The election campaign started two weeks ago; neither political parties nor commentators and analysts addressed the question of the impact of Quebec’s digital transformation. Not only is this issue not among the candidates’ priorities, it is even evacuated from the election priorities by the media.
Posted at 12:00 p.m.
However, the impact of this transformation is pervasive. Over the next few years, all dimensions of government, social and economic activity will be affected, just as they have been for the past 20 years.
The economy, healthcare, environment, culture, education, which are among the main topics of the campaigns of all parties, have a common denominator of areas where the use of digital technologies is increasingly important. Even the rules of democratic life are shaken by the emergence of new communication channels that offer technologies that are as innovative as they are opaque in their functioning.
In 2021, 97% of Quebecers owned at least one digital device and 93% of households were connected to the Internet.
Online education has become more democratic, remote work has become more widespread, cultural products are increasingly consumed through distribution platforms, connected objects follow us to track our smallest movements, our health, our contacts, our purchases (often including only approximate consent).
Digital technologies are incredible tools for solving the challenges of the society of our time. They provide access to previously unavailable knowledge, contribute to the productivity of our businesses, compensate for the shrinking workforce, increase medical discoveries and their sharing, facilitate communication between public administration and citizens; they could even become an important asset in the fight against climate change. Conversely, they also cause undeniable perverse effects: culture shock, leakage of personal information, new social breakdowns, polarization of discussions, cyberbullying, cyber attacks, redefining the boundaries of our private life, etc.
It is therefore disturbing to note today the nonchalance of the parties to develop a coherent political line in the field of digital technologies. Digital technologies are not neutral and their use can lead to differences of opinion in our society.
Governments can no longer trivialize digital issues as just infrastructure, IT methods, cables and accompanying programs. Digital is changing the relationship between business and people, between public administration and citizens, and between each of us. Digital technologies have a structural impact on the way we think, live, exchange, consume, love and develop our democracy. The digital transformation of our society is linked to political powers and must be carried out as such.
Political parties can no longer escape. The social stakes are high, the potential impacts enormous.
So far no government has taken the lead we expected. Not even supporting the digital transformation of society, much less trying to understand it. Over the years, governments have appeared unprepared and in improvisation mode when certain issues suddenly hit the headlines.
Today, only one of the parties is able to have a vision that ensures:
- that digital technologies can become strong allies of regional development and growth tools for companies anywhere in the territory;
- that e-commerce is growing to benefit local economies and consumers;
- that new forms of dissemination and distribution will better serve the artistic, media and cultural environment and that they will no longer just threaten it;
- that public education can take advantage of digital opportunities and offer training paths that are more adapted to students and current realities;
- that the community ecosystem can use digital technologies to accelerate the spread of inclusive values in our society;
- that artificial intelligence, which is increasingly integrated into administrative processes, respects the highest ethical standards and is free from social bias;
- that digital strategies are developed in line with climate action, taking into account the fact that digital technology is both an accelerator of climate change and a potential source of solutions;
- that the government adheres to the principles of responsible digital development and pays attention to the exceptions that the intensification of digital use will bring, so that every citizen can fully play his role;
- to make innovation a strong value in public administration?
Can only one party today consider creating an independent and adequately funded body responsible for advising government and the public on digital issues?
Today, can only one of the parties defend the principles of digital sovereignty, namely through technological means, training and the preservation of our private information?
At the beginning of 2023, the numerous action plans introduced by the government in the field of digital technologies come to an end. After the elections, it will be necessary to quickly rethink strategies, measures and activity schedules. Nothing has been released about their continuity yet. It will be a complex and delicate exercise; as was the revision Personal Data Protection Act. Each of the planes is closely related to the others and can no longer be treated separately, as was the case until now. Digital issues are so cross-cutting and their impact so structured that they require a strong overall vision.
We are therefore appealing to the leaders of the political parties to use the remaining weeks of the campaign to initiate a debate about the digital society we want to deliver together. Will you have the courage to open a debate?
* Co-signatories: Dominique Leclerc, screenwriter, playwright and director; Francis Gosselin, economist and consultant; Mathieu Halle, president of the company; Stéphane Roche, engineer and professor of geomatics; Annie Chénier, digital transformation coach; Bruno Santerre, coordinator of the multimedia integration program; Denis Martel, digital strategist; Guillaume Morissette, Director of Research and Development