Canada to launch public consultation on digital ID framework for federal public services

By on 16/08/2022 | Updated on 17/08/2022

Canada’s federal government has announced that it is preparing a public consultation on a framework for digital identity.

The government launched its Digital Ambition 2022 on 5 August this year, setting out what it called “a clear, long-term strategic vision for the Government of Canada to advance digital service delivery, cyber security, talent recruitment, and privacy”. The new strategy replaces the government’s Digital Operations Strategic Plan: 2021-2024.

One key pillar of the ‘Ambition’ is digital identity, with emphasis on the need for government to create fast, straightforward ways to prove ID claims.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for government services to be accessible and flexible in the digital age,” the document said. “The next step in making services more convenient to access is a federal Digital Identity Program, integrated with pre-existing provincial platforms.”

The document reiterates a Treasury Board mandate set in late-2021 to work towards a common digital identity platform for public services.

Register now: Canadian government CIO to address AccelerateGov digital transformation conference in Ottawa

Mona Fortier, president of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, said that the Ambition would lay “a solid foundation for the ever-evolving digital transformation of government” and would serve as “an important tool to support the focus shared across ministers and departments to identify and implement better ways to ensure Canadians receive high quality, accessible, and efficient government services”.

Digital ID is an often controversial topic, splitting public opinion around the issue of privacy. One Global Government Forum reader wrote that Canada risked becoming “full out ‘Chinadian’. Goodbye to all freedoms and welcome to dictatorship”.

Read more: Digital ID – what is it, why is it needed, and how are governments developing it

At an event on digital identity and the digital economy earlier this year, Fortier stressed that having ownership of a digital credential would protect Canadians from identity theft and fraud, as well as deliver faster access to government services.

However, she added that government had yet to instil trust in digital systems among the public. She suggested this could be improved through open collaboration between industry and government, as well as building diverse teams whose work reflects the concerns of Canadian citizens. “We have a collective responsibility to break down organisational silos, address technical debt to promote quality over speed, and promote open data to foster transparency and trust,” Fortier said.

Aggressive progress

Canada’s latest digital ambition comes under the remit of the government’s chief information officer, Catherine Luelo, who is one of the speakers at Global Government Forum’s AccelerateGov conference, which takes place in Ottawa in October.

She said the need to consolidate many of the government’s fragmented IT systems is another of the key drivers behind the new strategy. “Many programmes and services that Canadians rely on are supported by technology that is 20, 30, or even 50 years old. Maintaining these systems is costly and resource intensive, and their age creates risks of service disruptions that would have an immense and immediate impact on Canadians,” she said.

Read more: Government of Canada launches updated digital strategy

In an interview with Global Government Forum earlier this year, Luelo outlined her plan to replace the Digital Government Strategy and Digital Operations Strategic Plan with a single document that sets out how to “do government in a digital age”.

“We are getting very aggressive with the fact that we need to advance the digital identity file for Canada,” she told GGF in May, when the Ambition was being drafted.

Canada is one of the eight countries that formed a working group for digital ID in 2020. The group – chaired by Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency – also includes Australia, Finland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, the Netherlands, and the UK. It has drafted a set of high-level principles to support the development of mutually recognised and interoperable digital ID systems and infrastructure, and aims to enhance trade agreements in pursuit of post-COVID economic recovery.

Read more: Pick up the pace: CIO Catherine Luelo on accelerating Canada’s digital journey

The Canadian government has yet to provide details on when the its public consultation on digital ID might run.

Countries that have either implemented digital ID systems or are working on doing so include Estonia, Germany, the UK, and Australia, as well as the EU.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

18 Comments

  1. Ryan says:

    What about the poor with no access to anything digital???
    I saw this issue first hand with covid not giving access to programs and basic need services because of no cellphone to carry a digital health passport.

  2. Rob says:

    This is a bad idea.

  3. Mike says:

    If the ArriveCan app is any indication, Canada isn’t capable of anything as technically demanding as digital ID, let alone keeping our personal information safe.

  4. 5550123 says:

    You made the mistake

  5. Brian G says:

    @Ryan there is always a paper backup (finding a printer could be the real challenge).

    @Mike I hadn’t heard that ArriveCan leaked any information.

  6. Steve says:

    Canada is on a dangerous path that we may not reverse. This is in the name of control which is something we should never willingly give over to a government, especially not one with a track record like the current one. CBDC’s are part of this process and will have brutal consequences for those who allow it.

  7. James says:

    If the government is concerned about privacy, they sure as hell shouldn’t have this federal ID.

  8. Lily says:

    Funny how many people here make assumptions instead of asking questions. Why can’t we do that? We might learn something essential rather than making stuff up.

  9. Annie says:

    No, no and no. Government surveillance is the goal. They will take power wherever they can. We will be just like China where you can’t fart without them knowing.

  10. tom says:

    A future government will simply shut down any protests and people will be afraid to protest, even the opposition parties will be afraid to protest if the ruling party can shut you down.

  11. Kieron says:

    This is truly disturbing, when we see what foreign government like China does with digital ID, or when we see our own government messed up with the ArriveCan app, or how they quietly tested facial recognition in our biggest airport in 2016 or even more recently the use of the Emergency Act. How can we trust any government to hold so much information on ourselves? George Orwell’s vision is already well alive in China, let’s not take the same path here.

  12. J Rimmer says:

    What happens when a person does something the government doesn’t agree with? I mean, they’d never freeze bank accounts if you were protesting against them or even just disagreeing… would they? 🤔

    Anyone should really consider the consequences of giving such a large amount of power to any governing body. Even if you trust the people in power today, are you going to feel the same in the future?

  13. John the Greek says:

    The majority of Canadians 65 and up are not Digital savvy, over 15 % dont even have an email. Our government is just redicioulous and vindictive. Shame on them. These are facts, from our business.

  14. Jason Miller says:

    I’ll fight this! Canada won’t become the next China

  15. Bulldog says:

    It’s all about control and short of communism, they can’t get anything else right, must be the
    W E F pushing for this

  16. Blue Horizon says:

    Canadians need to rally around potential leaders that will work with the people, rather than work for themselves. The only way to stop this is to make an effort and VOTE THEM OUT! No other way. there needs to be a great movement of Canadians to act on their given rights to VOTE.

  17. dib says:

    Absolutely NOT!!!

  18. JN says:

    Control is the government’s meth/heroine. The more you give ’em, the more addicted they get. Let’s not feed into the government’s addiction and let’s keep some of our privacy while we’re at it.

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