Digital Canada 150: The plan for Canada’s digital future

Have you heard about Digital Canada 150? I bookmarked the plan on April 4 because it caught my eye when Industry Minister James Moore announced it.

“Digital Canada 150 encompasses 39 new initiatives that build on our government’s successful measures for a more connected Canada. It is based on 250 submissions that were received from more than 2,000 Canadians who registered to participate in online consultations held over three months in 2010.”

In his speech, Minister Moore said “we want to position Canada among the world’s leaders in adopting digital technologies.” You can watch the speech here – which makes sense if we’re going all-in on digital! He made it clear that this isn’t just a Government of Canada plan, but that it requires “polytechnics, clusters, universities, start-ups, angel investors, apps developers, chambers of commerce, business leaders, community leaders” to all work together to realize the vision.

“Working together, we can prepare Canada for a new digital world and shape the course of our country for years to come.”

The plan is called Digital Canada 150 because it is meant to coincide with our country’s 150th birthday in 2017. I understand that much of the plan was already in place, though there are some new initiatives too.

The plan contains five key pillars:

  1. Connecting Canadians: An effective digital policy is one that connects Canadians through high-speed Internet access and the latest wireless technologies
  2. Protecting Canadians: Canadians will be protected from online threats and misuse of digital technology.
  3. Economic Opportunities: Canadians will have the skills and opportunities necessary to succeed in an interconnected global economy.
  4. Digital Government: The Government of Canada will demonstrate leadership in the use of digital technologies and open data.
  5. Canadian Content: Providing easy online access to Canadian content will allow us to celebrate our history, arts, and culture and share it with the world

Digital Canada 150

While much of the plan reads like marketing-speak for the Government, there are some things that I was happy to see, particularly under the “What’s New” section of each pillar. Here are a few thoughts on each.

À la carte TV

Will we really get to pick & choose channels?

“We will work with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to develop a plan to unbundle television channels and ensure cable and satellite providers offer Canadian consumers the option to pick and choose the combination of television channels they want.”

It would be fantastic to only choose the ten or so channels that we actually watch, rather than having to buy the giant package, but I just don’t see this happening anytime soon. Especially since it’s something they’ve been working on for a while now. I’m skeptical but hopeful that this initiative actually comes to fruition.

Have your say on where cell towers are built

Living downtown I don’t really notice cell antennas (as they are typically on top of buildings) but I know people in more residential areas do.

“We introduced changes to the policy on how new cellphone towers are installed to ensure that local residents and governments are at the forefront of the tower placement process.”

Edmonton City Council adopted a new policy on cell towers last January, but ultimately their placement is up to Industry Canada. That’s why the announcement on February 5, 2014 was a step in the right direction, ensuring that residents are informed and consulted.

Stop the Spam

Some estimates peg the amount of spam at up to 92% of all email messages sent each year. It’s a problem, though not as bad as it was a few years ago.

“We passed Canada’s world-leading anti-spam law, which comes into force July 1, 2014, to protect Canadians from malicious online attacks.”

While it’s great to see tougher legislation on the spam problem, I’m not sure how much of an impact the law will actually have. Filters and other technological solutions have come a long way in recent years, and at least for me personally, receiving spam nowadays is relatively rare.

More funding for startups

Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2013 announced $60 million over five years for the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program (CAIP).

“Support for the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program will increase to $100 million to help digital entrepreneurs take the next step in developing their businesses.”

Increasing the fund will help to make even more accelerator and incubator programs, like those run at Startup Edmonton, possible. These kinds of organizations have a big impact on the viability of early-stage firms and entrepreneurs. The deadline to apply to the existing CAIP fund was October 30, 2013 so presumably a new round of applications will now be accepted.

Open Data

The Government of Canada has quickly caught up to other jurisdictions, making a significant amount of data available online in its open data catalogue.

“We will continue to support and stimulate the app economy and create a homegrown open data developer ecosystem in Canada.”

Last year, Minister Tony Clement came to Edmonton to talk about the government’s revamped open data portal. They have definitely worked to continue improving the catalogue, in both the breadth of data available and in the features offered. There’s still a lot of data that could be added though, so it’s great to see a continued push to take this forward!

More history available online

Established in 1978 as the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions, Canadiana.org has been working to make Canada’s heritage content available digitally for quite some time now.

“We will continue to support the digitization and online publication of millions of images through the partnership of Library and Archives Canada and Canadiana.org.”

While I’d like to see an initiative to capture Canada’s digital history as we create it (think a Canadian version of archive.org) I’m happy to see that we haven’t given up on making all of the existing content available online.

The final section of the plan is called “Moving Forward” and it thankfully acknowledges that things change quickly in the world of technology:

“It is imperative that we keep our plan current because, in the digital world, change is the only constant. We are committed to continuously updating Digital Canada 150, adapting to better serve Canadians.”

It’s not clear what I as an individual can do to help move Digital Canada 150 forward, aside from “acquiring the skills and embracing the opportunities of the digital economy.” Still, it’s encouraging to have a national plan for becoming a digital nation.

Now if only we could adopt a national strategy for public transit…