Canada is part of the North American continent and is considered to be a world leader in the field of innovation in the Public Sector and Government. To paraphrase the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to Cabinet in his speech at the Assistant Deputy Ministers Forum, when it comes to a state that you start receiving email from your mother at work you realize that there is no turning back now. The steps towards e-Government in Canada started in the late 1980's through the use of e-mail, in 1991-92 government departments and programmes had their first web presence, in 1994 the Information Highway Advisory Committee (IHAC) was set up. IHAC had a mandate to assist government in understanding how information management and information technology is changing economies and societies. The IHAC tabled reports and recommendations in September 1995 and September 1997 and these documents have guided government decision making and have enable Canada to emerge as a world leader in the adoption and use of information management and information technology. In 1995 Green Lane was established on the Information Highway, in 1997 the vision for connectedness was set up, in 1998 the six pillar connectedness agenda was launched on a national level.
The Speech from the Throne in October 1999 set a goal for the Government of Canada to become a "model user of information technology and the Internet" and by 2004 Canada should be known as the Government most connected to its citizens around the world. By this time Canadians should be able to access all government information and services on-line at the time and place of their choosing.
A lot has been done but where is Canada today and where does it want to go? The Public Service of Canada needs to get better at digitizing information. The websites belonging to federal departments and agencies are not always well organized or linked to each other. It needs to begin making inroads to modernize service delivery and to start delivering services in manners that make sense to Canadians and it also needs to start looking at innovative manners to implement and use e-Government such as for example the use of online auctions as happened for the two bands of the Radio Spectrum or the Leadership Network site (http://www.leadership.gc.ca). The way forward is to try and bring all the parts into one coherent whole and this is being done through two main initiatives. The first called Service Canada aims for a single window access to government services, by telephone, the web and face-to-face with multiple channels always as a back door. The second called Government On-line is an SFT initiative in which by December 2000 all departments had an online presence with information on programmes, services and key forms. A comprehensive list can be found on http://canada.gc.ca/depts/major/depind_e.html which gives direct links to the primary Websites of Government of Canada departments and agencies, as well as links to Websites maintained by organizations for which various departments and agencies are responsible.
What are the benefits to Canadians? In its adoption of Information and Communication Technology in the process of Government, Canada looked towards its citizens to help in the design of e-Government. This methodology is characterized as citizen centreed government and it is a vision that recognizes the different ways that people interact with their government:
Citizens as taxpayers who expect value and results
Citizens as participants in the democratic process.
It is the challenge of the Canadian Government to enable its citizens to explore all the three aspects of their citizenship. The approach to achieve this goal is outlined in the document Strategic Directions for Information Management and Information Technology. This document outlines, in a comprehensive manner, the direction and opportunities geared toward a more collaborative, integrated model of delivering government services and programmes. It outlines a series of priorities that will lever government's significant Information Management – Information Technology investments towards a more integrated, collaborative model of government. Each priority area is supported by detailed workplans with clearly defined milestones.
In facing the challenge the Canadian Government analyzed the changing landscape in which it operates. A number of principles emerge. The first is that technology, globalization and the rise of the digital economy are changing our world. The second is that in tandem with the rise of the digital economy is the growing understanding of the citizen as the principal driver of change. The third is the recognition that in the digital economy knowledge is a key resource and how well knowledge is created, managed, shared, transmitted and stored is of growing importance. The fourth is an emphasis on how Information Management and Information Technology as key strategic resources are changing the human resources landscape.
This takes us to a second issue which is that of the change in governing in a digital world. It is the vision of the Canadian government to allow citizens to choose how they wish to access information and services. Electronic service delivery should be accessible to all people around the country irrespective of their income, language or disability. To enable this electronic service delivery the federal government has devised a strategy. The key elements of this strategy are (i) a government-wide information management-information technology infrastructure that provides a secure and trusted environment to connect with citizens and the private sector, (ii) a world-class government information management-information technology workforce and (iii) successful adoption of integrated governance frameworks to guide information management-information technology investments, manage risks and set standards.
