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The Beacon Herald
Digital call to action
By MIKE BEITZ, Stratford Beacon Herald

Of all the statistics, ratios, percentages and totals presented at the Canada 3.0 digital media conference in Stratford this week, the ones flashed on the Rotary Complex screens at the wrapup Wednesday afternoon were perhaps the most compelling.

At least Ian Wilson hopes so. The Stratford Institute executive director sounded a call to action after painting a fairly bleak picture of Canada's competitive position as a digital nation.

"We're slipping in terms of productivity, in terms of our use of this technology, and we need to do something about it," said Wilson as he presented the findings of his Stratford Report 2011.

That document attempts to help define the Canada 3.0 moonshot -- that anyone in Canada can do anything online by 2017 -- and track the country's progress toward that goal of becoming a leading digital nation.

We have a long way to go, suggested Wilson.

"Vision without implementation is hallucination. And I think we're hallucinating, because some of these numbers suggest we're not doing very well."

A compilation of statistics on things such as broadband connectivity, knowledge workforce, digital inclusion, innovation, marketing and advocacy -- the so-called Stratford Index -- indicates that Canada is playing catch-up with other developed

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nations when it comes to embracing information and communication technologies (ICT) in a meaningful way, noted Wilson.

Despite the widespread availability of broadband Internet services in Canada, and despite spending nearly twice as many hours online (43.5) as the worldwide average (23.1), Canadians are viewing precious little Canadian content there, he said.

Only 13% of Canadian publications and less than 1% of existing Canadian film, broadcast and other audio-visual material is accessible online.

"We're one of the best-connected countries in the world -- best connected . . . to foreign content," said Wilson.

Canadian businesses are also lagging, according to the index.

The country was ranked 10th in global competitiveness in 2010-2011, down from ninth the previous year, and in terms of innovation, it placed 14th among 17 peer countries.

But that situation can be reversed, said Wilson, urging better co-operation among business and industry, government and academia to push the digital agenda.

Indeed, that was a common theme earlier in the evening when representatives from the eight main digital media discussion streams -- education, research, telecommunications, e-health, human resources, natural resources, media and entertainment, and public sector -- presenting their findings.

Most of them highlighted the need for various sectors to stop working in isolation, or silos, and come together to help develop a national digital strategy.

"We need an unprecedented level of collaboration," said Wilson.

He also encouraged "active engagement" among the nearly 1,800 people who took part in the Canada 3.0 conference to help keep the conversation going about the importance of digital media, and to help convey a sense of urgency about it to others.

"The future is ours to grab," said Canadian Digital Media Network managing director Kevin Tuer at the close of the two-day conference. "We need to move toward making Canada a digital nation."