Decorative photo of Library of Pariament

SFTs – Role and Importance

1 minute read

By Karl Salgo, Executive Director, Public Governance

The tradition of opening a new session of Parliament, whether following prorogation or an election, with a speech by the sovereign, or in Canada’s case her representative the Governor General (GG), has roots stretching back to the earliest days of the English Parliament, when the monarch would explain to the members of Parliament why they had been summoned. The Queen or GG deliver the speech from the House of Lords or Senate respectively; as regal or vice-regal persons they do not enter “the other place”, whose members are ceremoniously summoned to the Upper Chamber for the occasion.

While the ceremony surrounding a Speech from the Throne (SFT) lends parliamentary proceedings a certain gravitas, the SFT and documents like it also have a significant functional role in good governance. “Statements of government direction” are critical both for lending coherence and transparency to government policy, and as a mechanism of accountability. A government that doesn’t follow through on its stated agenda will soon be called to account for that failure, noisily if not always effectively.

You can see this grand theory in practice in Canada’s Parliament. In the SFT the government sets out its agenda for the new session of Parliament, and parliamentarians debate their support for this agenda. The vote on the SFT is a confidence vote: a government that lost this vote would be expected to offer its resignation. In the UK, the Queen’s Speech tends to be a shorter, more functional document than our SFT, more closely focused on the legislation that the Government proposes to introduce that session. A Canadian SFT tends to speak to the government’s agenda more broadly, and to serve as a rather promotional communications document.

However promotional it may be, the SFT is genuinely integrated into the internal development of government policy. For example, items in the SFT will typically find their way into ministerial mandate letters, and the proposals that Ministers bring to Cabinet are generally expected to have explicit links to the SFT or comparable policy statements such as the federal budget. Savvy public servants pay close attention to the SFT and particularly the sections that impact on their own departments.

Decorative photo of Peggy's Cove

SFT – Democratic Institutions

1 minute read

By Gaafar Sadek, Executive Director, Public Sector Reform Initiative

In its Speech from the Throne, the government presented a vision that unsurprisingly underlined the imperative to continue to meet the daily needs of Canadians as we go through COVID-19, now and for the foreseeable future. Various ambitious and overarching initiatives were mentioned, most of which aiming to improve the state of those who were hit the hardest by the pandemic. These include long term care for the elderly, child care, clean energy, job creation, a review of the Employment Insurance regime, and an expansion of the Canada Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program until next summer, to name a few.

Absent from the Speech from the Throne however, as well as from the Prime Minister’s address to the nation, was any direct or implied mention of looking at re-establishing trust in the institutions that make up democracy and unite and engage its civil society, from science to the public service. Interestingly enough, while disunity and fragmentation were mentioned by some of the leaders of the opposition parties and other political commentators in their reactions to the Speech, this was less related to the infrastructure of democracy, and more of a political or partisan rhetoric. While the immediate and practical remain the obvious preoccupation as Canada and the world enter the much dreaded “second wave,” it is as clear as ever that successful governance, in both the short and the long term, will require an engaged and trustful citizenry.

Decorative photo of Downtown Ottawa

SFT – Need and Desire May Not Be Enough

1 minute read

By Brad Graham, Vice-President, Toronto

The Speech from the Throne announced the Government’s desire to establish national standards for long-term care, expand community care, and included a recommitment to national pharmacare. While these services are currently provided by provinces there are gaps and uneven coverage across the country.

COVID tragically exposed significant shortcomings in the care provided in long term care homes. Even prior to COVID, the need for improved seniors care was very clear – 10 years from now, nearly one quarter of all Canadians will be aged 65 years or older. In terms of pharmacare, 1 in 5 Canadians either have no or inadequate drug coverage and COVID will have increased this number.

While the federal government may make a strong case for the need, and express a strong desire for action, need and desire may not be enough to overcome 3 major hurdles:

  1. While committing to “work with Provinces and Territories”, health care is clearly provincial jurisdiction.
  2. Less than a week ago, Premiers were calling on the federal government to significantly ramp up its annual support for the existing system by $28 billion. This would bring federal cash support from 22% to 35% of annual health spending.
  3. The establishment of “national standards” will be resisted as it implies a higher degree of direction and intrusion than Provinces have ever agreed to. For example, while the Canada Health Act requires universal access for all medically necessary physician and hospital services, it is basically the provinces who determine which health services are medically necessary.

The inclusion of long term care and pharmacare in our national system would be a great step forward. However, it will be a very big step, requiring significant cooperation and goodwill between the federal, provincial and territorial governments. And a very, very, big cheque.

Decorative photo of Toronto City Hall

SFT – Digital Governance

1 minute read

By Ryan Androsoff, Director of Digital Governance, IOG

The Speech from the Throne was quite interesting from the perspective of what it revealed about the federal government’s evolving “digital agenda” – something that has become more important than ever in the age of COVID! Here are a few highlights:

  • The commitment to making “generational investments” in legacy IT systems and service modernization was of great interest. The devil of course will be in the details and those working in the service delivery and IT realm in government will be watching for what those details are in the future fiscal update or budget. However, the fact that the Throne Speech put down a marker that progress on modernizing IT and service delivery will include significant investment is very notable. Canada was last viewed as a world leader in what was then being called “e-government” in the early 2000s, and that came after an investment of $880 Million over the five-year long Government Online initiative. The challenge of modernizing the federal government’s digital service delivery capacity today will likely need to be of a similar order of magnitude.
  • The announcement of CRA moving to providing automatic tax filing may seem like a small detail, but it is a very positive one. This will put us in good company with leading digital nations that have already been doing this for years. Most tax returns are simple & predictable, and the reverse onus approach is a win-win for citizens and government.
  • The commitment to accelerating high-speed internet connectivity efforts via the Universal Broadband Fund is badly needed as COVID has shown just how important connectivity is to modern life, and has put focus on the very real inequities of internet access across Canada – particularly in rural, remote, and indigenous communities.
  • There were also some initiatives in the speech with regards to greater regulation of tech companies in the context of combatting online hate, tax avoidance by “digital giants”, and inequities around revenue sharing by online platforms with content producers

Finally, it was notable to that these topics were mentioned at all. Normally these are issues that are relegated to the fine print of budgets or legislation. This Speech from the Throne is yet another example of how tech & digital are becoming more prominent in this (or any) government’s agenda.

