The election campaign started two weeks ago; neither political parties nor commentators nor analysts have considered the impact of Quebec’s digital transformation. Not only is this issue not among the priorities of the candidates, it is even evacuated from the list of pre-election priorities by the media.
Published at 12:00
However, the impact of this transformation is pervasive. All aspects of state, social and economic activity will be affected in the next few years, as it has been for the past 20 years.
Economy, health, environment, culture, education, which are among the main themes of the campaign of all parties, have a common denominator in that they are areas where the use of digital technologies continues to become more important. Even the rules of democratic life are being shaken by the emergence of new channels of communication offered by technologies that are as innovative as they are opaque in their operation.
In 2021, 97% of Quebecers owned at least one digital device and 93% of households were connected to the internet.
Online learning has become more democratic, remote work has become widespread, cultural products are increasingly consumed through distribution platforms, connected objects follow us to follow our slightest movements, our well-being, our contacts, our purchases (often involving only a rough agreement) .
Digital technologies are incredible levers to meet the challenges of society of our time. They provide access to previously inaccessible knowledge, increase the productivity of our business, compensate for the reduction of the talent pool, increase the number of medical discoveries and the exchange of them, facilitate communication between government agencies and citizens; they may even become an important asset in the fight against climate change. Conversely, they also cause undeniable perverse effects: culture shock, personal information leakage, new social rifts, debate polarization, cyberbullying, cyberattacks, redefining the boundaries of our privacy, etc.
Therefore, it is alarming to note today the indifference of the parties to the development of a consistent political line regarding digital technologies. Digital technologies are not neutral and their use can lead to divisions in our society.
Governments can no longer downplay digital issues as just infrastructure, IT practices, cabling and related programs. Digital technologies are changing the relationship between business and people, between public administration and citizens, and between each of us. Digital technologies have a structuring effect on our way of thinking, way of life, exchange, consumption, love and the development of our democracy. The digital transformation of our society is connected with political forces and must be carried out accordingly.
Political parties can no longer run away. The social stakes are high, the possible consequences are enormous.
So far, no government has taken the lead we expected. Neither support the digital transformation of society, much less try to understand it. Over the years, governments have seemed ill-prepared and in improvisation mode when certain issues suddenly hit the headlines.
Today, only one of the parties is able to have a vision to ensure:
- that digital technologies can become powerful allies of regional development and growth tools for companies, wherever they are in the territory;
- that e-commerce is growing for the benefit of the local economy and consumers;
- that the artistic, media and cultural environment is better served by new forms of dissemination and dissemination, and they no longer simply threaten them;
- that public education can take advantage of digital opportunities to offer learning paths more tailored to learners 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, meets the highest ethical standards and is free from social bias;
- develop digital strategies in line with climate action, bearing in mind that digital technologies are both a catalyst for climate change and a potential source of solutions;
- that the government adheres to the principles of responsible digital development, paying attention to the exceptions that the intensification of the use of digital technologies will produce in order to allow every citizen to play their full role;
- to make innovation an important value in public administration?
Is it in a position today for only one of the parties to consider establishing an independent and adequately funded body responsible for advising the government and the public on digital issues?
Can only one party today defend the principles of digital sovereignty, both in technological means and in education, and in the preservation of our private information?
At the beginning of 2023, the numerous action plans developed by the government regarding digital technologies are coming to an end. Immediately after the elections, strategies, measures and action schedules will need to be rethought. There is no word yet on their succession. This will be a difficult and delicate exercise; same as revision privacy law. Each of the plans is closely related to the others and can no longer be considered independently, as it was until today. The digital challenges are so pervasive and their implications so structured that they require a clear shared vision.
Therefore, we appeal to the leaders of political parties to use the remaining weeks of the campaign to initiate a discussion of the digital society that we collectively want to give us. Do you have the courage to open a discussion?
* Co-authors: Dominique Leclerc, screenwriter, playwright and director; Francis Gosselin, economist and consultant; Mathieu Gallé, company president; Stefan Rosch, engineer and professor of geomatics; Annie Chenier, Digital Transformation Trainer; Bruno Santerre, Multimedia Integration Program Coordinator; Denis Martel, digital strategist; Guillaume Morissette, Director of Research and Development