Recently, the Canadian federal government announced it has pledged to launch a Smart Cities Challenge Fund, proposing $300 million over 11 years for Infrastructure Canada to implement the program. The funding will support the deployment of clean and digitally connected technology that can improve life in cities and is modeled similarly to the US Smart City Challenge (won by Columbus, Ohio).
Until recently, Canada has lacked a national smart city framework, leaving major cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal to develop their own climate action plans and digital infrastructure projects without significant federal guidance or funding assistance. Over one-third of Canada’s population lives in these three cities, and over 80% of its overall population is urbanized, making the improvement of city service delivery a crucial issue in the country. Highlights of key smart city initiatives from these three cities include:
- Vancouver: In March 2015, the City Council of Vancouver voted unanimously to develop and implement a 100% Renewable City Strategy by 2050. This aims to make the city emissions free in both the energy and transportation sectors.
- Toronto: Canada’s largest city, Toronto (Greater Toronto Area population of 6.4 million), is targeting an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). The city has allocated nearly $100 million for energy conservation measures, renewable energy projects, and retrofits of city facilities. Toronto is also expected to be the site of Sidewalk Labs’ Digital City project, part of Google’s vision to reinvent cities from the Internet up.
- Montreal: The Montreal Smart and Digital City Action Plan aims to position Montreal as one of the world’s smartest cities. The action plan introduces 70 projects divided into five focus areas: urban mobility, direct services to citizens, quality of life, democratic life, and economic development. This is an open data project with an ultra high speed, multiservice telecom infrastructure.
Federal Government Stepping Up with Funding
Three rounds of funding are expected to take place in Canada, with the first round set for fall 2017. Each round of Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge will include:
- One $50 million prize in funding for a large city
- Two $10 million prizes for midsize cities
- One $5 million prize for a small community
- One $5 million prize for an indigenous community
Prime Minister Trudeau has pledged to link infrastructure with an innovation agenda, and the Smart Cities Challenge will help Canada achieve that goal. Canada has evolved into one of the leading countries in the world in terms of building infrastructure through public-private partnerships (P3s), using this model to fund light rail lines, hospitals, jails, and water systems, among other infrastructure. The country’s high utilization of P3s for infrastructure development combined with the new funding available in the Smart Cities Challenge positions Canada to elevate its attractiveness to key suppliers in the smart city market. Its actions also potentially lift the country from its current follower position into a leadership role in global smart city development.