The need to communicate across enormous distances was at the heart of Canada's creation as a nation. Canada's original "National Dream" was to create a railway that united people. In fact, at the time when the national railway was constructed, a national telegraph line had preceded it by a decade.
It was emblematic of the communications ingenuity that Canadians have leveraged ever since. After meeting that extraordinary communications challenge, Canadians continued to cement the bonds of their nation with an emerging network of telephones, digital fibres and satellites. Many of these innovations were pioneered by Canadians. Communications technology investment in Canada is responsible for such Canadian innovation hallmarks as the first commercial telephone system; the first successful all-electric radio; the first all-electric radio transmission station in the world, in 1927; the first mobile telephone system; the world's first domestic communications satellite, Anik I, which was launched into orbit in 1972; and the first nation-wide digital telephone system. Contemporary Canadians owe part of their sense of national identity to the design and rollout of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's regional and national broadcast capabilities, which allows them to hear news, ideas and commentary from citizens in all regions of Canada.
Canada became a world leader during the 1990s in part because of CANARIE's pioneering work in ultra high-speed broadband, establishing world leadership in connectivity and collaboration.
But now alarm bells are ringing as Canada has been tumbling down the global technology leadership staircase. With notable exceptions, Canada is missing out on the innovation and application of technologies that will continue to improve the quality of life for Canadians. A recent study reveals that Canada possesses some of the poorest high-speed Internet service in the developed world. Canada is ranked 22nd out of 30 countries against measures such as network capacity and pricing; and is ranked 16th on broadband adoption. While it is a broad measure, it is telling that at a time when innovation and communications capabilities are most crucial to the survival of its economy, Canada has fallen to the middle of the pack.
The i-CANADA initiative intends to reverse Canada's innovation decline. The i-CANADA vision is for a nation of intelligent communities of all sizes across Canada. The initiative expands upon Canada's "Islands of Excellence" such as Stratford, Calgary, Fredericton and Waterloo, which have all been recognized for excellence by the Global Intelligent Community Forum. The objective of i-CANADA is to focus on innovation as the critical engine of growth, across the private, public and academic sectors and network them into one national fabric.
i-CANADA's leadership reads like a who's who of innovation. i-CANADA's Council of Governors is an influential group of municipal, provincial, corporate, academic and national leaders. That the council is chaired by Premier David Alward is an indicator of this province's potential. Together they are intent on setting the vision and direction for boosting the Canadian economy to becoming an Innovation Nation, by building on a foundation of the most advanced information technologies and broadband communications. i-Canada is backed by Canada's largest high-tech organization, the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) and is supported by technology sponsors including IBM and ING Direct.
"One of the Innovation Nation's objectives is creating 10 domestic companies in the ICT sector with annual revenues exceeding $5 billion by the year 2020," said Sir Terence Matthews, founder of more than 80 companies since 1972 and CATA national spokesperson. "Let's start today to create the mindset and necessary conditions to achieve this bold objective."
Creating and supporting an intelligent Canada, to realize the benefits of economic growth, job creation and new dimensions of social prosperity, demands national leadership in addition to local community motivation and effort. The time for such leadership is upon us.
Peter Lindfield is chairman and CEO of the Carlisle Institute, a New Brunswick-based think-tank. He lives in the Fredericton area and can be reached at email@example.com