Doug Ford’s Digital Dilemma - Canadian Government Executive
Digital Governance with Jeffrey RoyE-governmentTechnology
September 17, 2018

Doug Ford’s Digital Dilemma

A decade ago as a Presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama was asked how he intended to pay for his signature promise of expanding health care coverage to all Americans. A frequent response was to invoke new technologies and the digitization of healthcare records as a source of significant savings.

Such is the contrast between campaigning and governing, as Obama had undoubtedly calculated. Not only did health care costs steadily rise, but his own initiative faltered out of the starting gate due to a glitchy online portal. His Secretary of Health would resign soon thereafter.

Yet more broadly, President Obama’s digital ambitions are widely viewed as ambitious across many then-nascent realms such as open government, cloud computing adoption, and service innovation. The creation of the U.S. Digital Service and 18F were designed to import fresh ideas and a start-up mentality into the bureaucratic confines of the American federal government. As it happens, it is from here that Ontario’s Chief Digital Officer would be recruited north.

A broad takeaway from the Obama years is that new technologies are more an investment than a source of savings – especially in the immediate term. Unlike Doug Ford (and yes, Donald Trump), Obama was less fixated on tax cuts (implying expenditure reductions) than in improving government performance, a difference obviously owed in part to stark contrasts in political ideology.

Yet this fundamental digital dilemma has vexed governments of all stripes,  transcending partisan divides. While Harper’s federal Conservatives, for example, tended to view digital technologies predominantly through the lens of internal efficiencies and external, economic innovation, Conservative-led Governments in Australia and the UK have adopted a more transformational lens of improving (and in some cases expanding) public sector capacities. The right-leaning Estonian Reform Party (now out of power) for years championed low taxation while investing in a digital government apparatus widely viewed as leading-edge.

Closer to Queen’s Park, with self-interest in mind, some of the more elderly cadre of IT industry leaders may wish to hopefully connect Margaret Thatcher, former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, and Doug Ford. Across each Conservative regime, significant outsourcing opportunities arose as governments sought to shift operations to the private sector, particularly with respect to technology.

Yet when Harris held office, email was a novelty, while cloud computing, social media and smartphones awaited invention. Electronic systems were viewed within government largely as support functions rather than strategic enablers. Not only has President Trump been cautious in not dismantling the Obama digital architecture, but the Administration has sought to augment spending for select actors. And while early days, the newly created ‘Office of American Innovation’ is working with major technology companies to reform government in a manner, not unlike Obama’s prior efforts. Apple’s Tim Cook, among others, is an advisor.

Yet as with Harris, and more so than Trump, Doug Ford has portrayed himself as a fiscal hawk, promising to slash overall spending while nonetheless “creating 15,000 new long-term care beds over the next five years and adding $3.8 billion in new support for mental health, addictions and housing.” Within such constraints, temptation will be strong to view digital through an efficiency and savings prism rather than one predicated upon refurbishing government itself (despite how much both are intertwined).

The recent election offered no clues as to what lies ahead, as the words “electronic, digital, and Internet” were respectively and entirely absent from the Conservative’s plan for Ontario. Whether Ford’s Cabinet includes a Minister with digital responsibilities for core government itself (preserving or recasting the Ministerial post created by the Liberals), and the fate of the current Chief Digital Officer may signal the path ahead. To a lesser degree, the Opposition NDP also has a role in shining light on digital matters as worthy of discussion and debate.

The country too will also be shaped by the Ford Government’s choices. Despite widening opportunities for shared solutions across government levels, the federal government has some major digital challenges of its own, and the immediate prospects for political collaboration with the Ontario Conservatives seem limited. From Ottawa and Toronto, the contours of digital government may well see more divergence than alignment – especially as the next federal election approaches.

 

Jeffrey Roy is professor in the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University (roy@dal.ca).

 

About this author

Jeffrey Roy

Jeffrey Roy is Professor in the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Management. He is a widely published observer and critic of the impacts of digital technologies on government and democracy. He has worked with the United Nations, the OECD, multinational corporations, and all levels of government in Canada. He has produced more than eighty peer-reviewed articles and chapters and his most recent book was published in 2013 by Springer: From Machinery to Mobility: Government and Democracy in a Participative Age. Among other bodies, his research has been funded by the IBM Center for the Business of Government and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He may be reached at: roy@dal.ca

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Digital Governance with Jeffrey Roy
 
A decade ago as a Presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama was asked how he intended to pay for his signature promise of expanding health care coverage to all Americans. A frequent response was to invoke new technologies and the digitization of healthcare records as a source of significant savings. Such is the contrast between campaigning and...
 
