European common data spaces: a structuring initiative that is both necessary and adaptable to Canada

Faced with the acceleration of the digital economy, the governance and effective sharing of data have become fundamental issues for public policy at all levels of jurisdictions and in all areas of human activity. This paper reviews the initiatives and challenges associated with data governance, with a particular focus on the European Common Data Spaces (ECDS) and their direct relevance to the Canadian context. It explores the inherent complexity of data governance, which must reconcile sector-specificities with more horizontal governance principles. In doing so, it highlights the importance of strategic and coordinated action to maximize the social and economic benefits of data.

The Burgundy Report, published by CIRANO in July 2023, calls for the creation of a common data space in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Strategic Trade Corridor by 2030. This proposal builds in particular on three separate policy reports published in 2022 by the National Supply Chain Task Force, the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety (COMT) and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities.

The findings and recommendations of these reports raise fundamental questions that are central to the critical issues of governance, organizational culture, execution capacity, public and private stakeholder engagement, and data underutilization within the Canadian government machinery strained by years of delay and exacerbated by recent disruptions related to anticipated climate disasters.

The creation of a common data space is envisaged as a structuring investment in Canada's essential infrastructure for intermodal transport and the supply chain. This working paper on European Common Data Spaces (ECDS) extends the synthesis and recommendations published last July 2023 by providing an operational analysis of the transformative initiative currently underway within the European Union (EU). This major policy development stems from the 2020 European Data Strategy and seeks to establish twelve common data spaces in strategic sectors, including mobility and transport.

The document is divided into three main parts. The first part provides an overview of data-related public policies in Canada and the EU between 2018 and 2023. The second part focuses on the implications and lessons learned from the impact assessment supporting the adoption of data governance legislation by the European institutions. This directive establishes a regulatory framework for the creation of common data spaces in the EU. The third section discusses the current deployment of ECDSs, highlighting key milestones and ongoing processes.

The paper highlights notable similarities between the EU and Canada in the identification of data issues and the formulation of public policy objectives. It also highlights differences in optimizing data sharing between jurisdictions and stakeholders.

A fundamental difference between these two strategic partners is the absence of an effective and sustained pooling of resources within the Canadian intergovernmental machinery in pursuit of common objectives in the face of major shared challenges such as data accessibility and sharing. This situation is in stark contrast to the EU's groundbreaking deployment of the ECDS in pursuit of identical objectives of positioning itself as a world leader in the data economy.

This lack of consideration, let alone joint action, by Canada's intergovernmental machinery to implement a common data strategy in Canada is damaging. To be effective, the Canadian response must be agile, results-oriented, and interoperable across jurisdictions.

The rigorous management, responsible use, and organized sharing of data within and between jurisdictions are crucial to addressing the complex challenges and major risks facing Canada. Neither the federal nor provincial governments are currently well positioned to treat data as a shared strategic asset.

The resolution of regulatory, legal, and technical obstacles to data exchange between jurisdictions and organizations cannot be achieved without the creation of a common data space. This can only be achieved by combining the necessary tools and infrastructures, and by addressing issues of trust, for example by means of common rules drawn up for this purpose.

“The barriers that prevent the establishment of robust health data sharing systems are not technical, but rather fundamentally political and cultural.”

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