“Because it is 2015!”

When asked “why the focus on gender balance in your new Cabinet?” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answered “because it is 2015”. The answer hit a positive nerve and went viral! He could have used the same answer if asked “Why the new designation for Industry Canada and the naming of a Science Minister?”

The fact is we need a new Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, supported by a new Minister of Science because Canada’s federal government has a broader role to play as we and the rest of the world rocket along in the expanding digital age. We need to focus on our entire economy. Meanwhile, we do need to recognize that fifty percent of Canada’s economic output is clustered in our five largest cities and cities with smart and intelligent ecosystems attract investment, create jobs and produce more economic output.

In the Globe and Mail earlier this month, Richard Florida, noted author and academic argues for the creation of a Ministry of Cities. It would certainly increase the focus on cities and could take a while to establish. Meanwhile we need action immediately, as we are falling behind other developed countries.

Semiconductor circuits are at the heart of our digital transformation. Their cost/performance characteristics have improved one billion times since the early 1960’s and that performance improvement will grow to 20 billion in the short time between now and 2020. Like it or not, our economy is riding on an accelerating digital rocket ship to the future and we urgently need new ideas, processes and programs to merely keep up in our public and private sectors – nationally, regionally and locally.

We should quickly bring to Canada some relevant international urban innovation programs that have already gained traction in other countries, emulate them as appropriate for Canada, implement them and then improve on them. Many nations have used this strategy to catch up or get ahead. We need to move quickly to encourage collaboration between leaders in the public and private sectors supported by effective national and regional funding to create big Smarter City demonstrations. Successful companies will then have Canadian customers to reference in their pursuit of five percent of the global trade in the Smart City market, which incidentally would be $50 billion per year according to present estimates.

Here are two examples of impressive international programs: The first is in the UK where four years ago the UK Government’s public/private sector Smart Cities Forum encouraged the UK government to create a three hundred and seventy million pound Smart Cities Innovation fund to support cities with successful proposals for Smart City demonstrator programs. Glasgow won 28 million pounds in the first round. The fund challenges cities and their citizens to create new innovations and demonstrations, involving at least 1000 people, to demonstrate new concepts for Smarter City initiatives.

The program has a second goal too; to raise UK business and industrial capabilities sufficient to capture 10% of the global Smart City market which the UK government estimates to be worth one trillion dollars per year. In other words, the UK program is a “twofer”: First, the program results in new Smarter City demonstrator initiatives supported by the funds received by the winning cities and then the companies that receive much of the money from the cities to design and implement the new systems will use their new-found knowledge and solutions to pursue and capture – they hope – $100 billion per year, (10%), of global Smart City business.

us-ignite-logoAnother innovative international program is US IGNITE in the United States. It was created as part of President Obama’s initial stimulus program after the economic collapse in 2008. It is now driving many impressive urban and business innovations in communities across the US. Canada’s academic research community has connections into US IGNITE with the result that a number of very interesting innovation initiatives could be quickly introduced into Canada.

We have islands of excellence in Canada upon which to build while the global digital “rocket ship” has already launched heading for “who knows where”. All we know is it is moving quickly while creating Big Data, Open Data and the Internet of Things with new innovations like autonomous vehicles on the horizon. We need to grab the opportunities urgently, ride the rocket ship or fall off. We can do it “because it is 2015” and we have some great assets. But we also need to hurry “because it is 2015” and others are racing ahead.

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