Should we have an ICT Czar?

Ian Cavanaugh wants New Brunswick to have a Minister for ICT as a way to focus in on the sector from an economic development perspective.  I have hammered the drum for focus since Adam was a cowboy and I applauded PEI for setting up a Dept. of Biosciences (and something else) with a minister and DM as a way to focus in on that activity.

But if you did that for ICT in New Brunswick it would have to be much more than a symbolic gesture.  We are too long in the tooth for symbolism

Remember eNB?  No? Most people don’t but when it was launched by the former Premier it was said that eNB would be the catalyst to bring the benefits of the new IT world to all New Brunswick.

eNB undertook a few piddly initiatives and then petered out.  Someone close to the initiative at the time told me it was just another PR effort with almost no funding and no focus.

If you set up a Dept. of ICT or an ICT Czar it should be about both advancing the use of ICT in NB society and growing ICT clusters.

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17 Responses to Should we have an ICT Czar?

  1. Arnold Paulson says:

    So I take it then that you’re for the idea? As long as it’s not simply symbolic, at least.

  2. I’m for focus. I am not for setting up more bureaucracy. I used to say that we have more people employed in customer contact centres than natural resources, fisheries, agriculture and tourism (if you look at if on an FTE basis) and yet we have whole departments dedicated to them. As near as I can tell – there may be 2-3 people throughout all departments of government that have anything directly to do with customer contact centres (one or two partially in BNB, maybe the same on the training side -not sure).

    Do why don’t we have a Department of Customer Contact Centres? With an ADM of back offices and a staff of 15 and an ADM of online customer service with a staff of 15, etc. etc. etc.

    Of course this is somewhat absurd but I think my point is made – that is we don’t necessarily need a full government bureacracy to grow and manage a specific segment of the economy (besides managing the forests is more of an effort than managing carpal tunnel problems in the CCs).

    However, ICT is somewhat different because it implicates a wide variety of community activity be it the direct jobs in ICT or the use of a computer to facilitate remote health care in rural New Brunswick.

    In some sense we should be embarrassed to have the lowest uptake of the Internet (households) of all 10 provinces in Canada. The NB government was the first out of the gate back under McKenna to talk widely about the use of the Internet to enhance community and economic development. Now we are mired as the least Internet savvy province in Canada. Some will blame our rurality but that NB fact -rurality – is exactly why we should be far more outfront on ICT issues.

    Long winded way of saying yes I am for it.

  3. Trevor says:

    The ICT sector in New Brunswick is asking for some policy “vision” from its provincial government. The last time we had a vision for ICT in this province, it led to the development of the e-learning and call center clusters, investment in leading edge internet infrastructure and the emergence of several new post-secondary courses to support the sector’s growth. Our province has many barriers for ICT firms like immigration, financing, succession planning, post-secondary education, illiteracy and R&D financing that need addressing by policy makers.

    What I believe Ian is saying, and I agree, is that in order to capitalize on the economic paradigm shift from industrial to knowledge ecoonomy the province and sector need to work towards the same goals. The role of government should be opening doors and cutting red tape for the ICT sector, and in return the ICT sector needs to come together and drive the change needed to mature to the next level.

  4. Mike says:

    I am from NB, and now live in Calgary. The issue in NB is that you spend way too much time talking about government in the ill founded belief that they actually have a positive impact on the economy. Basically the attitude here is to ignore the politicians in Edmonton, let them take care of things, and you go out and work hard and make money. This works much better.

    You actually think a technology czar will have any meaningful impact? This will permit the government to appoint some political hack buddy who doesn’t know what http stands for, make 150k and travel around the world explaining what a New Brunswick is. And then you wonder why taxes are too high.

    Finally, on taxes – my property tax bill here in Calgary is the same amount that I paid in NB, but my house is assessed at 3x the amount.

    Forget the czar, keep the money (you are going to need it)

  5. David from Moncton says:

    “just another PR effort with almost no funding and no focus.”
    Sounds like the Mission Statement at BNB.

