07/11/2012 12:50 EDT | Updated 09/10/2012 05:12 EDT

Canadians want more government e-services, but don't want to pay for them: study

TORONTO - Canadians are already more likely to go the online route when accessing government services — when the option is actually available, that is — and want more digital choices to avoid having to pick up the phone, use snail mail or wait in line, suggests a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada.

The availability of government e-services varies across the country. For example, some provinces allow residents to apply for birth certificates online, while others still require the submission of an application in person or by mail. Service Canada offers Canadians e-services including online applications for employment insurance and the Canada Pension Plan.

In a survey of about 3,150 Canadians, almost half of the respondents said they chose to go online for access to government services "all of the time" or "often." That compared to 33 per cent who said they "all of the time" or "often" went in person to line up for help, 16 per cent who filled in applications and mailed them out, and nine per cent who used kiosks.

While just three per cent opted to use their smartphone "all of the time" or "often" and two per cent used their tablet, respondents did say they could imagine using the mobile devices more in the future.

About 17 per cent said they looked forward to eventually using their smartphone for government services and 13 per cent said they would use their tablet.

The results indicate Canadians are comfortable using digital means to interact with governments, said Domenic Belmonte, an associate partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada.

"It starts to highlight what Canadian governments need to start to think about to improve their delivery" of services, Belmonte said.

"I think Canadian governments have done a very good job up to this point.... The next issue for them is how do they build on those successes."

When asked what was stopping them from using government e-services, nearly half of all those surveyed said their lack of knowledge about their options was the biggest reason.

"One of the challenges we found as part of the survey — and certainly just our knowledge about this space — is the fact that the frequency of a citizen to interact with governments is a lot less when compared to other industries, like banking or retail," Belmonte said, adding that governments should do more to promote their new digital services.

"One of the challenges governments have is how do we increase awareness knowing that there is an infrequency of visits" to government offices or websites.

Over 80 per cent of those surveyed said they were interested in receiving automatic notifications — presumably on their phone or via email — at times when government services might be applicable to them. As an example, the report suggests new parents might get an electronic message shortly after having a baby with information about next steps and paperwork to deal with.

About 31 per cent said they were "definitely interested" and 43 per cent said they were "maybe interested" in location-based messages that would be sent based on their whereabouts. About 70 per cent said they would like to be sent messages about weather conditions or warnings and 65 per cent said they would like messages with traffic and road construction information.

About 62 per cent said they would be interested in a new type of government-issued identity card that would replace the need for separate driver's licence, health and social insurance number cards. And about two in three respondents said they would like the option of renewing those cards online or with a mobile device, perhaps with the use of facial recognition technology.

While Canadians seemed eager to embrace new digital services, they expected them to be free. More than 70 per cent said they wouldn't pay for the new services, although 19 per cent said they would definitely pay to jump a line or wait list.