Tech leaders in Waterloo Region are helping the federal government promote a new initiative to help communities adapt spaces and services to address needs arising from COVID-19.

With a fund of $31 million, the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative will support projects in three categories:

  • Creating safe and vibrant public spaces
  • Improving mobility options
  • Digital solutions

“The Healthy Canada Communities initiative will invest $31 million to help fund those small yet innovative and hyper-local projects that will make our communities more liveable, more active, more healthy and more accessible,” said Bardish Chagger, MP for Waterloo and Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.

Chagger was speaking today at an online panel discussion hosted by Dana Fox, Vice-President, Global Enterprise Sales for Waterloo-based Athena Software.

According to the federal government, funding for the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative is being repurposed from existing funding that had been earmarked for a second Smart Cities Challenge competition.

“We saw with the Smart Cities Challenge last year how many smart, innovative and forward-looking ideas are out there in Canadian communities and we want to give every community an opportunity to put that creative energy to use now in response to this pandemic,” said Chagger.

Panel member and Communitech CEO Iain Klugman said that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how essential technology is in our daily lives and how important it is to fund digital infrastructure.

“This initiative is not only important but timely,” he said. “We need to be working on helping our communities figure out how they transform themselves and how they transform their services to utilize digital.”

Klugman said that while digital transformation creates some challenges, it also creates “tremendous opportunities.”

For example, he said the pandemic has demonstrated that employees can work remotely and do not have to live in, or commute to, major cities.

“That creates tremendous opportunities for smaller communities where there was an out-migration of young people to the big centres,” he said. “I think there’s an opportunity for us to really activate the economic growth potential of small cities and rural communities across the country in a way that we never have.”

The federal government plans to administer the funding in partnership with one or more non-governmental, not-for-profit organizations, selected through an open call for applications.

Applications will open sometime in early 2021.