As governments have sought to go digital, one of the most common barriers stymying progress in many jurisdictions is that of privacy – and the protection of personal and otherwise sensitive information. Despite the rhetoric of open government and information and data sharing within the public sector, the reality is a good deal more complex....
 
Cultivating more intelligent government has long been a hallmark of public sector reform, as more agile and learning-based forms of governance are essential to innovation. The rise of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is an extension of this logic – albeit with one important difference. In place of human ingenuity, the machines take charge. Well, perhaps not...
 
As the world grows more digital – and increasingly mobile – workforce development inside of government and digital literacy across all of society are interrelated challenges facing all countries. Government’s threefold task is to: first, nurture new skill sets for its own employee base (comprising multiple and distinct demographic segments); second, innovate and incentivize the...
 
The Trudeau Government’s decision, in August 2017, to split the Indigenous Affairs Ministerial portfolio offers a potentially important inflection point in Canadian Westminster governance. Although skeptics have good reasons to be concerned that such a move is mere political window dressing and, worse yet, could yield the creation of two underlying and eventually even more...
 
As the Liberal’s assumed office, three big democratic reform ideas were floated: electoral reform, e-voting, and mandatory voting. The second and third were never seriously entertained – swatted away by the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform. The first quickly became a quagmire due largely to the Government’s own failures in process design. Related posts: Electoral Reform...
 
The promise of web 2.0 was the emergence of a user-driven Internet where content was produced organically through online engagement, notably via social media. The simultaneous rise of big data reflected a similar trend: extracting value from the patterns of user interactions, transactions, and contributions. The enthusiasm for web 3.0 is pinned on connected and...
 
In recent months, Canadians have borne witness to a new cycle in the perennial spectacle of federal – provincial negotiations on health care. The federal government dangled new funding for items deemed high priority, notably mental health and homecare. As always, consistent with constitutional dictates, the provincial stance was to seek new funds while rejecting new...
 
The last few months have showed a complex and potentially ominous relationship between digital content and community engagement. While Netflix announced stellar results in October (the result of a relentless global expansion), Shomi, the Rogers and Shaw domestic on-demand service was abruptly shut down. In November, Canadian Heritage ended its public consultations on the digital...
 
The arrival of President Trump in the White House marks a new and potentially ominous phase in the evolution of digital government, one reflective of Mr. Trump and an emerging world order that may be less open and less democratic. Along with consequences for the United States, there are wider implications for the world. It...
 
In 2001, the OECD published The Hidden Threat to E-Government. The first line summarized the essence of that threat: “Most governments experience problems when implementing large IT projects.” Alas, fifteen years later, the Phoenix payroll debacle in the Government of Canada brings to mind the old adage: plus ca change… The impacts of Phoenix have...
 
As team Trudeau would tell it, this past summer saw spirited barbeques and campfires with gathered Canadians debating the wisdom and perils of alternative voting models. Presuming, however, that enthusiasm was more tempered, it has largely fallen to a Parliamentary Committee to consult and devise a path toward 2019 for electoral reform. Related posts: Top 5 Knockouts in Canadian Debate History The Appointment process...
 
The fact that Shared Services Canada (SSC) has struggled mightily under the weight of its immense agenda is hardly news: press reports and a recent Auditor General report weigh heavily in this regard. In this outlet, Patrice Dutil’s recent and insightful interview with the President of SSC, Ron Parker underscored the breadth of the challenges...
 
In January, the BBC and BuzzFeed jointly released an exposé on gambling in tennis, aptly titled “The Tennis Racket.” The year’s inaugural grand slam, the Australian Open, thus featured action both on and off the court as pundits and players alike debated the seriousness of the problem and the future of the sport. At the...
 
Professors are obliged to set regular weekly office hours, something most students today find rather quaint. It’s often a time to catch up on email or chat with colleagues, awaiting clients that never arrive. During one such recent occasion, a colleague was bemoaning this loss of real-time interaction, noting that the Internet’s efficiency in sharing...
 
