Digital Policy Salon: Digital Assets, Digital Administration, Digital Debate?

Briefing #28

Welcome to the 28th issue of the Digital Policy Salon.

With the Canadian Parliament’s first virtual confidence vote, along with the first ever virtual Presidential Debate in the United States this week, all eyes are on the intersection between technology and formerly familiar public and private proceedings. Onlookers might be reminded of stories of the first televised presidential debates and wonder if Zoom etiquette and the ideal home setting will be among the next generation of tools in this space.

Beyond policy updates, our work this week contains continued labour market updates, an interview on digital HR, and featured research on the status of investment in blockchain in Canada. Each of these reinforces how rapidly technology’s involvement in administration, finance, and daily life is growing, a topic also investigated in this week’s “what we’re reading.”

Finally, pencil us in to your calendars for October: Dr. Peter Taillon, our Senior Data Analyst, will be moderating a panel on Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) technology and its applications for non-passenger vehicles (from garbage pick-ups to snow plows).

Policy Updates 🇨🇦

In the world of public policy, this week was a week of “virtual firsts”

The first virtual vote in Canadian history took place in the Parliament of Canada this week. Along with the introduction of new technical equipment, the government was successful in passing its first confidence vote since the updated speech from the throne last Wednesday.

Below the border, in the United States, the first entirely virtual presidential debate took place.

Recent surveys on the Canadian and global workforces show the future of work as… blended

A PwC survey from July shows that while 6% of respondents worked “primarily remotely” before the pandemic, almost 60% do now. Earlier this moth, the CRA released a set of draft changes to the T4044 tax form to try and accommodate these trends.

Looking forward, employees’ ideal work scenarios are mixed: 37% hope to work either entirely or mostly at the workplace, 34% hope to work either entirely or mostly remotely, and 29% hope to work a 50–50 split.

Meanwhile, a McKinsey survey, also from July, shows that 85% of companies surveyed have accelerated the digitization of their employee interactions and collaboration, while 67% have accelerated the adoption of automation and AI.

Some tech giants still buying office space amid the larger work from home trend

Amazon announced plans to create 3500 new corporate and tech-focused jobs in Vancouver and Toronto this week, where, according to Bloomberg, software engineers are smart, and plentiful.

When asked why the company chose to create location-based jobs in an economy where many other tech companies are going digital by default, one of Amazon’s vice-presidents explained that employees “really value being able to be together and interact in real time to solve interesting customer problems.”

New court decisions continue to provide interesting insights on the application of old laws to new tech

A recent decision by the UK High Court has confirmed that in the UK, a machine learning system or algorithm is not a “natural person” and therefore cannot be regarded as the inventor of a patent under UK patent law. Similarly, two patent applications were refused by the European Patent Office earlier this year on the basis that they “attempted to name a computer system as the sole inventor.”

In line with the UK and EU’s approach, human inventorship is also necessary for a patent and its protections to be valid here in Canada. - Mairead Matthews | email

Our Perspective


COVID-19, Employment, and Wages

By Ryan McLaughlin

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, it has become well-understood that the economic consequences of COVID-19 lockdowns have been harsher for lower-wage workers. While higher-wage workers are more likely to be unaffected by the pandemic, as they are able to work remotely, hundreds of thousands of service sector workers have lost work. ICTC’s recent report, The Digital-Led New Normal: Revised Labour Market Outlook for 2022, documents the disparate impacts on employment across three evenly sized groupings of workers by wages, and this blog takes a look at some of these analyses.

Since February, including the modest recovery in May, employment of males in the lowest-earning occupations have dropped by 19.7%, while the employment of females in the lowest-earning occupations have dropped by 26.3%. In contrast, only 3.7% of the highest-earning third of males have lost their jobs, and 0.6% of the highest-earning third of females. COVID-19-caused layoffs and job losses are disproportionately affecting the lowest-income segment (and therefore most financially vulnerable portion) of the workforce.

Read the full article here 📝

Special Events


Join Us For a Virtual Panel Discussion

Tuesday, Oct 27th, 2020–11:00 AM — 12:00 PM EDT

You’re invited to join Dr. Peter Taillon, Senior Data Analyst with ICTC’s Digital Think Tank, along with his distinguished panel of guests as they dive into the ecosystem, regulatory, and legal aspect of non-passenger Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). Significant advances have been made in industrial and service vehicle automation, and the economic benefits and technological and social impacts may well result in their broad deployment before passenger CAVs.

Our distinguished panel consists of:

Barrie Kirk, Executive Director, CAVCOE

Uwe Müller, Program Manager — Commercial Pilots, Volvo Autonomous Solutions

Martin Abadi, Counsel — Emerging technologies in transportation, BLG

You will have the opportunity to directly engage with our speakers on this content through an online chat. Click the link below to secure your registration today.