  6. Mike from Calgary I appreciate your position but I would ask you to step outside your preconception bubble for a minute. As pointed out here, the Alberta government gives more subsidies to business than New Brunswick (adjusted for the size of the economy of course). In addition, Alberta is spending the most money per capita on ICT of any province in Canada. It’s rural broadband rollout is still the envy of other provinces and the money thrown at the eLearning sector has been substantial. As for hacks travelling around the world, the Alberta government has six international offices – while New Brunswick has none.

    Finally, the growth in spending by the Alberta government since the mid Klein years has been the highest of any province in Canada.

    Of course it is the oil money that allows the government in Alberta to spend like its pants are on fire and also allows your tax bill to be lower but it would seem to me that the oil and gas under your feet did not come about via good government policy or planning.

    Hope you make your way back here some day.

  7. mikel says:

    The problem is once again one of democracy. The guy from Alberta knows the NB government and knows that its far easier for a province with money to invest in all those things than one without (without needing to ‘prove’ it). On the other hand, David is forced to be ‘for it’ even though he knows (or should know) all the things that Mike does.

    We see this all the time in the province, we saw it when Lamrock killed french immersion in the lower grades, virtually the ONLY support he got was from those who hate bilingualism in the first place, and those who thought ‘something must be done’. In other words, in lieu of doing nothing, at least the province does SOMETHING, even if its something bad-perhaps something good may come of it.

    So again, the devil is in the details. I know some people in the ICT sector, and I can tell you that finding people is NOT a problem, so immigration is a moot point. You don’t need to find people internationally to fill those seats. Heck, there’s plenty of ICT people in other parts of the country who will quickly move for the right position.

    But again, we come down to actual analysis-what EXACTLY does the ICT sector want government to do for it? Even the guy in the article doesn’t actually say what it should be doing. We’ve posted before about how the ICT industry doesn’t actually have a provincial organization, just provincial branches of federal ones. So if THEY can’t be organized enough to form an association-is that a reason to get government to do it for them?

    Just to quickly add, there’s been derogatory posts sometimes about how the recent by election was ‘about’ the inconsequential ‘rural internet access’, but this shows how the population is ahead of the curve-as David says, the province is mired in the least internet usage per household per capita, and it was the people of at least one rural region pushing to get that addressed.

    But like others I’d be pretty sceptical that a new bureaucracy is going to be effective, and really don’t see why if this guy has so much gumption he isn’t forming one himself (unless he’s simply saying he wants more government contracts). It’s too bad there wasn’t actually a way that the electorate could determine the structure and function of such departments.

  8. I would argue that the ICT industry needs to put first things first and get organized. Leadership should come from the industry, not government.

    http://www.philippegauthier.info/2009/01/the-focus-for-the-ict-sector-in-new-brunswick-should-come-from-the-leadership-of-the-private-sector-not-from-government/

  9. Certainly industry leadership is critical and a good place to start. I guess it depends on your goals. I would like to see a healthy dose of investment attraction into the industry and that denotes government leadership. I would also like to see government as a model user of ICT (particularly in addressing the urban/rural issues) and that denotes government leadership as well.

  10. Mike says:

    @David Campbell

    The Alberta government did not always have buckets of money. Throughout the 80’s, this place was dead dead dead. From 1990 until 2003, this place did not do that well. Oil was at $12 per bbl in 1998. The government did not lead the province out of its major problems – investors did. Regular people taking RISK and writing cheques is what did it.

    My point before is only that if you look for leadership from the people in Fredericton, or Ottawa, or Edmonton, you will never get anywhere, because they are reactive not proactive. They chase the latest, greatest thing and by that time that ship has already left the dock. Combine that with trying to be all things to all people, and nothing happens.

    NB is a great place to live and I lived there for a long time. But, there is way too much talk. If people want to truly make changes, they must be prepared to live with changes and accept what that means. I don’t think your standard 45 year old NBer is actually prepared to change.

    Unless they do, NB will eventually become cottage country with limited work outside of service industry jobs. I hope that does not happen.