That the new Liberal Government has embraced ‘open government’ is hardly surprising. President Obama promised much the same in 2008 (passing an inaugural Openness Directive early in 2009), as did Stephen Harper in 2006 with his post-Gomery Federal Accountability Act (an uncomfortable lesson for Liberals, as Ontarians know well, is that scandal is fertile breeding...
 
In 2011, the World Economic Forum presented its vision of a future government creating public value as F-A-S-T: flatter, agile, streamlined, and technology-enabled. While governments at all levels now embrace these elements to varying degrees, such logic also applies to the functioning of our public sector holistically. In this regard, the election of the Trudeau...
 
In late July, Amazon startled investors with the tiniest of profit. The next day, its market capitalization surpassed that of Walmart. Despite strong growth year after year, Wall Street had grumpily grown accustomed to bottom-line losses, most recently anticipating a second quarterly shortfall of 14 cents per share. Instead, Amazon revealed gains of 19 per...
 
With a seemingly ubiquitous Internet and mobile devices at every turn, it is tempting for governments to view online channels as not merely an option but as the preferred means of interacting with citizens and companies. Related posts: The VOICE for mobility Mobility and government: From rhetoric to readiness Stemming the breach: How to secure data in a mobilized world...
 
At the end of November, the Council of Europe hosted the second World Democracy Forum, with this iteration examining digital democracy (or e-democracy) and its evolution across both developed and developing nations. Related posts: Sochi – A tale of two Russias...
 
For the casual observer, openness and transparency are terms that can conjure up confusion in recent times. On the one hand, governments at all levels are striving to develop open data and open government strategies, lauding the benefits of information sharing and crowd-sourced innovation. Related posts: Open data: inclusion, innovation, policy and standards Open data and connection From Open Data to Open Government...
 
At stake is the evolving apparatus enjoining Canadians with the information and services provided by all government levels across all types of delivery channels....
 
Faced with the Newtown tragedy, President Obama has sought to make gun control a signature issue at the outset of his second term....
 
The now, seemingly distant 2012 holiday season proved to be fertile ground for advocates of a cashless society and new ways to virtualize payments – and eventually your wallet....
 
In 2008, President Obama refashioned American politics for a more digital age, leveraging the Internet to both engage volunteers and raise money in a novel and unprecedented manner....
 
As governments seek transformational change to shift from austerity to agility, there is much enthusiasm for social media as a platform for renewal....
 
In recent months, Apple and Samsung have been clobbering one another in court rooms around the world....
 
During the month of October tens of millions of viewers will tune into three presidential debates, and maybe a fourth between vice-presidential candidates....
 
For Egyptians and Mexicans, this past summer showcased the imperfections of democracy....
 
With the federal public service in a state of budgetary retrenchment, for many managers the focus is understandably on the here and now. Yet, there has never been a more important time to think longer term about the government of tomorrow…...
 
Do we read books anymore? Travel on airplanes or trains these days and the evidence is mixed. While books are now rivalled by on-demand television and personal devices offering movies, games, and who knows what else, a respectable cadre of passengers still board with book in hand....
 
In February, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper announced the formation of a bilateral working group to explore ways to deepen cooperation pertaining to border security and public safety....
 
Is there reason to hope? Once again, the federal government has pledged to empower staff and simplify rules in search of a more innovative public service....
 
Au moment où s’amorce la présidence d’Obama, les spéculations vont bon train sur le genre de dirigeant qu’il sera : sera-t-il un chef dur et tranchant dans ses décisions, ou favorisera-t-il l’écoute et la consultation?...
 
As the Obama Presidency begins, there is much speculation as to what kind of leader will emerge: tough and decisive, or more compromising and deliberative?...
 
A strange paradox has emerged in the quest for Gov 2.0....
 
One of the peculiarities of the 21st century is the correlation between virtualization and urbanization: more people online on the one hand, and more of the population living in cities on the other hand....
 
When President Barack Obama campaigns during the coming months for re-election, odds are he will not be reviving one of his 2008 health reform pledges, namely that savings from e-health would help pay for universal coverage of all Americans....
 
