Digital Canada 150: Wasted opportunity

As part of the celebrations for Canada's upcomming 150th birthday, the Canadian federal government has released its Digital Canada 150 strategy paper, and while it`s not all bad, at the same time there is not an awful lot to recommend it. Especially considering it was four years in the making.

My sense is that its main purpose is for the Harper Conservative government to be able to say it has a digital strategy during the next election campaign in 2015. The most telling thing about the strategy, of course, is which department it originated in: Industry Canada. Not Culture, not Heritage, not Science and Technology. Industry. This is all about advancing the government's economy at all and any costs agenda and it really shows that on every page.

I'm not going to get into too much detail on my critique of the paper at this point in time as that will be forthcoming, but I do want to point out a few of the most salient items on the science side of things.

First of all, they do have an appropriate nod to the Tri-Agency Draft Open Access Policy in the Digital Government section, "We will develop Open Science to facilitate open access to the publications and related data resulting from federally funded research." But the wording is so tortured and bizarre that I'm left to wonder if anyone connected with science or the Tri-Agencies had any input into the strategy at all. Open Science, of course, is the broader category that OA falls under. But the Tri-Agency draft policy doesn't mention the broader goal of open science at all, so I wonder if they just pasted that in to make it sound better. The draft policy only specifies Open Data for CIHR funded research rather than for all federally funded research which is what the strategy implies.

Now if they'd wanted to make the broader case for Open Science in the strategy, I think it might have been hidden in there already among all the other stuff about open government data and open data in general, but they missed the opportunity and ended up tripping over their own two feet. And that is probably because they didn't see the science case for Open Science, only the business case, resulting the threads getting scattered around the rest of the document. Which is representative of the rest of the document as well -- kind of scattershot.

(And don't get me started on the how none of this squares with how the government has treated science, libraries, the census...)

The second thing I'd like to point out is that they really emphasize the transformation of the NRC into an industry concierge service in the Economic Opportunities section, signalling even further that they aren't really interested in basic research at all into what a Digital Canada could be at its 150th birthday, but rather how to use the strategy to advance their narrow goals, mostly about puffing up their economic record for the next election campaign. It's all about serving industry, not the broader public interest.

In any case, here's a sampling of the commentary on the document around the web. It's mostly cautious-to-negative but quite a bit of it is positive, especially from industry groups. I`m thinking that is because they want to curry the government`s favour over the next couple of years so don`t want to rock the boat. After all, the document is much more about their needs rather than the needs of Canadians as a whole.

Michael Geist's commentaries are perhaps the most on point overall. Being a science fiction fan, I do also like this quote from Peter Nowak:

As a whole, there is one other way in which the Digital Canada 150 is similar to Star Wars. George Lucas at least had the good sense to sell Star Wars to Disney and allow someone else to have a crack at producing something that fans might be able to appreciate. With the thoroughly lacklustre digital strategy taking four years and three different industry ministers to produce, it’s looking increasingly clear that this is not the government to take Canada forward into a digital future. Observers interested in such matters can’t be faulted for hoping that someone else takes up this task.


As usual, if I've missed any commentary that you think I should include, please include it in the comments or let me know by email at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

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