Keynote Address from Minister Qualtrough at FWD50 2018


The Honourable Carla Qualtrough
Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, and the Minister responsible for Shared Services Canada

November 8, 2018
Ottawa, ON

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Good morning and welcome.

It’s a pleasure to be here to help open the second annual Forward 50 Conference.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.

We have an excellent array of speakers and representatives from all over Canada and all corners of the world today.

Many of you have travelled from far and wide, and we’re excited to have you here.

This is a truly unique opportunity to learn from each other, and to better understand the challenges – and immense opportunities – of tomorrow’s digital advances.

Technology is one of the ways we can break down barriers to accessibility and inclusion.

As Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, and the Minister responsible for Shared Services Canada, I’m very interested in this conversation.

In all three areas of my portfolio, my team and I have focused on how we can improve interactions between Canadians and the Government of Canada. Making the delivery of programs and services simpler, less burdensome and more accessible for Government employees and for all Canadians is what we are continuously striving for.

We ask ourselves how we can deliver IT services to government department and agencies so they can better deliver services to Canadians.

We ask ourselves how we can we leverage technology to modernize our procurement practices to make it easier for companies, like yourselves, do business with the Government. 

And we ask ourselves how we can strategically partner with the private sector to break down barriers to accessibility to create more opportunity for Canadians with disabilities and build a more inclusive society.

As a person with a disability, I’ve had to navigate a world that at times was not built for me. Innovations like the monocular and CCTV allowed me to discover the world. It allowed me to look at a quarter close up and realize that it said “Canada” on it.

Small things that many might take for granted, I was only able to learn through the help of technology.

After I retired as a Paralympic athlete, I decided I wanted to pursue my education in political science and law school. As you can imagine, neither of those degrees were light on reading material. But imagine not being able to read most of it.

My professors and I would eventually figure out how to get me the materials in accessible format, but it was through technology that everything became a bit easier.

I was able to have a laptop in the classroom. This was “cutting edge” at the time but a critical piece of technology that allowed me to keep up with my classmates and succeed in my studies.

We have come a long way, but the more we can close the gap by removing barriers, the closer we will move to a fully inclusive society. This is about encouraging everyone to take meaningful action to make our society more accessible and inclusive for all Canadians. 

I am proud to say that our Government is committed to achieving this broad culture change.

It is foundational to the historic accessibility legislation our Government tabled in June.

Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, will benefit all Canadians, especially Canadians with disabilities, through the realization of a barrier-free Canada.

This will be achieved by proactively identifying, removing, and preventing barriers to accessibility wherever Canadians interact with areas under federal jurisdiction.

This proposed legislation has a wide reach.

It applies to Parliament, the Government of Canada, Crown Corporations, and other federally regulated sectors and entities, including organizations in the transportation, telecommunications, broadcasting and banking sectors.

It ensures that these sectors and entities are inclusive from the start. By proactively addressing discrimination before it happens, people with disabilities can have an equal chance at success. This is the very premise of the Accessible Canada Act.

Sectors like procurement, IT and AI will proactively implement accessibility measures to ensure all Canadians can use and access the same resources.

In addition, the legislation will give the Government of Canada the authority to work with partners, industries and Canadians with disabilities to create new accessibility standards and regulations in areas of federal jurisdiction. This includes: buildings and public spaces, transportation as well as information and communication technologies.

To advance the objectives of the proposed legislation, our Government has committed approximately $290 million over six years.

As I’ve said before, this legislation represents a culture shift in the Government’s approach to accessibility.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the amazing private sector partners in the disability community.

Some of whom are here today. And I would like to thank you for your ongoing support in developing and tabling Bill C-81.I would also like to highlight the important role that business leaders are playing in shifting the conversation. 

Last spring, I was in New York City to attend the UN Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

While there, I toured the Microsoft Technology Center, which houses the latest innovative technologies on accessibility.

I was thrilled to see the advances being made to support people with disabilities in the workplace.

They truly live by the idea that technology is a tool for all people. They build their products to empower and help individuals achieve even more.

Because of Microsoft, people across the world are able to be active members of society and participate in the workforce.

That day, I felt inspired about the potential tech companies have to push boundaries for the greater good of persons with disabilities.