Decorative photo of the Supreme Court

SFT – Science & Innovation

1 minute read

By Rhonda Moore, Practice Lead, Science and Innovation

Sometimes what is said is just as important as what is not said. In the Speech from the Throne to open the second session of the 43rd government, the word science only appears twice and the term evidence-based only appears once. Yet science, technology and innovation underpin the first three foundations presented in the SFT.

The first pillar of the government’s strategy is to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives. This includes support for more virus testing and research in the development of treatments for the SARS COVID-19 virus. These measures will require medical research, biochemistry, public health, nursing and regulatory sciences working together to scale up testing, to develop a vaccine or treatment, and to roll out a process to administer the treatment to all Canadians in a transparent, safe, and trustworthy manner.

The second pillar is to support people and businesses so that no Canadian comes out of the pandemic in worse economic shape than when they entered it. To develop a suite of programs and services to support Canadians through the pandemic requires financial, economic and mathematical evidence and theories to design programs that produce the kind of sustainable, long term economic and labour market growth the government desires for Canada and Canadians.

The third pillar is to “build back better to create a stronger, more resilient Canada” through a variety of mechanisms that range from addressing the opioid crisis, to improving access to physical and mental health services to investments in many types of infrastructure such as energy efficient retrofits, clean energy and affordable housing for Indigenous Peoples and northern communities.

Canadians deserve all of these things. Addressing the opioid crisis will not be possible without inputs from chemistry, psychology and medical sciences. Energy retrofits for buildings across Canada will require inputs from chemistry, physics and civil, chemical and materials engineers to inform how Canadians transition to clean energy as well as how we design buildings that adapt to Canada’s many climates as they change around us.

Science, technology and innovation are necessary ingredients to achieve the government’s vision for Canada’s future.

Decorative photo of Parliament Hill

Welcome to our webinar series on digital government

3 minute read

By: Ryan Androsoff, Director of Digital Leadership, IOG
The purpose of the Digital Governance Webinar Series is simple: to facilitate frank and insightful discussions about how to accelerate the digital government movement forward in the months and years to come. I’m excited about the opportunity to host these webinars to engage with not only leaders and experts in the digital government field, but with a wide range of people interested in these issues (like you!).
I’d like to thank our sponsor SAS whose support has helped us to bring this series to life. I also want to highlight our partnership with Ottawa-based digital engagement company Publivate which has allowed us to be able to offer an engagement platform as an additional way to engage with you before, during, and after each of the webinars in this series.

So what exactly do we mean by “Digital Government”? It is a term that can mean many different things to different people. When talking about “digital” as a concept, I often refer back to the definition proposed by Tom Loosemore (one of the co-founders of the Government Digital Service in the UK) who framed it as follows:
Digital: Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.
While real progress has been made in recent years by governments around the world to embrace the technologies and methods of the modern digital era, it has often been slower and more piecemeal than many would have hoped. The truth is that it is hard work to fully implement digital modernization in an organization like government which is layered with complexity and legacy of all types (technology, policy, culture, and legislation to name but four). Often the structures and incentives of public sector organizations have evolved – consciously or not – in a way that does not easy enable the “culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era” that Tom talked about in his definition. A truly digital government will mean not just adapting new technologies, but leveraging those technologies to change how the institution itself works – something that we at the IOG call “governance”. Over the course of the next few months we are going to dive into some of these digital governance challenges that governments in Canada and around the world are facing right now.
The opening session in our digital governance webinar series this Friday will bring together experienced digital leaders to provide their perspective on the current state of digital government initiatives across Canada and internationally. My hope is that our conversation on Friday will not only inform about the current state of digital government efforts, but also start a discussion on where there is work yet to be done in the years to come.
Then over the following weeks we will host three additional webinars, each of which will dive deeper into some of the digital governance issues that consistently surface as being amongst the most challenging for policy makers:
Governing the Ethics of AI– Wednesday, September 23rd at 11:00AM EST
Modernizing Procurement for the Digital Era– Thursday, October 22nd at 11:00AM EST
Rethinking HR to Enable a Truly Digital Government– Thursday, November 19th at 11:00AM EST
As we get ready for our first webinar this Friday, we want to hear from you. What do you think some of the biggest challenges are right now with respect to digital government? The biggest opportunities?
There are three ways you can engage with us on this through our engagement site:
Complete our short digital government survey (it should only take you a couple minutes to complete). We will share the data we collect as part of the webinar on Friday.

Post an idea in our ideation section on the engagement site to answer the following question: Think ahead a decade to the year 2030. What do you think the biggest opportunity and biggest challenge will be when it comes to the impact of digital technologies on government?

Post a comment on this blog on our engagement site and let us know what is on your mind as we get ready to dive into the discussion on Friday’s webinar and the rest of the series this fall.
I look forward to hearing from you soon!