Smart Cities

Federal smart cities finalists gear up for final proposals

iStock, Illustration by: diane555

Five months after the federal government announced the finalists for its Smart Cities Challenge, members of the winning bids met with the jury for the first time to present their submissions and hear feedback at the Future Cities Canada Summit in Toronto earlier this month.

Final proposals are due March 5, 2019, and the four winning communities will be announced sometime in the spring.

This will be the first of three funding rounds for the initiative, introduced in the 2017 budget, that is aimed at improving the life of citizens through “innovation, data and connected technology” in communities across Canada.

All 20 finalists received $250,000 to develop their proposals.

Winners—one in the $5-million category, two in the $10-million category and one in the $50-million category—will receive tranches of the prize money based on achieving a set of outcomes agreed upon with the federal government, and will have up to five years to implement their plans.

The five finalists in the largest category spoke with The Logic at the summit. While light on specifics, they reflected on some of the challenges they’ve faced, and the work they still have left to do in the remaining five months ahead of their final proposals.

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Talking Point

The 20 finalists in the $5-million, $10-million and $50-million categories met in person with members of the jury for the first time at the Future Cities Canada Summit in early November. Final proposals are due in March 2019, with the winners being announced sometime in the spring.

The Waterloo Region is a finalist for what it calls its “data-driven solutions and scalable learning technologies” to improve early child development, mental health among children and youth, and graduation rates. The bidding group has engaged three nearby cities, four rural townships and over 100 community partners in this quest, including UNICEF Canada—an approach it hopes will give it a leg up against the other competing communities.

While the Waterloo Region has become a centre for innovation and tech in its own right, those involved in its Smart Cities bid are excited about what they consider to be a decidedly social initiative.

“I think a lot of people expected Waterloo Region to—because of our tech sector—maybe select something more IoT [Internet of Things]-based, or autonomous vehicles, or something like that,” said Matthew Chandy, manager of economic development for the Region of Waterloo.

“We decided to throw a curveball at everyone outside of our community who was looking at us and wondering what we were going to do.”

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Those involved in Quebec City’s bid to use digital tools to improve environmental quality and citizen health in the community, said this is the first time the city and its flagship academic institution, the Université Laval, have collaborated in a partnership to this extent. According to Pierre-Luc Lachance, city councillor and deputy mayor for entrepreneurship for Quebec City, the process hasn’t always been easy for the 70-person team. But, Lachance said things are moving a little “smoother.”  

Fitting their plans into the guidelines of the final proposal is one of the major challenges that remains for the team.

“The challenge is to fit it in 75 pages because we have so many ideas, so many thoughts to tell,” said Frederic Martel, IT project director for Quebec City. “It’s a rich proposition.”

Edmonton’s bid, which includes building out a pilot project applying data to decision-making for the health and wellness of its citizens, is using feedback from residents to decide on where it’ll focus its efforts.

The team acknowledges privacy as a key challenge in the lead-up to its final proposal.

“We feel that that’s a major component of our submission and what we’re trying to solve is to make sure we can alleviate any concerns that people might have with privacy, while we still get the benefits from using data and analytics,” said Stephane Contre, chief analytics officer for the City of Edmonton.

“This is no small feat,” he said. “I don’t think—especially within the healthcare realm—it’s been done, and that’s why we want our project to be transformational.”

The cities of Surrey and Vancouver’s joint bid to build “mobility solutions to improve the safety and security of citizens” includes autonomous shuttles on the streets of the Lower Mainland.  

Sean Simpson, director of information technology for the City of Surrey, understands the public fear attached to autonomous vehicle (AV) technology.

“Once they better understand, shuttles—or cars for that matter—will have a profound impact on improving safety in our cities,” said Simpson. “I think the excitement will ramp up even more.”

And, like the City of Edmonton, the cities of Surrey and Vancouver will also need to address concerns surrounding data and privacy.

“Increasingly, we’re all leveraging data and technology—that’s the whole point of the Smart Cities Challenge,” said Simpson. “Making sure that people understand how we will use that information to help improve safety and outcomes is always the biggest challenge.”

Meet the Finalists

One of five finalists will be chosen for the $50-million prize:

Waterloo Region, Ont.
Quebec City, Que.
City of Edmonton, Alta.
City of Surrey and City of Vancouver, B.C.
Montréal, Que.


Two of 10 finalists will be chosen for the $10-million prize:

Town of The Pas, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Rural Municipality of Kelsey, Man.

City of Côte Saint-Luc, Que.

Nunavut Communities, Nunavut

Saint Mary’s First Nation and City of Fredericton, N.B.

Parkland, Brazeau, Lac Ste Anne and Yellowhead Counties, Alta.

City of Airdrie and Area, Alta.

City of Richmond, B.C.

City of Guelph and Wellington County, Ont.

City of Saskatoon, Sask.

Greater Victoria, B.C.


One of five finalists will be chosen for the $5-million prize:

Biigtigong Nishnaabeg (Pic River First Nation), Ont.

Cree Nation of Eastmain, Que.

Town of Bridgewater, N.S.

Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, Que.

City of Yellowknife, N.W.T.

Montreal is hoping that improved forms of transportation—possibly including car- and bike-sharing and AV solutions—will give its citizens better access to local services; it’s counting on around 30 community partners to help tackle this challenge.

“I think it’s the willingness of people to work together and to work with the city, and we have lots of good people to bridge between different themes,” said Stéphane Guidoin, acting director of the Urban Innovation Lab with the City of Montreal.

The full picture of community, non-profit and corporate partners in each of the submissions will be laid out in the final proposals. However, federal lobbying records indicate an initial interest from a number of companies.

Google Canada has registered to lobby the federal government on technology policy, “specifically promoting the development of technological infrastructure through the Smart Cities Challenge,” while Mastercard Canada has indicated that they are interested in consulting the federal government to “monitor development of Smart Cities initiatives with respect to payments, innovation and data.”

Data Metrex AI Ltd., a Toronto-based artificial intelligence company, wants to win government grants related to the Smart Cities Challenge, according to its lobbying registration.  

“One of the objectives of the Smart Cities Challenge is to stimulate and foster partnerships with various sectors of which the tech sector is one,” said Marco Mendicino, parliamentary secretary to the minister of infrastructure and communities.

Once the candidates submit their final proposals on March 5, the pressure will be on the 13-member jury to choose the submission that best fulfills a specific set of principles outlined by the federal government.

“There are four main criteria that they’ll be using to objectively assess the 20 finalists that come from around the country,” said Mendicino.

The proposals must be open, integrated, transferable and collaborative, said Mendicino.

“What we’re hoping is that we can draw on the different experiences and traditions and the cultures of communities—in particular, thinking about our Indigenous communities, who are a vital part of our country, of our fabric,” said Mendicino, “and we can learn from those traditions even though they may not be known to many Canadians.”

The jury, which was announced April 26, is comprised of professionals in smart city-related fields, including urban planning, architecture, tech and policy innovation.

“It’s an eclectic group,” said Mark Romoff, chair of the Smart Cities Challenge jury and president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, “and what I’ve found is that’s really made for a dynamic discussion and good debate.”

“Smart cities are a confusing and sometimes contested thing,” said Gabe Sawhney, jury member and executive director of Code for Canada. He found the federal government’s framing of what smart cities are to be compelling “in that they’re really resident-centred and community driven.”