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Mar 19,2005 - Tri City News


By Janis Cleugh The Tri-City News
Mar 19 2005

Twelve demonstration projects - one in each province, one in the north and one in a First Nations community - were aimed at connecting Canadians.
And one of them is in Tri-City.
Since winning the $4.5-million grants from Industry Canada in 2000, a few of the projects have found success pitching their goods and services; some have not.
The $60-million project was an experiment, says Industry Canada's Lise Picknell, who oversaw the national program for two years. "The goal," she said, "was to ask non-profit groups to come up with a business plan that would correspond to the local need."
In Calgary, its sponsoring group targeted helping the homeless by connecting them, via the web, to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.
In the north and in Saskatchewan, the goal was online education for people in rural areas.
In Labrador, the aim was to build technology that would further the justice system, allowing a judge to communicate by video conferencing rather than travelling long distances, Picknell said.
The Smart Choices Society of B.C., which won the federal cash for the Tri-Cities, looked at building networks and sharing information between municipalities, groups and schools.
None made money. But that wasn't the plan, Picknell said.
"You may say, 'They tried, they failed.' But we pushed the envelope," she said. "The 12 [demonstration projects'> were the first ones to use this [system'> and they were being watched by other municipalities closely."
John Eger, of the World Foundation for Smart Communities, a non-profit educational group in San Diego, helped Industry Canada develop the Smart Communities project as a national policy.
"It was a wonderful initiative," he said. "What we proposed was truly revolutionary because Canada was the only government that recognized that power devolved from the national capital to local communities."
But as the project progressed over its three-year mandate, Eger said, the concept grew weary. "At the local level," he said, "there's been an alleged breach of communication. What was supposed to have happened and what did happen are two different things. They've grown so far apart that we're almost back to square one."
And when Industry Canada wrapped up the Smart Communities project last March, "the local municipalities were looking for help and guidance, and there didn't seem to be any," he said.
As a result, some Smart Communities programs have been transferred to other groups to maintain, in Prince Edward Island, for example. In Quebec, the board is about to be dissolved.
"In P.E.I., the work that has been done is still there but it's managed by someone else," said Charles-Edouard Landry, assistant general manager of New Brunswick's Smart Communities program. "Nationally, the problem was that we had three years to do this and you cannot change a community in three years."
The New Brunswick project is one of the shining stars for Smart Communities. CIPA - the Collectivite ingenieuse de la Peninsule acadienne, a non-profit group - now has 43 staff working to promote the "smart and innovate application of information and communication technologies for economic and community development," according to its website.
CIPA has won contracts with the provincial and federal governments, in Africa, with the United Nations and with francophone communities.
"We've developed an expertise that's becoming more and more renowned," Landry said. "Our test-bed here in rural New Brunswick became the foundation of the products and services that we can now sell outside the country."
To date, the New Brunswick program has cost about $9 million in cash and in-kind contributions - the same as in Tri-City.
The First Nations' Smart Community in Ontario and the Ontario Smart Community have also signed international agreements, Picknell said.
In Yellowknife, Mayor Gordon Van Tighen said the Smart Community website tied in other community home pages (chamber of commerce, tourism, etc.) and allowed residents to access information at a one-stop shop. "It's been very interesting to see it work," he said.
And Ken Fitzpatrick of the Manitoba Smart Network said his non-profit group offered organizations a chance to get some federal cash for their technology work (the Manitoba project was split into health care, government, business and education). "A lot of the things we helped them with they couldn't have achieved on their own because they didn't have the funding," he said. "This helped them kick-start some projects for them."
Manitoba's Smart Services have included the integration of rural hospital lab facilities, high-speed internet services, hospital patient registry, internet protocol for video conferencing, transportation of medical imaging and the e-enabling of business.
Still, Fitzpatrick said Manitoba's web portal never worked. "It was a project but it wasn't at the top of our list for things to get done," he said. "Nobody was interested."
Picknell said Coquitlam/PoMo's success for Smart Communities has been in its networking capabilities. "They have learned to work together and what that meant, in the long run, is that they saved money," she said. "You can sell that knowledge."
The demo dozen

Industry Canada granted $4.5 million each to 12 communities across the country. Here are the addresses for their project websites:
* Aboriginal -
* Alberta -
* B.C. -
* Manitoba -
* New Brunswick -
* Newfoundland/Labrador -
* North -
* Nova Scotia -
* Ontario -
* P.E.I. -
* Quebec -
* Saskatchewan -
Additional research for SMARTCHOICE? stories by Kirk Pedersen

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