I’ve begun to see a shift where businesses are understanding and seeing the return on investment when they have persons with disabilities on their team or when they make their business more accessible. 

Perhaps what is driving this shift is the rise in awareness of the fact that people with disabilities and their families represent a purchasing power of goods and services of more than $210 billion annually. 

According to a study conducted by Employment and Social Development Canada, improvements to workplace access would allow 550,000 Canadians with disabilities to work more, increasing GDP by $16.8 billion by 2030.

These are numbers that businesses cannot ignore, because it means that barriers to accessibility are also barriers to profit.

It is also why our Government is turning its attention to hiring more persons with disabilities, making our services more accessible and removing barriers across Canada.  

A prime example is our Accessible Technology Program. It co-funds innovative projects that develop new assistive or adaptive technologies to improve access to the digital economy for persons with disabilities. With millions in dollars in funding available, this gives the private sector, not-for-profit organizations and research institutes a real opportunity to create long-lasting innovations that respond to the needs of Canadians with disabilities.

This sense of partnership and collaboration underpins our Government’s overall commitment to service excellence in today’s digital world.

It led us, earlier this year, to sign the Digital 7 Charter or D7 – joining leading digital nations in a shared mission to harness digital technology to the benefit of citizens.

The D7 is an excellent forum to share best practices, and collaborate on common projects and service improvements.

Here in Canada, we feel that we have much to share.

We have worked hard to keep pace with technological changes in order to better serve our citizens. And I can tell you that we were proud to see Canada ranked 1st in the International Civil Service Effectiveness Index last year (2017). 

But, at the same time, we know that much work remains.

Which is why our Government has made significant investments to ensure we are properly resourced to address evolving IT needs and opportunities.

In our last federal budget, we committed $2.2 billion to continue to build a modern, secure, and reliable IT foundation for the digital delivery of programs and services to Canadians.

Much of this work is led by Shared Services Canada – the Government’s IT agency.  

Today, Shared Services Canada is undertaking a very large and diverse whole-of-government IT transformation. Using enterprise-wide approaches, the department is harnessing today’s latest technologies to support mission-critical operations and enable digital services to Canadians.

Let me just go over a few elements that I am particularly excited about.

We’re seeing better coordination between government departments and agencies, which is allowing them to address technology needs without duplicating platforms or creating incompatible systems.

We’re seeing fewer barriers for government-wide decision-making, and better use of resources.

Today, the picture that’s taking shape is much different. A prime example is our ability to appropriately manage cyber activity.

With a much better overall view of government networks and security systems, Canada is in a much better place to respond to common cyber threats – such as the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities from earlier this year that put sensitive information at risk.

We have also achieved some important milestones in consolidating our IT back-office. This includes closing down dozens of old legacy data centres, and migrating applications to public cloud services and state-of-the-art enterprise data centers that provide greater physical security for the personal information of Canadians. 

In addition, we continue to establish enterprise-wide IT agreements with leading technology companies and suppliers.

In areas like super-computing, for example, we have partnered with industry leaders to provide Canadians with one of the most advanced weather services in the world.

Our Government also recognizes that we must do more to facilitate the broader adoption of new and emerging technologies.

It’s what Canadians expect of their Government.

That’s why we are engaging experts, industry professionals and civil society to explore how we can use the latest technological developments to better serve Canadians.

Take the rise of artificial intelligence, for example.

Our government wants to be at the forefront when it comes to leveraging technologies like AI.

In fact, we are establishing a source list of pre-qualified suppliers to provide Artificial Intelligence products, solutions and services for all the Government of Canada’s needs.

This Source List is designed to provide a space for all suppliers, including Small and Medium Enterprises, to do business with our Government.

That’s one example of how we’re leveraging emerging technologies.

These initiatives will help us be the modern Government Canadians deserve.

But it’s not only about procuring the latest technologies.

It’s also about modernizing the way in which we procure our goods and services in the first place.

We’ve heard from you about the need to simplify government processes. I am determined to create a world-class procurement system that meets your needs and ours. 

I recognize that many of you – small businesses in particular – often find it difficult to work with government.

You’ve told us that there are too many rules and barriers that prevent you from doing business with us.

