Canadian Manufacturing

Feds looks to dole out cash to cities re-imaging infrastructure

The Smart Cities Challenge aims to encourage cities to think outside the box and take some risks on fresh infrastructure ideas

November 23, 2017  by The Canadian Press

Toronto already has one smart city project underway at a former industrial site. PHOTO: Waterfront Toronto/Sidewalk Labs

OTTAWA—Cities looking for extra federal cash are being pushed to think outside the box and take some risks as part of a federal challenge that launches Nov. 23.

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi is in Calgary to unveil what the government calls its “Smart Cities Challenge,” which will provide millions of dollars to communities that come up with the most interesting and innovative ideas.

Other ministers will be in Ottawa and Montreal to make similar announcements.

The ideas could be an after-school program for at-risk youth that lets them learn to write code; a mobile app to help seniors and caregivers co-ordinate transportation; or equipping homeless shelters with online learning hubs to help users find jobs.


Whatever idea cities try, the government says the winning proposals must be scaleable and easy to replicate in other communities, must incorporate data and technology, and must establish measurable and achievable outcomes.

But at its core, the challenge is designed to shift how cities think about delivering services and building infrastructure, and to encourage efforts to achieve a “much broader impact” on municipal planning.

The Liberals first mentioned the challenge in this year’s budget, setting aside up to $80 million in prizes for winning communities and groups. The top prize will be $50 million; two prizes of up to $10 million each to cities with fewer than 500,000 residents; and a $5 million prize to cities with fewer than 30,000 residents.

Cities will have to wait until 2019 to find out who wins.

The program is modelled on a similar challenge in the United States two years ago to get cities to rethink their transit and transportation systems. The US$50 million program put an emphasis on use of technology, much as the Canadian version does.

The American challenge came up in talks Sohi had with his U.S. counterparts prior to the Liberal government’s 2017 budget.