Bevilacqua: Vaughan advances city-building agenda in Israel

Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem. (Courtesy)

I recently returned from leading a successful trade mission to Israel, in partnership with the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce. My city shares a strong, respected and enduring relationship with this nation and its citizens.

As home to one of the largest Jewish communities outside of Israel, Vaughan continues to be positively influenced by the social, cultural and economic contributions of the Israeli and Jewish Diaspora. I recently awarded Holocaust survivor, humanitarian and author Max Eisen with the Key to the City. Eisen is also a recipient of the Order of Vaughan – the highest honour given by the City.

During our solemn visit to Yad Vashem, I reflected on the unthinkable atrocities committed during the Holocaust. At the Western Wall, I was reminded and inspired by the strength, resiliency and sense of mission embodied by the Jewish people. Today, Israel is a dynamic and thriving country. Cities from around the world look to it as the startup nation and as a leader in developing cutting-edge technologies that improve patient care.

Championing the development of the Vaughan Healthcare Precinct – which encompasses lands surrounding the site of the future Mackenzie Vaughan Hospital and Canada’s first smart hospital – was central on this mission.

I met with Dr. Rafael Beyar, an experienced, accomplished and trusted professional with the world-class Rambam Medical Center – one of the largest medical centres in Israel. Bayer discussed his country’s extensive efforts to bring together startups and academic institutions to create medical breakthroughs and enhance front-line health services. His presentation was followed by a comprehensive study tour of the Rambam Medical Center and The Ruth Rappaport Children’s Hospital. We saw first-hand modern medical equipment and facilities being used by doctors and nurses to help save lives.

Our delegation included thought leaders from the Vaughan Healthcare Centre Precinct project representing York University, Mackenzie Health and ventureLAB. On Oct. 2, I signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with these organizations to identify opportunities to maximize the best use of the precinct lands through a feasibility study. The goal of this collaboration is to leverage resources to bring healthcare, innovation and jobs to the community. The tour of Rambam Hospital provided a significant opportunity for us to learn of proven best practices.

As part of our healthcare efforts, we undertook a meeting and plant tour of Teva Pharmaceuticals. We met with Avi Samuels, chairman of Shalva, an inspiring organization that actively cares for the special needs community and their families.

I also met directly with municipal leaders, including Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Deputy Mayor Chen Arieli and Haifa Deputy Mayor David Etzioni. I engaged representatives from Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Fuel Choices and Smart Mobility Initiative – a project led by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.

We discussed strengthening foreign-direct investment in Vaughan by showcasing the economic development opportunities in and around the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) – the city’s emerging downtown core. From 2015 to 2020, the VMC attracted more than $9 billion in economic investment. I shared how Vaughan is home to over 12,000 businesses that employ more than 223,000 people. Since 2010, this city has led with an economic growth rate of four per cent – far outpacing Ontario and Canada – and has seen the creation of more than 60,000 new jobs.

I engaged my counterparts about the work Vaughan is doing as a Smart City leader. We are the first Canadian municipality to join US Ignite – an international organization that promotes the development of data-driven solutions, services and new applications. Our delegation met with researchers at Tel Aviv University, Israel’s largest post-secondary institution, to discuss the utilization of Smart City technologies to improve urban transportation.

Our delegation’s intergovernmental, economic and cultural development initiatives resulted in the signing of an MOU with Ramla Mayor Michael Vidal. For more than 25 years, the cities of Vaughan and Ramla have maintained an important international partnership. This MOU that commits our two municipalities to develop a comprehensive four-year action plan that advances cultural opportunities. It also calls for the establishment of a new, robust and accountable framework to ensure this action plan has clearly stated goals and objectives.

The 2019 Israel trade mission was an opportunity to advance Vaughan’s promising city-building agenda. As we look toward the immediate days, weeks and months ahead, I am committed to building on the success of our efforts.