Ontario reveals digital strategy, plans to launch new data authority

Queens Park

The Government of Ontario has introduced its long-planned digital and data strategy, which includes plans to create a new provincial data authority.

Building a Digital Ontario‘ is the culmination of over two years of consultations with individuals and businesses. The strategy comes in response to calls for the government to clarify and increase its focus on protecting individual privacy, data rights, and online security, and responds directly to feedback the province received from over 1,300 individuals and organizations.

The new strategy is the culmination of over two years of public consultations.

The Ontario government claims the strategy, which includes over 24 initiatives, “brings the province one step closer to becoming a world-leading digital jurisdiction.”

Ontario’s data authority will be tasked with building the modern data infrastructure necessary “to support economic and social growth,” while also ensuring that this information is private, anonymized, and securely stored and handled. To achieve these goals, the province plans to consult the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario throughout the development process.

“People expect and deserve access to vital programs and services digitally, at their fingertips, with unprecedented speed and convenience,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, Ontario’s minister of finance, and the minister responsible for digital and data transformation. “That’s why our government has been rapidly expanding access to online options while preserving in-person services, investing in innovation and harnessing the power of technology.”

“Building a Digital Ontario is our plan to keep Ontarians safe and secure online, while mobilizing new opportunities for economic growth in a more connected world,” the minister added.

According to the province, the new data authority would be responsible for working with partners like research organizations and municipalities to ensure businesses and local governments have access to “secure and reliable data sources.” Ontario said this will include providing small business owners with more information about their local community’s needs and giving municipalities better data about labour markets across the province, which it said was requested directly during its consultation process.

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In addition to housing provincial datasets online, the Ontario government said the data authority will dictate “the rules of the road” regarding how this is valued, managed, and used.

As part of the digital strategy, the province is also currently developing Ontario’s first artificial intelligence (AI) framework, as it looks to guide the responsible, ethical, and equitable use of AI. The government intends to release “beta” guidelines and principles for the framework this spring.

Ontario also noted plans to introduce a new, optional government-issued digital ID later this year, to help people and businesses access online services more easily.

As part of its strategy, the province plans to launch a new Digital and Data Innovation Fellows program that aims to enable Ontario tech sector experts to help design Ontario’s digital future. Fellows will be selected from “leading technology institutions” and work at provincial ministries and agencies to foster digital and data learning.

Ontario also intends to launch a series of Strategic Data Leadership Councils populated by industry experts, as it seeks sector-specific advice regarding how to harness and regulate data effectively.

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Alanna Sokic, Ontario practice lead for the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), said CCI “welcomes the government’s efforts to become a leader in the data-driven global economy.” In particular, Sokic said CCI “applauds” the government’s plans to launch the Data Innovation Fellows program and Strategic Data Leadership Councils.

“Clear data standards will also help innovative, scaling companies develop and align their technologies and allow them to work more effectively with government,” said Sokic. “Properly regulating the data economy can create an opportunity for Ontario businesses to create more jobs and wealth for our province.”

The province also plans to launch a new website titled ‘Know Your Data Rights,’ to help Ontarians learn how to better protect their personal data, respond to violations of their rights, and keep safe online. The province said this website, which it will begin work on this year, will also provide businesses with guidance regarding how to “keep customer data safe” and meet “key privacy and security requirements.”

“A customer-centric digital experience is what busy Ontarians and businesses deserve when they interact with our government,” said Lisa Thompson, Ontario’s minister of government and consumer services. “Building a Digital Ontario will strengthen practices across the public service and put Ontario ahead of the pack in our increasingly digital operating environment.”

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit staff writer who loves to tell Canadian business and tech stories. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.