By enacting An Act Respecting the Governance and Management of the Information Resources of Public Bodies and Government Enterprises (the Act), Québec’s Parliament has set out a new body of rules placing significant obligations on public bodies and government enterprises in respect of information resources projects and expenditures.

The Act, which came into force on June 13, 2011, establishes a new framework for the governance and management of information resources applicable to most public bodies, including those in the fields of education, health and social services. In addition, the Act, in following with the Government’s recent efforts, places an emphasis on open-source software (also known as free software), by requiring that public bodies and government enterprises consider this type of software as well as other solutions when devising their information technology strategies.

Overview of the Act

The Act provides new rules for the governance and management of information resources in public bodies and government enterprises with a view towards (i) implementing an integrated and coordinated system of governance in order to provide quality services to individuals and enterprises and to preserve the Government’s digital heritage, (ii) optimizing operations by sharing and pooling know-how, information, infrastructure and resources, and (iii) ensuring rigor and transparency in the management of money spent on information resources.

In order to oversee these new rules and ensure their application throughout public bodies and government enterprises, the Act provides for a chief information officer (who is within the secretariat of the Conseil du trésor). The latter becomes “the key player” in the governance and management of information resources, ensuring the implementation of the new rules by all. The chief information officer is supported in its role by network and sectoral information officers in each of the ministries and government agencies.

The main functions of these positions include implementing the policies and directives made under the Act, overseeing their application and coordinating their execution, advising the Conseil du trésor on information resources and providing public bodies with the tools and assistance needed to efficiently manage their information resources. Moreover, the chief information officer and the network and sectoral information officers, together with the Conseil du trésor, have the mandate to take the necessary measures to ensure that public bodies and government enterprises consider open-source software on the same footing as any other software in respect of information technology projects.

What Public Bodies and Government Enterprises Need To Do

The management tools public bodies must establish for the governance and management of their information resources are identified in the Act. As a result, public bodies must (i) establish a three-year plan of resource information projects and activities, (ii) establish a spending program detailing the use of the funds that will be spent on such projects and activities during the fiscal year, (iii) engage in project follow-up, (iv) draw up a review of each project or project phase authorized under the Act, and (v) draw up an annual review of achievements and benefits.

Moreover, public bodies must have their annual spending programs approved and their information resources projects authorized by, depending on the case, the Government, the Conseil du trésor, the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sport, the Minister of Health and Social Services, the public body’s board of directors or its senior officer. For the purpose of the Act, “information resource project” means all the actions taken to develop, upgrade, acquire, lease, update and maintain information resources, whether applications or physical assets.

Government enterprises must also adopt information resource governance and management policies that, among other things, reflect the objectives of the Act and provide for the implementation of management tools and approval and authorization mechanisms similar to those of public bodies.

The Act provides for a transitional period. Therefore, the obligation of a public body to obtain authorization for an information resource project that satisfies the criteria determined by the Conseil du trésor does not apply to projects in progress on June 13, 2011.

The Act is likely to change governance practices and management of information resources in public bodies and government enterprises by tightening the rules and requiring the implementation of more extensive planning, authorization, monitoring and accountability mechanisms.