That’s why we’re moving towards an outcomes approach.What does that mean exactly? 

It means a greater focus on the problem or situation we are trying to address.

It means getting away from prescribing a series of steps that we believe will yield a certain result, or even presuming we know the best solution.

This more agile approach reduces the reliance on large Requests For Proposals that take weeks to complete.

It will allow us to better engage with the industry to address the challenges at hand, letting them provide suggestions on what they can offer rather than pre-defining solutions.

This approach can be seen in our new Phoenix Innovation Challenge. We are examining all aspects of the HR-to-Pay environment, including a review of all systems and processes involved in the end to end chain.

The goal is to stabilize operations and lower the queue of outstanding transactions awaiting processing.

In this case, we are seeking innovative solutions both internally and externally to specific issues being encountered: new ways to process pay, to modify and adapt pay business models to achieve better pay results and deliver better services.

That’s how we’re being more agile in our processes. However, we know that we also need to steer that process with modern tools.

The fact is, for far too long, our procurement processes have been more or less paper-based.

I’m intent on changing that.

Last year, Public Services and Procurement Canada started to accept bids electronically – a faster, greener and more efficient way of doing business.

I’m also pleased with the progress of our e-mail notification service for suppliers, allowing them to subscribe to emails which alert them to new tender notices in areas of interest.

To date, over 7,200 users suppliers have registered for the procurement alerts. In doing this, we have increased access and competition, and businesses are using fewer resources seeking out business opportunities.

While this seems like a small, simple initiative, it is proving immensely helpful to businesses of all sizes.

When you consider the fact that procurements for the Government of Canada total approximately $25 billion annually, the impact of these simple improvements becomes clear.

This is important to us. Moving procurement online is a key priority to improving the way government works with suppliers to buy and sell goods and services.

That’s why our Government included an investment of $196 million in Budget 2018 to establish a new e-platform for simpler, better procurement.

In July, we awarded the contract for this platform  I’m happy to say that work on this project is already underway.

This interactive, cloud-based platform will facilitate an online experience similar to Amazon and eBay, allowing buyers and suppliers to work together on one platform—from proposal to final payment.

And it’s going to help promote participation from Canadian companies, including small and medium enterprises operated by under-represented groups.

Simplifying our process and using technologies to make them more user friendly—this is how we’re modernizing procurement. We’re also making it more accessible to people with disabilities.

We are very aware of the risk as we become more digital of leaving some people behind if we are not inclusive. But as I’ve already told you, our government is committed to building an accessible Canada for all.

That commitment extends to how our Government procures goods and services.

That’s why I’m pleased to announce that we are creating an accessible procurement resource centre to ensure goods and services purchased by the Government of Canada can be used by Canadians with disabilities, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

As the country’s largest public purchaser of goods and services, we have an opportunity to make a real societal impact here.                                              

This accessible procurement resource centre will serve two functions.

First, it will create and maintain a list of commodities across government for which accessibility is relevant.

And second, it will provide direction, guidance and advice on accessibility procurement to all federal organizations.

This is about ensuring accessibility from the start—not retrofitting a solution after the fact, because meeting the needs of the people we serve should never be an afterthought.

I believe that it is our collective duty to make sure that all citizens are included and thriving in today’s digital world.Together, we can lay a strong foundation to ensure that accessibility and inclusion are driving factors to push our institutions into the 21st century.

To truly achieve a meaningful digital transformation, we all need to think innovatively about the impact of our actions as leaders in Canada, and what we can do to promote broad culture change.

We must also ensure that new technologies and systems are truly inclusive.

As a life-long advocate for disability rights, I am proud of the work our Government is doing right now to make our services more accessible and inclusive.

I’ve touched on a few examples today. 

There are many others, including the leading-edge work departments like Shared Services Canada are doing to assist and integrate employees with disabilities into the workplace. 

So my message to you today is straightforward.

We can only have true success if we, as government and industry leaders, lead by example and help lift those voices up to the top.

I’m optimistic.

I’m optimistic because I’ve seen first-hand how technology can break down barriers.

And I’ve seen how technology helps create opportunities for those who struggle.

I’m a living, breathing example of it.

I hope that you can join me in creating an inclusive and accessible Canada for all.

Thank you.

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