"Enabling E-Government: Stepping Up to the Challenge"

Archived Content

This page has been archived for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Archived pages are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats by contacting the Web Service Centre.

Notes for the Opening Address by Mel Cappe Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet at the Technology in Government Week (TIGW) 2001 Conference

October 15, 2001


  • This is the year 2001. As we look back on this year, it will be remembered as the year that the world focussed on terrorism.
  • As I was thinking about my remarks, I was reflecting upon the role of technology in this war. In the Globe and Mail last week, there was an article on the ease of pinpointing the location of Canada's northern warning radar stations and nuclear power sites due to the Internet. When information of this nature is available to anyone who has access to the Net, what does it mean for national security?
  • Throughout this conference, I am sure that many of you will be reflecting on this new reality and what it means for all of us.
  • 2001 is also the year that Sir Arthur C. Clarke, in writing 2001: A Space Odyssey, envisioned us journeying to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and having HAL - the computer with emotions that could outsmart the human mind.
  • When reflecting upon his predictionsI have to ask myself: How far have we really come?
  • In many respects, we have come a long way. For example, in the 1960s would we have believed that we could do our banking and pay bills over the telephone and on-line, file our income tax on-line, carry around our own cellular telephone, and conduct stock market transactions on a wireless communications device?
  • Well, we are there now! Yet, in many other respects, we still have a long way to go.
  • As an event, Technology in Government Week has come a long way. Today, all levels of government participate in the conference. This year, there will be more provincial and municipal participation than ever before.
  • We are proud to welcome Prince Edward Island and the City of Ottawa as the 2001 Showcase Province and Showcase Municipality, respectively.
  • International recognition of this event is also growing. This year, we are proud to welcome Australia as the first ever Showcase Country, and to welcome the more than 40 countries that are participating in this event.
  • Technology in Government Week 2001 is also hosting, for the first time, an International Forum on Bridging the Digital Divide.
  • The forum will bring together senior government officials from around the world to share information about the challenges of the digital divide and the various national initiatives under way to address them.
  • As Canada takes over the presidency of the G8 in 2002, it is committed to helping bridge the digital divide and has agreed to lead the follow-up work of the G8 DOT force.
  • Finally, a major highlight of Technology in Government Week has become the Distinction Awards Gala.
  • This evening, some 33 medals will be awarded to the most outstanding federal, provincial and municipal public sector individuals and teams, in recognition of their leadership and excellence in the innovative use of technology.
  • The next few days provide great opportunities to share experiences and learn from one another.
  • This morning you will hear about and see demonstrations of the exciting exploits of Canada in space. Over the next few days, you will hear about advances in the Human Genome Project research and you will hear how information technology (IT) is enabling Canadians who are serving abroad in our armed forces.
  • Today, governments in Canada and around the world are engaged in E-Government efforts. So the theme of the conference, Enabling E-Government: Stepping Up to the Challenge, aptly describes where we are today and where we need to go for tomorrow.
  • This brings me to my key message today: E-Government is not a fad! In Canada, we are committed to making E-Government a reality.
  • We have a plan, known as Government On-Line (GOL), for putting our information and services on-line by 2004, and we are well on our way to achieving success.
  • And we are planning for the broader transformation to E-Government.
  • The recent events in the United States only reinforce the importance of, and our commitment to, building a strong and modern public service capable of ensuring the continued well-being of all citizens - of which E-Government is a key part.

Canada's Place in the Global E-Government Environment

  • So where does Canada fit in the global E-Government environment?
  • Thomas Friedman argues in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, that in the new, wired world, governments will either be "shapers" or "adapters."
  • Friedman also argues, that while being wired is a necessary component of competitiveness and success, it alone will not be sufficient. He says:
  • "Power will flow not simply to those who are the most wired, but to those who are the most creative at bringing together firms, governments, capital, information, consumers and talent in networked coalitions that create value."
  • In Canada, we are in a position to be a shaper - to shape our future with technology and remain at the forefront of the e-frontier.
  • In fact, our journey to becoming an E-Government is well underway.
  • I am proud that the Government of Canada's GOL initiative has made Canada a leader in the area of on-line government.
  • A recent Accenture report ranked Canada first among 22 nations as an "innovative leader" in on-line service delivery.
  • This is a great achievement, and I commend all of you who have been involved in making it happen.
  • The challenge is to remain a leader. This will require a collective effort and a commitment to innovation and creativity.
  • Being a shaper in a wired world is about being innovative, dynamic and creative.
  • It also means that we must not allow ourselves to be driven by technology. Rather, we must think through the question of how we can use technology to help us achieve our goals, while respecting our public sector values.
  • And remember, E-Government is a much broader concept than GOL. It reaches beyond the delivery of services on-line.
  • E-Government is more than a digitized government. It is a new model of government for the information age.
  • For me, the "E" in E-Government stands for:
  • Electronic (use of technology in government);
  • Enabled (a government that is equipped to meet its objectives); and
  • Enabling (empowering citizens and facilitating the links between them and their elected officials).

