available for review but could this set precedent and is there sufficient control over paperless documents in place?

Finally, I find it ironic that the committee VISITED a number of country's to find out about DIGITAL communications strategies.

NOTE: I have written extensively about both access to Internet and access to information and readers may wish to view the following articles.

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