On September 18, 2019, the inaugural IdentityNORTH Ottawa Workshop was held at the PwC Experience Centre across the river from Ottawa in Gatineau, Quebec. At this one-day (and sold out!) event, government representatives from the federal government and multiple provinces joined business leaders from the private sector, to share ideas about driving forward Canada’s digital future. The focus of the conversation was exploring how, in the digital age, can the private and public sectors work together to ensure privacy, security, convenience, and a positive user experience for all citizens? Presentations shone a spotlight on examples of projects being worked on – big ideas, with real results. 

“We’re not only talking about what’s theoretically possible,” said IdentityNORTH Chair Aran Hamilton when opening the morning session. “We’re talking about what we’ve done and what we’re doing.” 

Below are some of the top takeaways from the event. 

Collaboration between and involvement of multiple parties, including the private and public sectors, is key.

As banks are in the trust business, they are well-positioned to lead, explained Kevin Faragher, Associate Vice President, Digital Identity, at TD Bank. “We know that we have a critical role to play in the development of a national identity network, and we see it as paramount importance in Canada’s digital economy.” Participating in a ‘fireside chat,’ Faragher spoke about leadership from the Canadian banking industry. 

“Digital ID is not a product, it’s a process,” said Robert Devries, Assistant Deputy Minister, Platforms Ontario Digital Service. “It’s a process of replicating in the cyber world that which we do every day, whether it be using a passport or driver’s license…and it only works if we’re all involved.”

“We need to play an active role in figuring out how government can be part of all the emerging digital identity ecosystems, and that means collaboration.”   

Devries explained the Ontario government’s developing strategy on digital services. Their mission: how do we create the conditions where digital government become a reality?

Their vision: taking a people-centred approach to the design, delivery and improvement of programs, policies and services. 

Heather Simpson,
Partner, Consulting & Deals, PWC

The education component is critical to teach users about digital ID solutions and its benefits to them.

As users are at the centre, educating them about the importance of digital ID and the solutions that are being introduced is important. “[TD Bank] has a financial literacy strategy, coupled with digital literacy because they go hand-in-hand,” explained Faragher. 

Devries spoke about the Ontario Government’s consultations with citizens, which included focus groups and one-on-one interviews. This research revealed that generally, people had low awareness of digital identity, which may be due to lack of familiarity and understanding about how the privacy aspects of digital identity might work. However, they recognized its value and were receptive to it. 

We have the ability to create a network of innovation, we have the need to modernize service delivery and the political will to drive action.

“Nobody wants to wait five to ten business days for anything,” noted Ken McMillan, Acting Director, Digital Identity at Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. There is no reason, he said, why Canadians should have to wait through traditional service delivery methods when more efficient and timely methods exist. 

The time for action, Devries pointed out, is now. 

“The public is ready for it, governments are ready, technology is at a place where it is mature enough, and we need to just get on with it.” 

At the end of the day, it is about humans, and building trusted relationships.  

Trust is central. How can we trust the foundation of our identities? Do we trust the processes that went into creating those identities? “If we don’t have trusted processes at the foundation, we’re going to be building digital identities on a house of cards,” said Devries.  

Joni Brennan, Kevin Faragher, Greg Wolfond & Dale Kinney

To provide a real-life example of an online interaction, John Jordan, Executive Director, Emerging Digital Initiatives for the Province of British Columbia, described a skit that he performed with two of his colleagues as part of a bootcamp at a recent B.C. Tech Summit.  Jordan stood between the two other characters, and when one said something, he interjected, saying: “sorry, you need an account,” or “you need a password with a certain number of characters.” 

“We would never accept this structural man in the middle attack to our relationships,” Jordan said.   

“We think it might be better if we could get back to the way we know how to operate, if we could have peer-to-peer, trusted relationships between people and services, and ultimately, between people and people, and businesses and businesses…that’s where government needs to go, these permissions allow you to develop business relationships and personal relationships with the trust that’s appropriate for those relationships.”