Ontario's Minister of Finance and President of the Treasury Board, Peter Bethlenfalvy, making Ontario 2021 budget announcements. Source: YouTube

Published: April 30th, 2021

With files from Alex Coop

 

As the province overhauls its data infrastructure, Ontario is putting the call out to public organizations and businesses to help it create a new provincial data authority.

Ontario is putting extra focus on ensuring that information collected is “private, secure, anonymous and cannot identify people individually,” according to Finance and Data Transformation Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, who on Friday announced the latest step in the province’s digital transformation strategy.

The process began in 2019 with the launch of a public consultation on creating a new data strategy for the province.

The newly announced Data Authority will be responsible for building a modern data infrastructure and securely housing provincial datasets.

Public consultation to discuss what powers the authority could wield will start sometime this summer. The government didn’t specify when the new authority will start operations but did confirm Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner will be consulted on its responsibilities.

The province hasn’t said the Data Authority will have its own ministry, report to an existing ministry or report to the legislature. A provincial spokesperson said these questions will be included in the consultation.

“People expect and deserve access to vital programs and services digitally, at their fingertips, with unprecedented speed and convenience,” Bethlenfalvy said in a statement. “That’s why our government has been rapidly expanding access to online options while preserving in-person services, investing in innovation and harnessing the power of technology.”

The new strategy, he added, “is our plan to keep Ontarians safe and secure online, while mobilizing new opportunities for economic growth in a more connected world.”

It will eventually include a ‘Know Your Data Rights’ website to help Ontarians learn how to better protect their personal data, take action if their rights are not being respected, and stay safe online.

The government says the website will help people make more informed decisions about how, when and where they share personal information online, and who they share it with. It will also offer guidance to businesses about how to keep customer data safe and how to meet key privacy and security requirements.

As part of its strategy, the government has already started consulting with industry on how the province could introduce a secure digital identity for Ontarians by the end of this year, allowing citizens to safely verify their identity, online or in person.

The strategy will rely on a $500-million Ontario Onwards Acceleration Fund, announced last November, to provide the resources necessary to speed up the transformation of key programs and services, and $2.8 billion announced in the provincial budget for broadband infrastructure to ensure that every region in the province has access to reliable broadband by the end of 2025.

The strategy unveiled today also includes over two dozen new and established initiatives.

The province gave several examples of how residents and businesses could benefit from access to better provincially-gathered data:

  • Small business owners could find better information about community needs and local services and supports, so they can get their products to market faster.
  • Farmers and crop producers could find the information they need to optimize production, processing and distribution of local foods to maximize yields and drive greater economic growth to deliver the world’s safest food supply.
  • A local government could conveniently access data about labour markets across the province, so they can find and attract skilled workers to their region — something the province heard directly during consultations.

In a statement provided to ITBusinerss.ca, Alanna Sokic, the Council of Canadian Innovators Ontario practice lead welcomed today’s announcement.

“In particular, we applaud the government’s plans – through the launch of the Digital and Data Innovation Fellows program and Strategic Data Leadership Councils – to bring together the province’s leading tech experts to guide the government on sector-specific strategies for ways to harness and regulate government data.

“Clear data standards will also help innovative, scaling companies develop and align their technologies and allow them to work more effectively with government. Properly regulating the data economy can create an opportunity for Ontario businesses to create more jobs and wealth for our province.”

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