Pan-Canadian Digital Trust Framework

December 8, 2021

Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative.

Canadians are experiencing increasing cyber-threats, including identity theft, due to an acceleration of digitization during the COVID pandemic.

Senator Gold, five years ago, the Treasury Board Secretariat led the development of the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework. It laid out a national plan for implementing an interoperable, national Digital Identity system that would give Canadians much more control over who accesses and uses their private information. Not only would Digital Identity help limit cyber-threats, it would generate significant efficiency for consumers, business and government, and lower costs and errors for all involved. There are also significant social benefits as identified by Senator Miville-Dechêne last week.

Both Alberta and British Columbia have implemented this national framework, providing their citizens with access to Digital Identity. Yet, the federal government remains on the starting line. In September 2018, all federal, provincial and territorial CIOs agreed to an implementation strategy called the Whitehorse Declaration to get things restarted. Yet, three years later, we stand on the starting line still.

Now, to my question: Other than the fact that the cost of implementing the national Digital Identity framework is too small to garner the bureaucratic and political attention needed, can the Government Representative please provide insight as to why — especially in the context of the rapid growth in digitization and cyber risks during COVID — the five-year-old Pan-Canadian Digital Identity strategy has not been prioritized and implemented? When exactly — by which I mean by what date — can we expect the federal government to act on their own advice, giving Canadians greater protection and control over their personal information?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ + ]

Thank you, senator, for raising this issue.

The Government of Canada understands very well the importance of delivering levels of service to Canadians that they expect in this digital age. It is of note that there are currently 33 federal departments managing over 270 government online programs and services where identity verification is required. The Digital Identity project, which aims to improve the security and ease of use of existing federal Digital Identity services, as well as supporting provincial services, is under way and advancing. It is ongoing. I have been assured it will continue.

With regard to a specific implementation timeline, I will be pleased to make inquiries and report back to the chamber.

Thank you for your response, Senator Gold.

It is interesting to note that according to a survey in 2020, 9 out of 10 Canadians want to have access to Digital Identity once they understand how it increases their personal security and control. Could you ask the government to explain why they have not prioritized this foundational legislation in the last five years? Please bring back to us a date by which they intend to cause this to occur — simply acting on their own five-year-old strategy. Thank you.

Senator Gold [ + ]

I will undertake to do so.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

My apologies. I understand Senator Martin had a supplementary question.

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