In discussing the above one should not get the impression that the Government of Canada is still beginning to provide services through electronic means. It offers an impressive range of services and information on-line such as those shown below:
The Canada Site is a gateway to all federal websites and provides one stop access to electronic directories and many commonly requested forms and publications. This site receives as many as 7 million hits each month.
The Canadian Health Network brings together the resources of over 460 Canadian health-related organizations to provide members of the public and health intermediaries access to a unified source of valid, Internet-based health information, geared especially towards Canadians.
The National Job Bank which is available at kiosks across the country and through the Internet. This job bank lists job openings in communities across Canada. Other such services are The Electronic Labour Exchange, CanLearn Interactive which is a resource to explore education and training opportunities and Youth Resources Network Canada which brings together career information, programmes and services for young people aged 15 to 30.
EFILE which allows tax professionals who are approved electronic filers to prepare and deliver income tax returns electronically.
There are various other services such as travel and culture with sites for the Consular Services, the National Film Board of Canada collection on-line, Access to Canada's heritage collections. In addition there are also environment related resources such as Green Lane and Millenium Eco-Communities website and resources related to services for business such as Canada Business Service Centres, Incorporating a Business, Patent applications, Export information andExport services.
Looking ahead there are a number of other services being developed like a revamp of the Canada Site, a national health information highway, the application for benefits and all related transactions, filing of taxes, on-line passport renewal, national park reservations, one-stop access to information on the environment and others.
By the end of 2000 the Canadian Government had to reach the following targets:
Up-to-date, accurate, bilingual information on key programmes and services available on-line.
Commonly used forms available to download and print.
The ability to contact departments through the Canada Site.
The Canada Site will continue to be revamped and organized around citizen needs and topics of interest. A technology and policy framework will be in place that protects the security and privacy of Canadians in their electronic dealings with government.
Whereas in the next few years the following deliverables are expected:
Key federal programmes and services – the ones that matter most to Canadians – will be available on-line. Clients will be able to complete secure and interactive transactions on-line. Secure and interactive electronic forms will be available.
Technical and content support will be provided through various help services. The service will have predictable response times based on published service standards.
An easy to use, advanced search capability will be available on the Government of Canada portal and all federal department and agency websites. Clients will be able to find information and services even if the exact name of the programme or service is unknown. Common search principles with similar navigation rules will be implemented across all federal websites, and all sites will have a common look and feel.
One-stop access points (or portals) available through the Canada Site, with information and services organized according to types of activity, areas of interest and common citizen needs. Plans are already underway to develop portals for seniors, consumers, Aboriginals, the environment, and innovation resources for small- and medium-sized enterprises.
Innovative partnerships. The Government On-Line initiative will place increased emphasis on on-line service delivery partnerships with provinces, territories, municipalities, businesses, volunteer organizations and international partners.
In the beginning of this profile a statement was made about change being driven by the citizens who are eventually the service receivers. In order to have gone a full circle the results from a recent Price Waterhouse Coopers survey give us the state of play in the current scenario in Canada. Just to report some of the results from a presentation made by PWC on Lessons Learned about e-Government in Canada it says that:
Poorer, older, less educated Canadians will not have access.
Canadians have begun using government on-line with one-third of Canadian Internet users accessing government services but mostly for access to information rather than applying for a service or filing a tax-return.
Canadians are using government websites because it is more convenient in that it takes less time, its easier and simpler, no need to physical travel, etc.
Canadians accessing Government websites want all services on line even those not used regularly.
Canadians are ready to carry out online transactions with the number of Canadians doing Christmas purchasing online quadrupling.
Canadians want integrated government portals with 86% saying that single website allowing them to access a broad range of government services would be helpful.
Provincial governments have a key role to play in the attraction of users.
Security remains an issue with users.
Implementation should be planned in waves.
In view of this the work carried out by the Canadian Government can be seen as a good blueprint on which other Governments can plan their electronic service delivery.