Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. aims to boost online services with new Digital Government department

A name change for one of the province's new departments shows a desire to go digital.

Use of provincial government's online services exploded during pandemic

The government's online service portal, MyGovNL, was unveiled in 2019 and has seen its use explode during the pandemic. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Premier Andrew Furey's new Liberal cabinet includes several renamed departments, signaling a shift in priorities for the new leader, including an emphasis on online transactions with the newly minted Digital Government and Service NL department.

The new ministry, unveiled Aug. 19 under first-time minister Sarah Stoodley, covers a range of services, including driver's licences and MCP card renewals, with a plan to increase those offerings.

"Online is really the storefront now for most companies, and a shift to digital government really kind of reflects that, and reflects the priority I think that we certainly want to place on that moving forward," Stoodley, who is also the MHA for Mount Scio, told CBC News on Monday. 

The need for online services has made itself known more than ever in the COVID-19 era, she said, as the number of registered accounts with the province's MyGovNL platform skyrocketed from 7,500 to 96,000.

"I think that the pandemic has really highlighted the need and demonstrated that residents of Newfoundland and Labrador are certainly ready for that," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

While that platform offers only a handful of straightforward services at the moment, Stoodley said that spike in users clearly illustrates a demand for more.

"Obviously as we move into the future, we're going to be expanding on what you can do," she said, adding her handful days on the job so far have been a deluge of briefings about the existing services the department provides, and how to better marry them into the 21st century.

"Now it's thinking, 'How do we bring the digital government side into that, and prioritize and focus on delivering more and more services online to residents?'" she said.

Sarah Stoodley is the new minister in charge of digital government and Service NL. (Patrick Butler/CBC-Radio Canada)

New name, old promise

Former premier Dwight Ball unveiled a similar initiative digital-first strategy under his Way Forward plan in April 2018, vowing to increase the amount of government services offered online in five years by 50 per cent, with an $8-million price tag attached.

At the time, Ball said such online streamlining would save $16 million, and MyGovNL was unveiled a year later for people to begin renewing certain licences and cards online. In late June, the service added obtaining a driver's abstract and paying for road testing to those online services.

With the new digital government department in its infancy, Stoodley sees more work to be done, particularly in the site's usability.

"I think the biggest opportunity for us right now with online services is helping people get the answers they need at the tip of their fingertips, and I think that's a bit of a culture shift," she said.

Stoodley said as the government moves to further online interactions, her department will need to ensure residents, such as those with low incomes who may not have access to a lot of technology, are not left behind.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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