Jun 22, 2009 | Ottawa, Canada - I've arrived this morning for a day-long forum: Canada's Digital Economy: Moving Forward, a session co-chaired by The Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry and Mike Lazaridis, President and Co-Chief Executive Officer, Research In Motion (RIM).
Filemobile has been asked to participate in this session which brings together business, academic and consumer organizations to discuss and provide viewpoints on several elements of Canada's digital landscape. The objective is to identify major challenges and issues facing Canada's digital economy, determine common goals and actions moving forward. The forum will be webcast so check it out.
The format of the forum was new for me. Its hard to have a 'conversation' with 150 academics, government and business representatives in one day. We are in a huge room with rows of tables, a head presentation stage and cameras for the live webcast.
Everyone has wi-fi and power and the tweets are starting (#digecon, #digitaleconomy). The morning included a series of panels and presentations. It has started a bit slow with most of the speakers talking about 'macro' topics related to Canadian competitiveness in the ICT sector. I have to admit that when I was first preparing for this day, I had to look up what the ICT sector was (Information and Communication Technologies). I was relieved that we were in fact, in this sector and at the right meeting, but it speaks to the pervasiveness of ICT in all aspects of the economy. In the case of Filemobile, this relates to media, content, advertising and marketing.
The talk in the first part of the morning is very high level and one way (agenda), with people at the podium providing similar presentations on competitiveness, past Canadian technology leadership, and admission of the current challenges, with Canada losing ground globally over the past 10 years.
One of the most interesting speakers was Jacob Glick from Google. Jacob highlighted practical suggestions to improve access and use of ICT in Canada. The first was to always lay fiber as part of any government infrastructure project to take advantage of the work done to rip up roads for other reasons. The second was to make the 'white spaces' in the broadcast spectrum available to everyone, not sold for use by a monopoly.
Sir Terry Mathews keynote was inspiring, urging Canada to be bold and not blindly follow other countries like the USA on topics such as intellectual property rights. He pushed for greater government focus on the digital economy, contrasting Canada with other countries that have cabinet level representation for the digital economy focus (e.g. Australia, France, South Korea).
Discussion of privacy on a panel after lunch. Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-Commerce Law and Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Michael Geist discussed net neutrality, network management practice disclosure, the removal of content blocking and appropriate network privacy. He emphasized the importance of including content creators in the discussion of Canada's digital economy including copyright, highlighting a lack of public consultation and transparency in recent proceedings, and advocating the establishment of a CTO for Canada.
Its been interesting to see these disparate groups come together. Lots of comments today about the lack of representation of content creators in the process as well as the expression of hope that some concrete actions come out of the session.
One topic that was not discussed explicitly but is essential in achieving some of the priorities is Canada's ability to attract and retain the best talent. In Canada, there are domestic and foreign opportunities to improve our ability to take action.
Domestically, there are opportunities to leverage success in partnerships between education, government and business across the country. In particular, the success of the University of Waterloo and Research in Motion provides a model for successful partnerships. The recent Canadian Digital Media Network in southwestern Ontario are two other recent examples. This is a strength that should be emulated in other regions and information industries across the country. Growing these partnerships nationally can help breed the next generation of ICT and digital media leaders in all relevant professions.
The second opportunity is to remove contradictions and conflicts with respect to government policy affecting the ability to attract foreign talent. Achieving gains in Canada's digital economy necessitates attracting talent globally. While this has been demonstrated to be a priority of institutions such the Department of Industry, these directions can be opposed by other government policies. Citizenship and Immigration for example, currently hinders the importing of digital economy talent because they focus on post secondary education standards which are less applicable in many areas of ICT, web and open source developers.