Register here 🗓

Interviews in the Field


Emphasis on the Human: The Evolution of HR in a Virtual World

Three quarters of the way through 2020, the world is fundamentally different than it was in January. Markets have shifted, causing vast labour adjustments, and remote work has raised important questions about long-term changes to our lives. Perhaps now more than ever, questions of talent acquisition, employee professional development, and retention are front and centre. So, how exactly does technology fit into the mix? ICTC’s Senior Director of Research & Policy, Alexandra Cutean, sat down with Lindsey Walker, VP of Talent at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, to get a glimpse into this rapidly evolving space.


You mention leaning on a few apps for support — Calm and Talkspace, for example. Looking at the industry over the years, how do you think it’s evolved, and what role has technology played?


I’ve been in this space for close to two decades now, and technology has played a huge role. One area that it’s made a big impact in is applicant tracking systems and candidate relationship management systems. These tools have gotten pretty advanced, as we’re able to use them to automate workflows but also make sure that we’ve got the right touch points with candidates. They have other benefits like process efficiency, but for me, the biggest value is in improving the candidate experience. I mean, these are not widgets, they’re people, and they’re applying for jobs, which can be hugely stressful, especially in times like these. If we can use technology to make that experience better, I think it’s a big step in the right direction.

There are times where a personal touch still has to come into play, but I think in some instances, technology can be a big resource. I say “some instances” because I know there is talk about how AI is starting to influence the recruitment space, and to be honest, I’m wary of it. Candidate selection is a really important decision, and I’m not quite comfortable leveraging AI for this purpose, yet.

However, the other part of my role is about internal talent development. This includes career mobility and learning and development; that’s an area where technology like AI has made leaps and bounds, in my view. It’s horrible to say, but years ago, there wasn’t a lot of robust thought around the best ways to enable employees on their learning pathways, or how to find opportunities for internal career mobility for existing employees. But next month, we’re going to launch a new system and platform that uses machine learning to learn about what an employee is passionate about, what motivates them, what their skills are, and where they want to go in their careers. I think this tool will really help our employees find internal avenues that they can grow into with some skill development. To me, that’s really exciting.

Lindsey Walker, Vice President of Talent at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Read the full interview here📝

What We’re Reading

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Blockchain Regulation Is Making Headlines, And That Is Great For Cryptocurrency Development


In order to achieve widespread usage as an alternative to fiat options, blockchain and cryptoassets need to be classified and treated as currencies; the recent update from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is a great move in that direction.

The idea of blockchain and cryptocurrency was to serve as an alternative to existing fiat currencies, but without consistent and understandable guidelines this will remain an idea rather than reality. Putting into place some sort of rules and structure will help to encourage wider adoption of cryptocurrencies, and make doing so simpler for individuals and entrepreneurs.

Establishing frameworks and consistently enforceable rules might not have been the original motivation for blockchain or crypto entrepreneurs, but having these rules in place is essential for the continued development and maturation of the space.

Talking Points:

The updated guidance from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency allows U.S. financial institutions to back digital dollar stablecoins by holding deposits of fiat currency as reserves for stablecoins that are pegged 1:1 to the U.S. dollar. The reserve amount held by the back is required to always be equal to or more than the number of issues stablecoins.

While the regulatory discourse around blockchain and cryptocurrencies hasn’t reached the fever pitch of that surrounding social media, it is extremely positive to see such proactive guidance from the OCC. Even though the guidance is very narrow in only addressing stablecoins pegged 1:1 with the U.S. dollar, it ensures innovators have a path forward for stablecoin experimentation with financial institutional buy-in by pulling inspiration from the ordinary pre-paid credit card. - Tyler Farmer | email

Research Visualized

As the latest StatsCan labour force data is becoming available, it is becoming clearer that the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been more severe on lower wage workers. Lower wage workers have, on average, seen greater job losses. This effect was particularly pronounced in the immediate aftermath of the nationwide lockdown in March and April but still holds, even with the lifting of lockdowns over the summer.

Check out an interactive version of this data visualization here 📈

Our Research


Chain Reaction: Investment in Canada’s Blockchain Ecosystem

An exciting and emerging technology based on the concepts of transparency and immutability, blockchain has the potential to augment many sectors by changing and optimizing processes in areas such as supply chain management, financial services, public administration, and others.

Industry experts interviewed in this study viewed Canada favourably, recognizing it as home to several blockchain experts and a highly skilled talent base. Many alluded to Toronto as a key hub for promising blockchain organizations, and educational institutions like George Brown College were highlighted as essential in continuing to develop and grow key blockchain skills in Canada. Interviewees tend to view Canada as a favourable destination for investment generally-speaking but were lukewarm on the notion of blockchain-based investment — here, many expressed concern about conservative business culture, lagging private and public sector investment, and slow movement on the regulation front as key obstacles preventing FDI.

While these barriers exist for the time being, interviewees were optimistic about Canada’s potential to overcome them. By addressing these issues and continuing to support and grow its competitive advantage in the production of skilled talent and innovative IP, Canada can eventually create a vibrant blockchain ecosystem that attracts investment from around the world.

Read the full study here 📖

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