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Manifesto: A Digital Framework for Quebec

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October 16, 2010

We have already reached the second decade of the twenty-first century and yet, Quebec still does not have a digital strategy!

Is Quebec's Digital Economy victim of neglect?

With facts and figures to back them up, many industrialists and entrepreneurs, spokespersons from rural communities and from voluntary sector groups as well as academics have noted the increasing and worrisome delay of Quebec society in this area [1].

While we continue discussing here - without any decisive action - how we can provide access to high or even intermediate Internet speed across our territory, ultra high-speed is being deployed in countries like Finland, Australia and is already a done deal in others like South Korea. While we continue discussing here – again, with no decisive action - how to familiarize all citizens with digital technologies, Europe is light-years ahead in this area, already having at its disposal an innovative research and development network where citizens often play leading roles.

In comparison, the sluggishness of our political class, both in Quebec and in Ottawa, despite enquiries and petitions, demonstrates a total and dangerous lack of vision at a moment when the twenty-first century poses great challenges to Quebec in areas such as demography, culture, education, health and economy.

Yet as early as 1998, Quebec had established a national strategy regarding the information society; a strategy with ambitious objectives, purported to enable the province’s role as a “leader among the world’s information societies” [2]. Meanwhile, Canada was bragging about being the second country in the world, for the number of households, with Internet access. Today, considering only speed and cost, Canada has slipped to rank 27th out of... 30 OECD countries [3]. Quebec's position is even more deplorable given its even lower rates of connectivity and usage.

Of course, the Quebec government has not been totally inactive. It participates in international forums, commissions studies, consults with various social actors, develops its e-administration, supports local initiatives that connect underserved areas, funds social innovation projects and adopts fiscal policies that favour certain technological fields. But these gestures remain paltry in light of the objectives established in 1998, now totally outdated. Since the June 2008 Seoul Declaration for the Future of the Internet, several nations, including Australia, Britain, France, Italy and now the U.S., have developed plans that are more coherent and ambitious on socioeconomic and technological levels and have explored partnerships with social actors for their development and implementation [4].

The situation is even more distressing nationally. After the shambles of the last budget, where community access programs to the Internet, praised as a success, were nevertheless shelved, then restored but with no future outlook, the Harper government continues to demonstrate its inability to devise an effective pan-Canadian strategy. Clearly improvising, the government held another consultation, much like the parody organized in June 2009. Ignoring dissenting voices, it continues to consider a digital plan primarily aimed at meeting the interests of the telecommunications industry [5]. In the meantime, studies, reports and recommendations from both public and private sectors are piling up. From para-governmental organizations, industry, academia and community groups, these reports all point to the urgency of taking action and they all insist on digital inclusion [6].

Opportunities and Risks

Economically alone, the technology sector now accounts for more than 25% of global growth and is rising rapidly [7]. One serious study after another demonstrates the tremendous potential of digital technologies for economic development, for creating and maintaining gainful and durable employment, for the delivery of education, health care and other services. Digital technologies have also proven themselves to foster inclusion of disadvantaged populations or in remote areas and to encourage the spread of democracy. Other credible studies also show multiple pitfalls and dangers on the same fronts. Especially of concern is the growing dependence of individuals and organizations on networks, applications and digital content.

Indeed, solutions to the enormous challenges Quebec society faces will not only be technological, let alone digital. However, whether one is "Green", "Lucide" or "Solidaire" [8], we must all recognize the revolutionary character of these social and technological mutations. If we, Quebecers, are unable, individually and collectively, to master these developments and new applications according to our needs, our values and aspirations, not only do we risk missing out on some remarkable opportunities, but we also risk having to deal with inadequacies and social and economic divisions that will result if decisions are not our own.

Quebec's civil society has developed remarkable expertise in several fields with regards to research, innovation and use of digital technologies [9]. Civil society is also clearly capable of productive conversations as well as community projects and ambitious collective initiatives. This collective intelligence is our greatest asset to develop and implement a strategy that would not only meet our unique challenges, but also make original contributions to building the digital world within reach.

