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Opinion

Canada should become a global leader in data-driven economy

By NDP MP Brian Masse      

The only way this will happen is if this government takes immediate action to position Canada globally as a leader while still balancing privacy protections. We need that clear set of rules for Canadians that are strong and fair.

Canada needs education, opportunity, and access to help Canadians navigate these changes and to improve productivity thus, creating a climate for economic opportunity, writes NDP MP Brian Masse. Photograph courtesy of Pixabay
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Innovation in digital technologies has led to a rapidly changing digital landscape for Canadians. From consumer concerns about personal data collection, unawareness about the scope of disruptive technologies, to the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), the new digital economy is quickly changing the way that we learn, work, shop and live. Coupled with technology evolving at our various work environments, traditional labour and productivity across this landscape are all in for a roller coaster ride of revolution over the next decade. The May 2018 launch of government consultations on digital and data transformation is timely. However, without the swiftest of action by this government following the consultations, Canada stands to lose our place in this data-driven, global innovation race.

Government digital and data transformation consultations focused on three main areas including the future of work, trust —privacy, and unleashing innovation. On the future and changing nature of work, significant changes have already taken place and threaten traditional labour roles. For example, in the automotive manufacturing industry we have seen thousands of front-line assembly jobs lost to robots and automation processes. Although we recognize this is the future of work, we must also factor in the workers in danger of losing their employment by planning to help people retrain or find alternative employment. Often workers are left out of this discussion and will inevitably require assistance in order to move forward in a new job or career, their inclusion seems not only just, but essential for productivity and filling job gaps.

Trust and privacy was another component to these consultations. Privacy is key but so is consent. Currently, Canada has several regulations overseeing different aspects privacy including the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and others like Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) that oversee different aspects of protection for consumers.  These should be amalgamated into one clear and concise document for Canadians with strong and fair rules in order to build the trust needed in this data-driven economy.

In March 2018, I introduced Motion 175, A Digital Bill of Rights, which also focusses on the importance of protecting Canadians through this data revolution and beyond. I focused on feedback from private citizens and digital leaders in this country who asked for a set of clear rules that they can turn to, and rely upon, to trust that their information and privacy is protected for the long term. This initiative would set a baseline for measurement and base standards that could be implemented in government and the private sector.

Incidents like the breaches at Facebook and Equifax have severely shaken Canadians’ confidence, and even the new rules in PIPEDA, provide only for quicker contact by the company involved to Canadians following a privacy breach.  This is not good enough.  We need a proactive approach where consumers have safeguards in place, in advance of a breach, and where they know what their rights beforehand.

On innovation, the government is keen to move forward with education of new workers in the information and communication technology (ICT) fields, and it is critical we continue funding these ICT fields with encouragement for an inclusive and gender-based workforce.

Also lost in this discussion are the other challenges we face. For example, Canada is geographically vast and we do not even have broadband access in many rural and remote areas. This is detrimental in this data-driven world. We need to ensure that infrastructure is available to communities—many of whom are indigenous communities—in order to scale-up and become active participants in this digital strategy. As more services by government move from brick and mortar locations, to the digital world, there is an obligation to ensure services are available.

A consultation is just that—a consultation—it is not action. The track record of this government on consultations is not very reliable. Instead, it shelves projects like the one on electoral reform when they don’t meet their expectations, or becomes a wishy washy approach with lax enforcement and expectations placating rather than instituting change. One only needs to look at the Liberals abandoning of our own model of including women on corporate boards of directors in Canadian legislation for to a deal with the Trump administration that has since disappeared.

Ultimately, I want to see Canada become a global leader in this data-driven economy and the only way this will happen is if this government takes immediate action to position Canada globally as a leader while still balancing privacy protections. We need that clear set of rules for Canadians that are strong and fair. We need education, opportunity, and access to help Canadians navigate these changes and to improve productivity thus, creating a climate for economic opportunity.

NDP MP Brian Masse, who represents Windsor West, Ont., is his party’s innovation critic.

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