As the iCloud takes hold – along with numerous other private, public and hybrid clouds – openness, interoperability and interdependence must be guiding principles for government action both within their jurisdictions and collectively across increasingly porous borders....
 
A new year is a good time to reflect on the relentless march of time and its close ally, our growing obsession with speed....
 
If only it were so. While Shared Services Canada promises simplicity – annual savings of hundreds of millions of dollars via consolidation and centralization – it instead faces enormous complexity....
 
The securing of a much-coveted majority by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives surely sets the stage for revolutionary changes in digital government. Or does it?...
 
The federal election campaign has not been particularly kind to cities and, by extension, the growing majority of Canadians who live in medium- to large-sized cities....
 
Despite the occasional ministerial tweet and public banter about the federal government’s imminent (always imminent) plans to expand the usage of social media, caution remains the order of the day....
 
More than a decade ago, some enterprising folks at Industry Canada produced a powerful PowerPoint depiction of online service and the potential for massive efficiency gains....
 
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are one of Canada’s most critical assets in a digital world, fighting cyber-crime and terrorism at home and abroad along with all of the functions and responsibilities that come with serving as the country’s only national police force....
 
Toronto’s new mayor, Rob Ford, has pledged to cut city council in half. Although such downsizing is unlikely to be realized (as politicians are understandably reluctant to vote themselves out of a job), the notion struck a chord with many Torontonians....
 
As BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion negotiates with many governments around the world over data access and security, it is perhaps timely to ask whether or not the BlackBerry has improved public sector operations here at home....
 
To start with a timeless question: what do woman want? Presumably, whatever else may be on their list, they want something approaching an equality of genders in society. Are we there yet? First, the good news: in Canada there is much encouragin...
 
One important consequence of climate change is rising ocean levels. The increases are gradual, imperceptible to most and yet potentially catastrophic for coastal communities and residents....
 
Shortly after the Quebec referendum of October 1995 that brought the country to the brink of a constitutional abyss, I recall encountering a graduate student from Sudan....
 
As this column goes to print (literally or online as the case may be), most readers are hopefully captivated by the Olympic spirit, as Canada showcases Vancouver and Whistler, not to mention our talented athletes, to the world....
 
Full disclosure – the Conservative government has serious problems with the Parliamentary Budgetary Officer, Kevin Page, and so do I....
 
Students of public administration struggle with an important contradiction of Westminster governance....
 
L’opération de promotion à laquelle l’Alberta s’est récemment livrée souligne les tensions et les risques inhérents aux communications gouvernementales aujourd’hui – les tensions entre l’ancien et le nouveau....
 
Alberta’s recent branding exercise underscores the tensions and risks inherent in government communications today – tensions between the old and the new....
 
La plupart des organismes se voient affecter des « directeurs des nouveaux médias » par l’administration Obama, afin d’élaborer des stratégies pour le Web 2.0 et de créer un gouvernement en ligne plus ouvert....
 
With Parliament once again open and a new federal budget in the offing, the political spotlight returns to Ottawa....
 
Two important global events are garnering much attention: the upcoming Winter Olympics and December’s global forum on climate change in Copenhagen....
 
The recent scandals plaguing Ontario’s e-health agency carry important lessons for the evolution of digital government and the challenges that lie ahead....
 
The Obama administration is appointing “Directors of New Media” for most agencies, to develop Web 2.0 strategies, and more open, online government....
 
Y a-t-il de l’espoir? Une fois de plus, le gouvernement fédéral s’est engagé à donner des moyens à son personnel et à simplifier les règles afin de favoriser l’émergence d’une fonctio...
 
Dans le numéro de janvier, Ruth Hubbard et David Zussman nous ont entretenus de l’importance de dire la vérité aux dirigeants....
 
In the January issue, Ruth Hubbard and David Zussman discussed the importance of speaking truth to power....
 
The past decade has given rise to tremendous experimentation in public sector service delivery....
 
If 2012 marks the surpassing of compact disks by digital music, equally profound changes are also on the horizon with respect to television....
A decade ago as a Presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama was asked how he intended to pay for his signature promise of expanding health care coverage to all Americans. A frequent response was to invoke new technologies and the digitization of healthcare records as a source of significant savings. Such is the contrast between campaigning and...