Governments warned of potholes in the road ahead to e-government

From coast to coast to coast, the advantages of e-government are capturing

the imagination of public service workers and appeasing the public’s

insatiable appetite for information. But, observers warn, there are hazards

built in to the concept of linking municipal, regional, provincial and

federal levels governments digitally.

The state of the art of e-government was under scrutiny at an Institute of

Public Administration of Canada conference in Edmonton in early May. IPAC is

a national bilingual non-profit organization concerned with the theory and

practice of public management. The conference was aimed at people providing

leadership today and for the next generation. The conference’s theme was: Exploring the E-Frontier: Public administration in a knowledge society.

Speakers at the conference made clear that e-government is sorely needed

because accurate, well-organized information is needed. For example,

Edmonton Journal editor Giles Gherson said last year’s scandal swirling

around HRDC’s allocation of job creation funding could have been defused

early on if good information had been available. That would have cleared the

way for debate on the far more important policy issue of whether governments

should even be spending money on job creation.

The interest in e-government is great because it holds such promise. In the North, government is incorporating Inuit elders’ knowledge into digital databases as it links remote communities and provides Internet service in the schools.

In Victoria, advanced information technology is surpassing tourism as an

industry, and partnerships among the four levels of government have led to

one-window service that saves businesses and citizens much time and money.

For example, the new ease of business registration allowed for 120 business

start-ups last year, and is attracting 1,200 to 1,500 customer contacts per

day, half by Internet and telephone.

In New Brunswick, government workers and the public are delighted to have

been free of duplication of services and choking red tape since the launch

of Service New Brunswick. A simple example of its efficiency is that a householder who moves in New Brunswick can fill in the new address in one single e-mail form and know it will be plugged automatically into every interface with city services: utilities, dog license, property taxes. There’s even been a spin-off company formed to shop the software architecture around to other governments who don