Next step: Digital democracy Ontario MP pitching e-gov for politicians

Ontario MP Tony Valeri is calling for a national council to promote e-government among politicians.

Valeri, MP for the Hamilton area riding of Stony Creek, told a political leaders’ panel at the Lac Carling Congress in May that the drive toward e-government needs a “caucus” of elected officials and public servants from all three levels of government.

The caucus would promote “best practices” in digital democracy and interactive communications technologies, he said, and perhaps even include representatives of the private sector.

In an interview outside the panel, Valeri said he hopes to have something in place within months.

“The next step is to identify 15 or 16 people right across the country, at different levels of government, to bring together a steering committee which can start to develop an action plan,” he said.

“I’d like to do the steering committee work over the summer and have an action plan in place by the fall.”

In the panel discussion, Valeri called on the Library of Parliament to do more to promote e-government among MPs. MPs are regular users of the library, he said, and it should use technology to connect with them.

“Citizen engagement and e-democracy are clearly going to happen,” he said, warning of a risk of “disenfranchisement” if they didn’t.

One of Valeri’s fellow panelists, Hamilton city councilor Marvin Caplan, surprised some participants at the event with an observation that the real customers of the city’s call centre were elected officials.

“If you are in the business of providing services to the public, you work for the government,” he said. “The government is the board of directors, whether it’s municipal, provincial or federal.”

In other words, Caplan told his audience of mostly public servants, citizens were the politician’s “customers” and “you deliver that service on our behalf.”

By demonstrating the value of what they do for elected officials, “you will be able to push the agenda of getting information in a more open and democratic way out to the public.”

To keep Hamilton’s “decimated” call centre intact, Caplan said, administrators would have been well advised to clearly demonstrate its advantages to elected officials.

Caplan also said information technology has the potential to build or rebuild a sense of community where it is now missing.

“I think making people feel like they’re part of a family, that they have a connection with their community, is really one of the important jobs of a politician.”

Prince Edward Island Agriculture Minister Mitch Murphy congratulated delegates for “the world class, international reputation in Canada for information technology and service delivery at various levels of government.”

Murphy, who doubles as the province’s forestry minister, acknowledged the positive impact that the federal initiative Connecting Canadians has had in P.E.I. “No Prince Edward Islander is more than 11 minutes away from a CAP, or Community Access Point,” he said.

Noting that the province has implemented automated justice and pharmaceutical health information systems, Murphy pointed to the Tele-Hospice program as an example of how technology can meet human needs, by allowing the terminally ill to live out their lives in their own homes.

“Think what a powerful tool that is, to give somebody that dignity in their life, in that manner, and it’s happening because of services like e-government.”

But, Murphy said, “we need to do a better job, up front, of convincing the decision makers of the necessity of what we’re doing.” He cited P.E.I.’s Pharma Health Information System as a program that was implemented because of cost savings as well as the health benefits it would bring.

Robert Parkins ( rparkins@itworldcanada .com) is managing editor of CIO Governments’ Review. Richard Bray ( an Ottawa-based writer specializing in technology and e-government issues.