Call to action

We affirm the need for Quebec to quickly build a comprehensive and ambitious digital strategy and to resolutely mobilize all its forces in its implementation in order to meet the social, cultural and economic challenges posed by the present “sociotechnical” revolution.

By setting a stated goal of making the Internet a public good to benefit everyone, such a plan should provide relevant and creative responses to the following questions:

  • Access for individuals, organizations and communities to networks and content;
  • Development of production, supply, use and ownership of content;
  • Diversification of applications, services and practices as well as research and technical and social innovation in all sectors (public administration, industry, commerce, social economy, public education, health and social services, communities, democratic institutions);
  • Areas of expertise to prioritize and support nationally and internationally;
  • Training in schools, community groups and on the job in the context of an information society and knowledge society;
  • Preservation and development of cultures and knowledge as well as cultural heritage;
  • Open access and sharing of data and scientific knowledge;
  • The skills of individuals and innovation in organizations;
  • Digital identity and security of individuals and organizations;
  • The respective places of free software/content and proprietary developments and products, in the context of the Commons;
  • Provincial, national and international issues related to Internet governance and technology standards.

We affirm that the successful development and implementation of such a digital strategy in Quebec requires the involvement and commitment of all social actors, all sectors of activity, all segments of the population and all regions.

We also affirm that such an undertaking must provide opportunities for experimentation of new democratic governance practices enabled by digital technologies.

We therefore call on:

  • All individuals and organizations to publicly signify their participation and commitment to the development and implementation of a Quebec digital framework by endorsing this Manifesto and by broadcasting it throughout their networks for discussion and amendments;
  • The Quebec government to make a decisive and real commitment to take a leadership role in the participatory development and implementation of a Quebec digital strategy and to provide the necessary conditions for its realization;
  • The federal government as well regional and municipal political authorities to undertake, participate in and support similar participatory initiatives.

[1] Un plan numérique pour le Québec.
This Manifesto is the result of a collective effort that began two years ago by stakeholders from different backgrounds: entrepreneurial, academic and not for profit.

[2] Government of Quebec, “Agir autrement : La politique québécoise de l'autoroute de l'information”, Quebec City, 1998.

[3]
Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), “OECD Communications Outlook 2009”, september 2009.
The Development index for all ICTs of the International Telecommunications Union ranks Canada 21st internationally, International Telecommunication Union, “Measuring the Information Society 2010”, Geneva, 2010.

[4]
Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), “The Seoul Declaration for the Future of the Internet Economy”, Seoul, june 2008,
United Kingdom : Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, “Digital Britain : Final Report”, London, june 2009,
Australia : Minister for Finance and Deregulation, “Joint Media Release : New National Broadband Network”, Canberra,april 2009,
France : Éric Besson, “France numérique 2012 : Plan de développement de l'économie numérique”, Paris, october 2008,
World Bank, “What role should governments play in broadband development?”, Paris, september 2009,
Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), “Préparer le futur de l'économie Internet”, Seoul, june 2008,
Ministry of Government Services of Quebec , “Bulletin d'information e-Veille”, Quebec City, september 2010,

[5] Gouvernment of Canada, “Statement from Minister Clement on the closing of the digital economy strategy consultations", Ottawa, 2010.

[6]
The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, “Plan for a digital Canada”, Ottawa, june 2010,
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, “Communications Monitoring Report”, Ottawa, july 2010,
Michael De Santis, Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), «Is broadband basic service?», Ottawa, juillet 2010,
i-Canada Alliance, «The i-Canada Declaration. A New National Dream : Global leadership through ultrafast communication», 2010.

[7] Ministry of Government Services of Quebec and Centre francophone d'information des organisations (CEFRIO), “e-Veille : À la rencontre des gouvernements en ligne du globe, bilan 2009”, Quebec City, january 2010.

[8] Since 2005, several groups of different political backgrounds have launched "manifestos" in the Quebec public space, such as the “Lucides” and the “Solidaires”.

[9] Particularly in the areas of multimedia, games, cryptography.

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