  11. Anonymous says:

    When a hand full of people who live in rural areas avoiding higher urban tax are considered ahead of the curve by dominating elections (eg toll highways and internet service) with selfish claims that cost taxpayers more money, we are in trouble.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I am all for toll free highways, high speed internet access (hell why not free), divided highways province wide, new schools and hospitals in every community …….. when we can afford it. Last time I checked we we could not.

  13. mikel says:

    To the above, it was more than a handful, no politician is going to go courting a few people. But see the above, these people know that the future is all about telecommunications and broadband and want to get rural NB ‘in the game’. That’s completely different from toll highways.

    But again, Mike better states what I did except that he left one thing out. Of COURSE government leads business, that’s a no brainer, but it depends who your elected officials ARE. And as for change, just change for the sake of it will not appease voters and for good reason, they usually aren’t in their interests.

    At places like this there IS ‘too much talk’ but we’ve had that discussion before. The only people who can talk publicly depend on not rocking the boat politically or they’ll be out of a job. And keep in mind there are people who are active, but usually shut down by many critics-namely youth activists, the Green Party, environmental organizations etc. Ironically when THEY call for change they are the bad guys.

    As for Alberta, we’re talking about very different things. An economy simply based on costly oil extraction is FAR different than a province whose income has traditionally been lumber and fish. To say that investors in Alberta are doing the job of government is simply wrong. Alberta and federal government officials ‘did their job’ of staying out of Alberta’s meat processing industry, all right up until mad cow hit and then massive subsidies poured in. I might add that canadians across the board lined up to support the canadian industry in Alberta even though their meat could have been tainted, yet that was quickly forgotten in the Alberta public press.

    This isn’t grade school and this isn’t province bashing. The fact is that government largely controls the way investment works. The Alberta government would quickly find life difficult if the federal government-both liberal and conservative, didn’t do their ‘job’ so well-namely ignoring international calls for Canada to uphold the rights of indiginous people. That oil land has had Canada held up to international scorn for years for disregarding the Lubicon’s basic human rights.

    Plus, let’s not forget that 15% of the Alberta budget comes from the feds in various forms, it may be the lowest in canada right now, but it wasn’t in the eighties. It was largely federal investment that kept oil in Alberta functioning at all.

    The relation between government and industry is simply too complicated to state that ‘one does well without the other’. It simply doesn’t occur anywhere and where government has been limited, its been pretty ugly.

  14. richard says:

    “The government did not lead the province out of its major problems – investors did”

    Actually, oil did. The resurgence in the price of oil is what turned AB around. That attracted investors and businesspersons. When the economy is growing quickly due to having an abundance of a scarce resource, nearly anyone can make money. There are plenty of investors and business people in AB who are wealthy today but who would have lost their shirts in a more competitive environment. And, BTW, government funding and investment gave a big boost to the oil sand tech development, when the private sector ran away.

    “I don’t think your standard 45 year old NBer is actually prepared to change.”

    I expect that is true, but the same can be said of most Albertan 45 yr olds. Least it was true when I lived there. Most people are shockingly accepting of their surroundings, no matter how poorly off they are.
    It takes a real leader and the right moment to change that direction (or oil, whichever comes first).

  15. mikel says:

    That depends. Danny Williams is older than 45 and certainly is ‘changing’ things. His population is even older than New Brunswick’s yet his approval rating has often hit close to 90%. The business class and pundits though aren’t crazy about THAT kind of change, but again, that is a very small ‘special interest’ class and shows how different their interests are from the majority of citizens. Ivan Court is probably the closest thing to a contrarian politician in New Brunswick, but it remains to be seen how well he fares with constant criticisms in the Telegraph (I’m not a columnist so there’s my bias). And even he is pretty milquetoast compared to Danny. But THAT is the kind of change that represents a populations best interest, so whether NB will ever produce such a politician is a good question.

  16. richard says:

    ” Danny Williams is older than 45 and certainly is ‘changing’ things.”

    No, OIL is changing things in NFLD. Williams without oil would be like a clown without make-up.

    Court appears to be in way over his head. NB has produced politicians who delivered change; LJR is probably the best example. Would he have been able to achieve what he did in the 50s or 90s? Not likely. He was a man with a vision during a time when the “time’s are a changin'”.

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