The Council’s mission is to foster the development of Canada as an information society through a more citizen-centred approach to government and governance. We think governments should work together, along with Aboriginal peoples, the business community, civil society and citizens to promote this goal by addressing six basic challenges in the following areas:

· Building the New Public Infrastructure

· Federalism

· Participating in the New Economy

· Strengthening Democracy and Governance

· Treating Information as a Public Resource

· Identity & Citizenship


Building the New Public Infrastructure

Over the last two decades, the use of new technologies has spread through our governments and society. They are transforming how governments work and what they do. New agencies such as Service Canada and its provincial counterparts are some of the most visible signs of this change.

These agencies are currently working to improve simple services like getting a business license or a passport by making them more convenient and accessible for citizens. It requires the development of new human and electronic networks so that information can be shared between service providers. As these networks develop, richer and more complex exchanges of information become possible. This, in turn, will support further improvement and integration of services.

These new networks are the basis of the new public infrastructure. As it evolves, it could be used to transform research, policy, administration and services in fields ranging from health to community development. But there are many obstacles along the path. The first challenge to governments is to work together to remove the obstacles to the development of the new public infrastructure.

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Federalism

Canadians adopted federalism as a way of respecting our regional linguistic and cultural diversity, wile uniting us in the pursuit of common goals. The Constitution remains an authoritative guide to the roles ad responsibilities of governments, but its framers could not have foreseen how new technologies would change our societies and governments.

As the new public infrastructure develops, and government services become more interconnected and integrated, questions around federalism are emerging. Organizing services around citizens requires high levels of coordination, collaboration and sharing of information between governments. This, in turn, deepens their interdependence. The second challenge will be to thin creatively about how to work together in new ways that improve services and engage citizens without entangling governments in new and undesirable ways.

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Participating in the New Economy

As the New Economy emerges, some communities-notably, major urban centres-find themselves swept along by the change. Others, especially rural communities, feel that it is passing them by. They are trapped in traditional resource-based economies. This economic digital divide can be overcome. New technologies can be used to create new products and services and to fid markets for them around the world. Communities that feel left out must learn to work together to identify the opportunities they are well-positioned to exploit and to develop and execute a plan to do so. It will take new infrastructure, skills and networks. It will also take a change in culture and strong leadership. The third challenge will be for governments to help all communities become “smart” ones that are equipped to participate and prosper in the New Economy.

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Strengthening Democracy and Governance

There is no guarantee that all Canadians will share fairly in the benefits of an information society or that it will strengthen our democracy. The new information networks-and the information and knowledge that flow through them-allow citizens and governments to organize and engage each other in new ways. They could be used to ensure reliable information is available for better, more effective debates and more collaborative decision-making. They could also be used to centralize authority, weaken personal privacy or favour the interests of some groups over others. Their impact on our governments and our society will depend on how we design and use them. The fourth challenge for Canadian governments is to use the New Public Infrastructure to engage Canadians in an ongoing discussion around the issues and opportunities that will define their community in the 21st century. Governments must work together to see that their growing capacity to sue information and knowledge is firmly grounded in democratic principles.

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Treating Information as a Public Resource

The four challenges above are linked by a common thread: information. As it flows more freely, it is transforming what we do and how we do it. Information and knowledge is not just about improved services and more efficient service delivery. It can be used for a wide variety of purposes, such as strengthening evidence-based policy, informing public debate and creating new information services to help businesses succeed in a knowledge-based economy. In our view, information is to the knowledge economy what oil was to the industrial one. This resource belongs to all Canadians and governments should see themselves as the stewards of it. The fifth challenge is to promote the idea that government’s rapidly expanding information holdings, and the infrastructure to organize, integrate and use it, are a major new public resource for the 21st century.

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Over 100 years ago Sir John A. Macdonald created national policies that tied the country together, literally and figuratively. He built a railway and used the political power of the state to erect tariff walls that established our national economy. This was an exercise in nation building.A hundredyears later, an evolved and interconnected New Public Infrastructure will enable Canadians to undertake a new kind of nation-building for a new era. Like the railway and tariff walls, this new infrastructure could be used to connect the country together. This time it will not be through a physical connection but a digital one. The new infrastructure could support a new kind of “national conversation.” The sixth challenge is to use the New Public Infrastructure to engage Canadians in an ongoing discussion around the issues and opportunities that will define their country and their identity in the 21st century.

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