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