by David Korzinski | March 3, 2021 7:30 pm
March 4, 2021 – If ever there has existed an era of life online being accelerated and catalysed by unforeseen events it has been the last twelve months.
COVID-19 has engendered so many changes to our daily lives in Canada. From new ways of working and socializing, to a new lexicon, and most especially, the extent to which we are now living our lives online to shop, to be entertained, to connect with family, and to access assistance and services from our governments, such as the federal government’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Benefit, accessed digitally by millions of Canadians.
But just because services exist doesn’t necessarily mean they function as well as they might or that more shouldn’t be offered.
A new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute, in partnership with the Internet Society Canada Chapter and Amazon Web Services (AWS), finds Canadians open to and enthusiastic about government overhauling and improving its online services, but notably wary of offering more of their personal information in the digital space.
Six-in-ten (63%) say a focus on government digital transformation will make it easier to access services, while close to the same number (59%) say it would improve their experiences with the services that exist. An overwhelming majority (92%), however, also say that Canadian government needs to prioritize investing in cybersecurity to ensure the personal information they’d input online while accessing expanded services is well protected.
Pour la version française, cliquez ici.
More Key Findings:
The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.
More and more aspects of life have been moving online in recent decades, but as with so many other changes, COVID-19 has been an accelerant. With many in-person activities less convenient and less safe due to the pandemic (or curtailed entirely by lockdowns), two-thirds (67%) of Canadians say they have been spending more time online than they did before coronavirus hit.
Even when asked to exclude the well-chronicled time sink of streaming TV shows and movies online, 86 per cent report that they spend at least two or more hours per day online.
Of course, this is in part because a wide array of activities and services are available on the internet. Email, social media, information searches, digital banking, and online shopping are all done by the vast majority (80% or more) with at least some regularity.
With time spent online increasing, most Canadians express confidence navigating the digital world, with nearly half (46%) saying they are very comfortable doing a variety of activities online. One caveat: this survey was conducted online, meaning that all respondents are people who are at least digitally comfortable enough to complete a survey via the internet.
Looking at this by age group, those who are young enough to have grown up with the internet are the most likely to say they are most able to navigate the digital world. However, it is worth noting that even amongst those 65 years of age and older, only 13 per cent report having a lower level of comfort.
Widespread use of the internet also extends to adoption of digital government services. For example, two-thirds (65%) of Canadians participating in this national survey say they have filed their taxes online at least once, and among those who have applied for employment insurance recently, more than nine-in-ten (93%) say they did so over the internet (see detailed tables). Further, most Canadians have at least one kind of online account (e.g. a “My CRA” account for tax purposes) with the Government of Canada.
The most widely accessed Canadian government account is the My CRA account, used by seven-in-ten (69%), followed by accounts with My Service Canada (for EI and pensions):
Digital government services receive generally high marks from users. Among those who have renewed their provincial health card online, 87 per cent rate the ease of use as good or excellent (see detailed tables). Another example is the submission of taxes on the Canada Revenue Agency site. More than four-in-five users say their experience with the website was good or better, though this does leave a significant segment of nearly one-in-five who found the experience clunky:
A broad cross section of online government services, from both the federal and provincial governments, score well for ease of access and use. While the ratings vary, in each case a majority of users were pleased with the experience they had. For those giving low marks, the top reasons were that the process was confusing or that the site was difficult to navigate (see detailed tables).
That said, a plurality of Canadians still find other private sector organizations do a better job with their online offerings:
For its part, the Government of Canada has undertaken a Digital Operations Strategic Plan. The intention, according to the plan, it is to provide services in “ways that are optimized for digital and available anytime, anywhere and from any device.”
Given the myriad other priorities facing Canadians these days, it may not come as a surprise that awareness of the government’s digital transformation plan is quite low. Three-quarters of Canadians (73%) say they have either never heard of it or are familiar with the term but know nothing about what it means.
Once informed of the concept (see questionnaire here), Canadians see benefits that a push for digitization could have on public services. In terms of the cost to taxpayers, user experience, and accessibility, a clear majority think this transformation would be either an improvement or at least no worse than the status quo.
The one exception is security of personal information, which half (48%) say would likely be worse due to a digital overhaul. This is a consistent hesitation on the part of the public, and will be discussed later in the report:
As noted earlier, young Canadians are the most likely to feel a high level of comfort online, so it is worth considering how different age groups view the potential outcomes of a digital transformation for government services. Optimism about ease of access for services declines with age, though this is driven by older Canadians being more likely to say the change will have a neutral impact, not a bad one.
The story is the same with the issue of increasing public access to services: while not all age groups are as equally upbeat about broadening digital access, those who think it will actually do more harm than good represent a small minority.
Many Canadians indicate access to digital services is now their preferred choice. Just three-in-ten agreed with the idea that more traditional methods would be preferable. Conversely, more than twice as many disagreed:
As with many aspects of Canada’s place on the world stage, four-in-five (79%) think the government should be a global leader when it comes to providing digital services. Few, however, feel the country is anywhere close to this distinction. When it comes to digital transformation, three times as many say the country is lagging the world (39%) as say it is leading (12%).
Notably, those who profess having the most knowledge of this area of government are most negative about progress thus far:
When asked how important it is to expand government digital services into new areas, given the many priorities facing all levels of government in Canada, the majority say it is either a medium (51%) or high (27%) priority. The same is true for improving existing digital platforms, and it rates similarly in importance to adding new offerings. In both cases, fewer than a quarter consider it to be a lower priority issue.
But where to focus? Canadians say investing in cybersecurity is at the top of their list, followed by ensuring access for people with disabilities:
The focus – and concern – over cybersecurity comes at a time when cybersecurity risks are in the spotlight around the world, and especially south of the border. The SolarWinds hack – a massive cybersecurity breach – affected roughly 100 companies and nine federal agencies in the US. In October, more than a quarter of Canadian IT professionals surveyed by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority said their organization had dealt with some kind of COVID-19-themed cyber attack.
Little wonder, then, that the 92 per cent of Canadians who want the government to prioritize security parallels with the number who say that cybersecurity poses a huge risk to Canada:
As with so much else in the digital realm, watching for, preventing and recovering from cyber attacks is a complex and demanding task. The pandemic seems to have exacerbated the situation.
There is a silver lining: the problem is so widespread that expertise in combating it has been developed in a wide array of organizations, particularly in large companies and government agencies. When it comes to the security side, more Canadians see the private sector as better able to protect against threats of this type, by a moderate margin of 12 percentage points.
Further, they express support for the federal government to work alongside the private sector as part of a push for digitization.
For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.
For detailed results by awareness of digital government concept, click here.
To read the full report, including detailed tables and methodology, click here.
To read the questionnaire, click here.
Pour la version française, cliquez ici.
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