Are we smart enough?
City of Yellowknife and partners wait for federal funding decision

Cindy MacDougall
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 04/00) - After six months of frantic work and difficult deadlines, the people behind Yellowknife's bid for $5 million in federal high-tech funding can do nothing but sit and wait.

What's in the plan

If Yellowknife wins the $5-million Smart Communities grant, the following centres, or networks will be created and will be available by phone, Internet, cable television and sometimes by visiting an office:

HelpNet: simplified access to social services and help, as well as a co-operation tool for service groups.

BusinessNet: promotion of Yellowknife as a place to visit and do business, plus an e-commerce centre for Yellowknife businesses.

CityNet: a network to pay city bills, share opinions on city hall decisions and find out about city events.

LearnNet: a forum for learning about the city, updating or continuing education and highlighting Yellowknife's professional talents and bright lights.

YkSmart City Centre: a link between the four Nets, offering help to users and a place to share ideas for the Smart City network.

The city's final proposal for the Smart Communities contest is in, and the decision won't be announced until at least April, said project leader and deputy mayor Ben McDonald.

"All we do now is wait and see," he said.

The working group that put it together is pleased with the results, said McDonald.

"The concept of our proposal was to get the community together, using technology to achieve certain things," he said.

The project would use the Internet, cable television and telephone systems to meet the needs of people and organizations in several key areas such as business, social services, education and city programs, McDonald explained.

"It will have everything from seniors information to tourist agencies," he said.

The program will also connect agencies which offer similar services so Yellowknifers find the help they need right away, instead of being passed from one agency to another.

"It's not a new idea," McDonald said.

"Yellowknife Health and Social Services was looking for a way to rationalize all these services. This was more of a catalyst to that."

The Smart Communities Program is a Canada-wide contest sponsored by Industry Canada. One municipality in each province, one aboriginal community in Canada and a Northern city or town will receive $5-million each for the most innovative and service-oriented program.

The three-year program must use high technology and serve the community's residents in new and better ways.

"A big aspect of this is outreach," McDonald said. "We'll try to overcome people's aversion to computers."

The project's final budget is over $12 million, with dozens of organizations and businesses donating money or services to add to the federal cash.

Denise Bekkema, executive director of Storefront for Voluntary Agencies, said the project's strength is in its many partners.

"Our approach was intersectional," she said. "In each section there are voluntary agencies as well as business and government."

"It's going to provide a forum for voluntary agencies to work very closely with business and government, making decisions together and implementing programs as equals."

The project was submitted to the feds under Storefront's name, Bekkema said, and it will help organizations do more.

"Those agencies with territorial-wide mandates will hopefully be able to administer some programs through the Internet," she said.

"That saves on airfare and hotels. Face it, we have very limited resources."

Despite high hopes, Yellowknife is not the only Northern community in the running for the $5-million pot. Hay River's proposal is also being considered, and McDonald said it's a humdinger.

"The program is for innovation as well as service," he said, "and their ideas are just as good as ours."

Bekkema said she hopes Yellowknife wins but won't be disappointed if Hay River grabs the prize.

"Projects like this have a positive aspect on the whole Northwest Territories," she said. "And if we don't win, we're hoping a good deal of the project will go ahead anyway."