Annual Report 2017-2018

Looking ahead, getting ready

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1. Challenges faced

In the case of French-language digital services in Ontario, an approach could be doomed to fail, in general, if digital systems are deployed (for example, for health services) without recognizing the cultural and language differences within communities, or without responding to Francophones’ specific health-related knowledge needs. Although such an approach could lead to marginal gains, it does not give the same transformational results that digital transformation would be able to create. Similarly, other jurisdictions have had difficulty moving away from obsolete information technology (IT) infrastructure to adopt modern systems.118

The absence of a linguistic identifier on traditional pieces of identification (like the driver’s licence and health card) is an example of a potential barrier to maximizing benefits through digital systems. The use of mass data to plan public services requires the establishment of a linguistic identifier to address the issues involved and to provide appropriate health and social services to linguistic minorities. This is also one of the key recommendations in the report by the Société Santé en français entitled Destination Santé 2018: [translation] “to promote inclusion and the collection of linguistic variables on clients and professionals in national, provincial and local databases so that the systems measure, consider and respond to Francophones’ needs”.119

Bureaucracy and risk-averse culture

Another potential obstacle to the digital government’s success is the risk-averse culture prevalent in the public service, especially because of a complex bureaucracy and legislative barriers. For example, the Regulatory Modernization Act, 2007, establishes a process that enables ministries to collaborate and share administrative data. However, it requires a lot of paperwork and manager approval to exchange data. Similarly, Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act provides guidelines on what the government can and cannot do with the information that it has. Although these laws are essential for protecting information, they can discourage officials from seeking new information and from sharing data with other ministries to develop relevant and innovative programs and policies.120

Personalized content

Digital services must go beyond simple literal translations and take into account Francophones’ needs and the unique issues that they face, collectively as well as individually, when it comes to accessing public services. Otherwise, they could feel even more excluded based on the impersonal nature of Web services. This is particularly critical in the case of health services. The use of automatic translation, without oversight or quality control, could create additional risks in matters related to accessing health information.

Therefore, the establishment of personalized French-language services requires collaboration with Francophone community partners to design services by relying on the needs and priorities of Francophone communities. Also, it will be essential to develop strong complementary mechanisms for providing adequate government services in French to vulnerable populations who do not have access to digital services. These include numerous rural and remote communities in northern Ontario that do not yet benefit from affordable access to high-speed Internet.121 The elderly and newcomers could also be disadvantaged by digital systems because of a possible lack of digital skills.

Access to real-time information

Real-time updates can marginalize French-speaking citizens if they do not offer the same level of timely and high- quality access to information in French. Because automatic translation could result in the dissemination of inaccurate information, it would be essential that the e-government ensure that real-time updates are accessible to all citizens, including Francophones, and that the content is accurately translated or even adapted. To do this, the ministries’ communication units must ensure that automatic translation is used alongside specialized Francophone personnel responsible for monitoring its content. It would also be essential to create flexible communication and feedback systems to rapidly respond to citizens’ questions and to promptly make available the information sought in French.

The availability of government data in French is another significant concern. The data publication process outlined in the Open Data Directive indicates that datasets are to be published in the language in which they were collected, with no translation requirements, with all supporting materials made available in English and French. An approach such as this can create barriers for Francophone citizens to access government data and use that data as evidence in developing initiatives.

Inadequate oversight and evaluation

Surprisingly, in Canada, the federal and provincial governments spend more time and money on measuring performance programs and services than other governments in the world. Moreover, the evaluation processes that are used to determine whether or not policies and programs operate efficiently are not strict enough.122 It will therefore be essential to allocate sufficient resources to oversight and evaluation efforts to improve the services offered on an ongoing basis. A key element of this evaluation must include monitoring the repercussions of digital services, including their costs and advantages for Ontario Francophones. The process for evaluating the quality of French-language services provided by designated agencies and other transfer payment agencies does not adequately reflect this element.

  1. Ibid, p. 27.
  2. For more details, see, p. 14.
  3. Mowat Report, p. 36.
  5. Mowat report, p. 30.

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