While snow fell over Toronto on May 15 and temperatures sank to 1C, over 150 Ontarians basked in the warm rays of Mediterranean sunshine as the sun set over Tel Aviv at a reception to kick off Premier Kathleen Wynne’s business mission to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The weeklong mission is part of Wynne’s agenda to create jobs and opportunities for Ontarians and to boost Ontario’s presence on the global stage, and will include a focus on high-tech, environment, life sciences and biomedical initiatives. While many similar missions aim to match Israeli intellectual capital with Canadian financing, Wynne emphasized the collaborative nature of the partnerships to be announced over the mission.
“I think Ontario has intellectual capital,” Wynne said at the reception. “We’re in a very interesting relationship in terms of our ability to innovate, our ability to feed into and partner with the innovation and intellectual energy that is here in Israel.”
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins, who has joined in two previous trade missions to Israel, called the group “the largest delegation I’ve ever been a part of… not just in numbers, but in terms of quality.” The group included a number of MPPs, corporations such as BlackBerry, universities like McMaster and York along with a number of private businesses.
“This is Ontario’s opportunity to strengthen a relationship which is already strong,” Hoskins told The CJN. “We have the opportunity to partner with Israeli innovation… incredible academic institutions, teaching facilities, hospitals, including the Weizmann centre and the Technion; there are so many examples where amazing things are happening.”
Wynne’s office credits the booming medical and high-tech fields in Israel in part to the fact that the country invests four per cent of its GDP per year into research and development.
On the first day of the mission alone, delegates signed 18 new business agreements and partnerships in the science and technology and information and communications technology (ICT) sectors, including a $50 million five-year deal between Ontario’s Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine and six Israeli universities and research institutions. Wynne’s office estimates that this project will generate an estimated 150 new jobs in Ontario.
Other agreements signed on Monday include a $3 million deal between Toronto’s University Health Network and Israel-based Insightec, and another worth $4 million between the Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation at Baycrest Health Sciences and the Office of the Chief Scientist in Israel.
Though the trip is strictly business for Wynne, who has led previous delegations to China, the United States, and most recently, India, in January, she said this trip had a personal aspect as well. Wynne, who will be celebrating her 63rd birthday in Israel, said “I’m almost embarrassed to say that this is the first time I’ve been here.
“Having grown up in a Judeo-Christian environment, it’s impossible not to be curious about what I’m going to learn about my own history and my own roots.”
Wynne’s visit will include a trip to the Kotel. Besides spending time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the group will visit Ramallah and Bethlehem over the course of the week.
Delegate Peter Mascher of Hamilton’s McMaster University is excited to be partnering with four universities in the West Bank along with universities in Israel, increasing opportunities for McMaster students around the world. This was his third trip to Israel in a year, hammering out a new agreement with Tel Aviv University to promote collaboration in areas like nanotechnology and biomedical engineering, which he sees as a perfect fit between the two schools.
“The intersection of health sciences and engineering provides the greatest opportunities for joint research projects… This is a very exciting initiative,” said Mascher.
Wynne herself visited Tel Aviv University where she was honoured with the President’s Award.
Wynne also met former Israeli president Shimon Peres and Dr. Michael Hayden, president of Global Research and Development (R&D) and chief scientific officer at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., to discuss future business opportunities and promote Ontario’s life sciences sector.
Veteran MPP Monte Kwinter, who has joined numerous missions to Israel in his long tenure, said this trip was an acknowledgment of many shared cultural values. “There’s no limit to what Ontario and Israel can do together,” he said.
However, critics claimed before the trip that Wynne’s business mission was less about jobs for Ontarians than about pandering to Ontario’s 200,000 Jewish voters, most centred in Toronto, which is also home to over 60 per cent of Canada’s Israelis.
The last Ontario premier to visit Israel was Dalton McGuinty in 2010. Other leaders making the trip in recent years have included former Nova Scotia premier Darrell Dexter in 2011 and then prime minister Stephen Harper in 2014.