Ontario appoints Special Advisor to develop Canada’s first Data Authority

By Alanna Sokic, CCI’s manager of government affairs in Ontario

A couple months ago, I wrote about the flurry of activity we’ve seen in Ontario on a range of digital policy files. Even in light of a rumoured federal election and the typical summer slow down, things are still moving ahead.

Today, Ontario announced it has tapped Andy Best, the chief executive and co-founder of the non-profit Civic Digital Network, to act as a Special Advisor to support the development of Canada’s first provincial Data Authority, which was announced in this Spring’s Digital and Data Strategy. Andy’s appointment as Special Advisor represents a key execution milestone in the province’s ambitious digital policy agenda.

Over the coming months, Andy will be tasked with leading consultations with experts in the public and private sectors to best determine how the Data Authority might develop digital infrastructure to facilitate a renewed relationship between government data and the province’s citizens, businesses, and communities.

Data is the 21st century’s most valuable resource — for both commerce and the betterment of our communities. Better access to public data means increased opportunity for our economies and the social good. However, a system of checks and balances must be put in place to ensure its use is in the public interest. The vision for the new Authority is similar to current public utilities we have now in Ontario. Take for instance Hydro One, an agency overseeing the public consumption of energy, accountable through legislation to the public good. Per the province, the Data Authority will be to data what Hydro One is to energy.

Andy’s appointment represents an important next step in bringing the Data Authority to life and laying the groundwork for future innovation. Data infrastructure is critical to empower the most innovative use cases of government-held data, and today’s announcement signals a progression toward a responsible governance framework. The foundation laid today will ensure a future in which the province manages, shares, and protects public data and allows its unique properties to be managed at scale across Ontario.

Alongside a stringent focus on privacy, the Data Authority will provide the means for the province to smartly develop data infrastructure. Unique features of the data-driven economy mean the more data a company gathers, the more value it gains from it. Every new data set makes all pre-existing data sets more valuable, which can disproportionately enhance the power of established giants and their vested assets. In the aftermath of Sidewalk Labs, the creation of a provincial data authority means Ontarians will finally have answers to questions like, ‘Who owns the data collected through a smart city?’

There’s so much government data that can be leveraged for innovative services to improve the lives of Ontarians, and making that data available in a standardized, privacy-conscious fashion is critical.

Our members look forward to working with Andy and participating in the planned consultations. To the extent that CCI and our members can support his work, positioning the provincial government to better serve Ontarians in a digitized world, we’re on board.

CCI is Canada’s 21st century business council, advocating for our country’s high-growth, innovative companies. Visit CanadianInnovators.org to learn more.