When it comes to IT innovation, Canada has always been at the forefront since Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone.This country has excelled in the areas of telecommunications and communications in general, says Barry Gander, vice- president of Ottawa-based Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance.
“That might have something to do with the distance Canadians have to go to talk to each other,” says Gander. “For example, Canadians produced the world’s first domestic digital satellite system and the first full line of digital telephone switches. The world’s first voice spoken over radio was done by a Canadian, and the same thing with television, so we have a proud history of being first in telecommunications and, of course, that strength is reflected in many of the communities in Canada.”
In fact, Gander calls Canada the world’s strongest technology nation.
“We have done an awful lot of innovation that provides the foundations for the modern electronic age.”
And while Canada faces a number of challenges in continuing to lead in IT innovation, says Gander, its direction is likely to also shift. He points to the proliferation of Canadian software driving the special effects used in Hollywood movies as one example of that shift.
“I think Canada has changed to a degree, because for the last 30 years what we were talking about was creating the neurons for this world brain,” he says. “Now we’re concentrating on the content for that brain. What is the brain going to think about? Canadians can be very good at doing that as well, so there’s no reason Canada can’t continue to lead the world.”
Here are some examples of IT innovation in each province and territory:
There are a number of IT innovations that have come out of this northern region. But one of the biggest is the territory’s approach to fostering innovation and its Web-based catalogue of Yukon innovators, available through its economic development department Web site. Visitors to the site can search the Yukon Innovations Inventory database by region, industrial sector or alphabetical listing.
In 1997, the biggest IT news north of 60 was about the new paging network that would connect users in the two territories to the rest of the country. Developed by NMI Mobility, a wholly owned subsidiary of Whitehorse-based NorthwesTel, it used four 300-watt transmitters at 900 MHz to bring coverage to the region’s populated centres.
At just over six years old — it became a territory in 1999 — Nunavut has embraced all the advantages modern IT can bring to its 4,000-year-old culture. One of its major advances is a voice over IP telehealth network that makes health care available to residents of all 25 communities spread out across three time zones. Called the Ikajuruti Inungnik Ungasiktumi Telehealth Network, the system can support connections to Iqaluit and four other communities at one time in a single conference.
Using videoconferencing, doctors can determine if a patient in a remote region needs be flown to the closest hospital or if the person’s problem can be treated locally.
B.C. is a big province with lots of territory to cover, much of it remote and at times difficult to travel. It also has a large population of seniors — 20 per cent, compared to the national average of 12 per cent — who move there to escape the rest of Canada’s unforgiving winter weather. One of B.C.’s biggest innovations has been its response to managing the health care needs of its residents living in the interior. The Interior Health Authority, which provides health care through 183 locations and is based out of Kelowna, has 17,000 employees serving nearly 700,000 people. To meet the challenges of caring for residents, often in their homes, the IHA has developed a mobile care system that allows health-care workers to access patient records, perform assessments and input updated patient information wherever they are.
Alberta’s SuperNet project is one of its major achievements. The high-speed, high-capacity broadband network, which is designed to provide rural areas with the same advantages their urban counterparts enjoy in terms of health care and education, is made up of some 4,200 connections at schools, government offices, libraries and health-care facilities, in 429 communities.
The project, which began in 2002 with private sector partners Axia SuperNet Ltd. and Bell Canada, also enables telecommunications companies and ISPs to piggyback onto it so they can offer their services in remote areas as well. The government says the network will provide high-speed services to 86 per cent of the province through ISPs.
Saskatchewan’s Canadian Light Source project is touted as the biggest science project in the country in 30 years. Hosted at the University of Saskatchewan in a facility the size of a football field, the $173.5-million Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron is an extremely bright source of light that can probe the structure of matter to study physical, chemical, geological, environmental and biological processes. Its uses include designing new microchips and more powerful computers and telecommunications, manufacturing nanotechnology such as biomedical implants, and building microscopic machines or motors that will fit through the eye of a needle.
In 2002, Manitoba saw what its more westerly neighbour, Alberta, was doing rolling out an IP-based network for voice, video and data and decided to hop on the same bandwagon. Manitoba Telecom Services, in a two-year project, built for the province a virtual private network to connect 100 government offices in Winnipeg as well as 85 other locations across Manitoba. The project was seen as the building block for the delivery of e-services to residents.
Ontario is home to an enormous number of IT innovations. One of the biggest and best-known, however, is the Ontario Parcel database, a digitized repository of the province’s four million land parcels. Begun in 2002 through a public-private partnership of the Ontario government, the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. and Teranet Enterprises, the $8.5-million project — with all costs going to storage of the digital graphics, rather than to hardware or software — has given ministries, municipalities and non-profits access to land information for their own respective purposes at a much lower cost than before.
In 2004, Québec’s Ministry of Natural Resources won a Canadian Information Productivity Award for the development of an aerial survey geo-referencing system to digitize the coordinates of natural disturbances through aerial observation and geo-referencing. The project initially involved using customized software to import digital maps from various suppliers, and scaling the maps to fit aerial surveys. Through an agreement with the Department’s Forest Inventory Division, the project team used distribution products from Système d’information éco-forestier to import and process mapping data.
Surveys can be transferred directly to the data server after landing, or by modem or a cellular connection while still in the air, permitting stakeholders and decision makers to act quickly in an emergency. The system reduces the approximately 300 hours per season required for map preparation and survey digitization to about 100.
This eastern province’s Service New Brunswick initiative has long been held up as the example of how e-government is done. SNB, which was created in 1995, was designed as a one-stop shopping site for e-government services. It also enables the province’s residents to perform transactions with their local municipalities.
Dalhousie University has always been a hotbed for IT research and development. Recently, the school put Nova Scotia on the map again with the opening of a privacy and security lab. Its aim is to improve the security and privacy aspects of software — before it’s already on the market.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
Small in size, PEI has been big on IT for years. By 2001, it was boasting its position as the only province in the country with a broadband backbone stretching across its entirety. It was also, as of 2001, the only province to integrate its judicial system online, including courts, corrections and judges. The province posts judges’ decisions up on the Web so the public can read them.
To let the world know there’s more to Newfoundland than rocks and fish, the province has joined forces with private sector partners Aliant and the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technical Industries to promote the region as a nearshore IT services destination.
The province’s main strengths are in simulation, with a number of institutions available in the province that specialize particularly in marine-related simulation technology.