This month, Build Strong Cities’ Kadie Ward is travelling across Canada to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Conference in Vancouver to raise awareness about ICT infrastructure and its importance to municipalities.
I sat down with Kadie to find out more about her journey, the challenges Canada faces and what she hopes to learn enroute.
Rick Huijbregts: What inspired your Build Strong Cities journey across Canada?
Kadie Ward, Build Strong Cities: Recently the Federation of Canadian Municipalities mobilized over 20,000 municipal leaders to advocate for infrastructure investment in Canada. Their efforts ended with the 2013 federal budget, but I want to continue the conversation with municipal decision makers across the country.
RH: What are some of Canada’s major infrastructure challenges? Are these challenges restricting Canadian productivity, innovation and consequent economic development?
KW: I believe that “connectivity” infrastructure is our greatest deficit. That means the roads and rails to move goods, services, and people, as well as the ICT infrastructure that connects ideas and backs much of our economy.
Deficits in both of these are absolutely restricting Canadian productivity. Congestion alone costs $4.6 Billion annually and the lack of ICT in many remote parts of Canada prevents economic growth in these regions. The deficit in the two are connected: investment in ICT can help us better manage roads and rails, predict and respond to congestion, and support prosperity in rural and remote regions of Canada.
RH: What are some of the other cities you will be visiting as you move west? Do you have any expectations as it relates to urban, rural and geographic (East, Central, and West) differences?
KW: We will pass through 67 municipalities during our ride. Our main whistle stops are in Halifax, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Jasper and Vancouver. As we go east to west I’m expecting to see the clear articulation of Canada’s urban and rural divide, as well as the connectivity challenges in rural parts of Canada. For instance, VIA Rail has already warned me that WiFi or even cellular data will not be available for a significant portion of the ride. As such, I’m expecting to come away from this ride with a greater understanding of what it means to be “disconnected” in Canada and the impact that has on our economic growth.
RH: Looking back to the planning stages of your trip, and I realize it’s still early in your journey, what would you like to achieve and what do you hope will come from this project?
KW: The purpose of the ride is to continue the discussion around infrastructure in Canada. 53% of our roads are in need of repair, over 80,000 bridges are falling apart, investment in transit is being cut across the nation, and still many parts of our country do not have access to reliable Internet.
Our country was founded on the notion of connecting east and west. In the 19th century building the railroad sealed the deal for confederation, and yet we are still very disconnected. The 21st century offers a new platform to connect our vast nation i.e. fibre, and that must enter into the dialogue as we plan for future prosperity.
RH: In your career have you witnessed a focus on ICT as critical infrastructure? If not, why do you think isn’t prioritized in the budgets and plans?
KW: In my opinion, ICT infrastructure is not well understood. It’s ephemeral to most. However, fibre-optic cables run the bottom of the ocean and under-ground much like hydro lines, sewage pipes, and all other forms of infrastructure. It’s very physical and as we move forward in upgrading infrastructure or building new infrastructure for Canadian municipalities, it should very much be considered a utility and prioritized in planning.
RH: At Cisco we see the sphere of influence in market transitions and transformations as coming from, residents, businesses, politicians and academia. What you believe the roles should be for these stakeholder groups in infrastructure development?
KW: That’s a polite way of saying governments need to get with the program. It’s true.
Collaboration among innovative private enterprise, research institutions, and government is an effective way to make change. Citizen engagement, however, is the priority in my mind. Planning and infrastructure decisions define how we live our daily lives. As such, those impacted need to be a part of that transformation. In order to engage citizens, residents need a better understanding of the impact infrastructure has on their routines. Our job is to educate and engage, and plan according to the needs of the communities we serve.
My thanks go to Kadie for taking time out of her busy schedule this month to speak with me about her ride, ICT and the intersection of technology and infrastructure in Canada.