Breaking New Ground: Pioneering Electronic Land Registration in Ontario, 1987-2010


In 1987, Ontario’s land registration system was overwhelmed. Budget constraints and a surge in property sales were straining the Canadian province’s paper-based operation. After struggling to computerize its land records during the previous seven years, civil servants at the provincial Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations led a groundbreaking effort to form a public–private partnership to convert millions of property records—both from paper to digital and in some cases from a deeds system to titles—and create the world’s first electronic land registration system. During the partnership’s first 12 years, beginning in 1991, the provincial government and joint venture company Teranet worked to persuade sometimes skeptical politicians and real estate professionals of the value of their model and laid the groundwork for a lasting relationship even after the government sold its ownership stake in 2003. Despite early financial challenges and a slower-than-expected conversion process, Teranet and the Ontario government pioneered technology that became a model for the world, simplified transactions for the province’s landowners, and built a relationship that continued to offer value for both partners in 2016, 25 years after the partnership began.

Lessons Learned

  • Designing a successful PPP. The public–private partnership between Ontario and private joint venture company Teranet facilitated greater investment in innovative technology. Close collaboration, the use of existing government capacity, and strong governance structures were crucial for maintaining an effective working relationship—even after the government sold its stake in Teranet in 2003.
  • Challenges of converting deeds to titles. Creating a new form of title and setting precedents for the handling of unusual properties helped speed the conversion from a deeds to a titles system. But despite efficiency gains, the process remained time- and resource intensive.
  • Stakeholder relations. A close relationship with entities such as the law society and a gradual rollout of new technology eased real estate professionals’ acceptance of electronic registration. Later, those relationships played a key role in measures to prevent fraudulent transactions.
  • Private versus nonprofit incentives. As a for-profit company, Teranet had an incentive to focus on commercial, value-added products after developing the electronic registration system. In contrast, British Columbia’s nonprofit Land Title and Survey Authority reinvested its revenues in its registration and mapping systems.

Maya Gainer drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria, Canada, in August and September 2016. The Omidyar Network funded the development of this case study. Case published January 2017.​

digitization of records
public-private partnership
land administration
land titles
fraud prevention
information access
records conversion
Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Property Rights & Land
Critical Tasks
Computerization of records
Independent agencies
Land registration
Property rights
Technology & innovation initiatives
Core Challenge
Contracting out (creating semi-autonomous agencies)
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Maya Gainer