Enabling E-Government

  • In 1999, during the launch of Technology in Government Week, I talked about the importance of the creative, innovative and widespread use of technology in helping keep Canada strong.
  • Last year, I re-emphasized the importance of people in building an E-Government and talked about teamwork and collaboration as key to making E-Government a reality.
  • E-Government requires public services in which people continually aim to be innovative and achieve excellence in all they do.
  • To foster the kind of innovation and excellence that citizens and ministers expect, we will have to:
  • value the culture and skills that lead to improved results;
  • encourage collaboration within government, with other levels of government and with citizens and other sectors of society (while respecting ministerial accountability);
  • be continually alert to opportunities and encourage and reward innovation; and
  • encourage risk taking, while ensuring that public servants have the tools, skills and support to know what risks to take.
  • The spirit of collaboration in the Public Service of Canada was never more in evidence than when so many public servants rallied to tackle the challenges presented to us in the aftermath of the tragic September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
  • An example is the immediate launch of the U.S. crisis link on the Canada Site and the provision of similar information via 1-800-O-Canada.
  • Key departments and agencies came together instantaneously to provide a multitude of information on-line and by phone on issues such as foreign travel, border wait times, and security measures.
  • This example illustrates our capacity to work together, in new ways, so that Canadians have the information and services they need in a timely, convenient and relevant fashion. It also illustrates our capacity to achieve results even in the most difficult of times.
  • Employees of the federal public service also worked in collaboration, in an exemplary fashion, with provincial and municipal colleagues and other partners, to deal with the many tasks at hand.

Challenge to Public Servants

  • Our challenge as public servants is to begin to plan for and think through the implications of the transformation to an E-Government.
  • For example:
  • How do we, as public servants, add value when anyone can get access to the same or better information?
  • How do we continue to respect ministerial accountability, a cornerstone of Westminster democracy, when information networks and the complexity of issues require us to work horizontally?
  • As governments become better at connecting to citizens, how do we ensure that elected officials are not disintermediated?
  • How is E-Government altering the relationship between citizens and government? What are the implications for governance and democracy?
  • As we work collaboratively in an environment of shared decision making, how do we share accountability? Should we? What is modern accountability?
  • How do we protect privacy and security?
  • How do we ensure access to all Canadians and avoid a digital divide? How can we help bridge the global digital divide?
  • And, as E-Government transforms the workplace, how do we ensure we have the people with the right skills?
  • E-Government requires "fonctionnaires sans frontières" - people who can work effectively across departmental, program and other borders; who are able to think outside the box; who see issues in a broader, horizontal context; and who understand that information has value when it is shared and that teamwork and collaboration are key to innovation.
  • E-Government is perhaps one of the most important reasons why we are taking steps to modernize how we manage the people of the public service.
  • It is essential that we have a flexible legislative and policy framework that enables us to get the right talent in place to build E-Government.
  • We want to attract, keep and foster the kind of people who can make the transformation of E-Government happen.


  • As I reflect upon how far we have come since the first Technology in Government Week nine years ago, I can only begin to imagine what a Technology in Government Week conference might look like nine years from now.
  • Will we come together in person or will we meet virtually?
  • As technology becomes more pervasive in government, will the event be called Technology in Government? Maybe we should start calling it Government in a Technological World.
  • What will be the theme of the conference? Perhaps it will be a "Jetsons" version of Technology in Government Week, or an Arthur C. Clarke version, with the focus on artificial intelligence.
  • Will HAL give the opening address?
  • And what will we be talking about? One could imagine sessions with the following titles:
  • Remember when we had Chief Information Officers?
  • Has e-democracy rendered parliament redundant?
  • Maintaining human contact in a virtual world
  • Machines with an attitude
  • While it is fun to speculate about a future Technology in Government conference, no one can honestly say what government will look like in nine years.
  • But we do know that E-Government is about transformation - it will transform how we work, do business, organize ourselves, manage, and engage citizens and other partners.
  • As I said at the outset of my remarks: E-Government is not a fad! In Canada, we are committed to making it a reality.
  • We are in it for the long haul and committed to the transformational change associated with becoming an E-Government.
  • The end result will be an excellent government - one that is helping to shape the future, not adapting to it.
  • In fact, nine years from now, we will no longer be talking about E-Government - it will simply be "the" government.
  • Before I hand over the floor to our keynote speaker, I am pleased to launch the latest on-line version of A Day in the Life of the Public Service of Canada. This magazine was created by The Leadership Network to profile public service employees on the job and help put a human face on the Public Service of Canada.
  • The new issue is devoted to E-Government. The magazine is filled with examples of collaborative, horizontal work between individuals, agencies and departments, between levels of government and between unions and management.
  • The launch of the magazine's third on-line edition is particularly appropriate during Technology in Government Week 2001. I hope you will visit the site at www.leadership.gc.ca.
  • Thank you and have a great conference.