i-Canada wants Net to unite nation: Mike Beitz,Reporter,Beacon Harold
November 15, 2011

Innovation nation. Silicon North. A country of light.

It's the new national dream, and a technology-focused initiative known as i-Canada is hoping Stratford and other "islands of excellence" will lead the way in making it a reality.

Stakeholders are meeting in Windsor next week to discuss strategies and best practices for transforming Canada into a network of connected smart cities, as part of i-Canada's Building an Intelligent Nation conference.

"It's not as impossible as it sounds if you take it a community at a time," said i-Canada co-founder Barry Gander in a phone interview from Ottawa Friday. "And Stratford is a brilliant example of how that can be done."

Thanks to a grassroots, community- driven effort -- and a "pistol" of a mayor -- the city has reinvented itself as a digital centre of excellence, with connectivity at its core, he noted. "That's what we think can happen across the nation," said Gander.

With development of its fibre-optic and Wi-Fi network, university campus and digital media think-tank and its recognition by the global Intelligent Community Forum as one of the world's smartest cities, Stratford can serve as a "best-practices leader" for others to follow, he said.

Nearby Waterloo, as well as places such as Fredericton, Windsor and Calgary also stand out as examples when it comes to value of broadband connectivity, said Gander.

Just as the original national dream used the railway to unite the nation, high-speed Internet links can serve the same purpose in the digital age, he said.

"The new national dream is to have, as it were, engines of light travelling on fibre cables across the country to pull us all together."

But there's work to be done.

Better collaboration between municipal, provincial and federal governments, as well as the public and private sectors and social leaders, is key to fulfilling that national dream, said Gander.

"We need to bring everyone together with a common set of goals," he said, suggesting innovation needs to be a shared focus if Canada wants to compete effectively on a global stage.

"It's about more than just the technology," he said.

But technology will definitely be part of the discussion at next week's conference, and Stratford will be involved.

Paul West, business development manager with Rhyzome Networks, the city-owned data utility and Internet service provider, will be taking part in a panel discussion Thursday on Toronto's i-Waterfront project.

And i-Canada members will be brainstorming collaboratively with an innovative piece of software developed by Stratfordbased Powernoodle.