Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre leads an economic mission to Israel and the West Bank from Nov. 13 to 18. This is only his second such mission – the first was to China – since his election in 2013.
The mission is being conducted jointly with Toronto Mayor John Tory, in the spirit of a partnership agreement the two cities signed in April. This is the first such joint venture abroad for Montreal and Toronto, one which Coderre calls historic and which he hopes will bring their message of unity to the global stage.
“Just like me, the Montreal business, institutional and community leaders that are part of this mission and which represent various fields of activity, including security, startup technologies, the digital sector and education, as well as the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, see in this mission an opportunity to strengthen our ties and promote our ideas and assets,” Coderre said before his departure.
Why are Israel and the West Bank the destination for your first joint mission abroad with your Toronto counterpart since signing a partnership this spring?
Canada and Israel have been co-operating economically for a long time. The Free Trade Agreement between our two countries has been facilitating our exchanges since 1997. Canada and the Palestinian Authority enjoy positive relationships. A Quebec-Israel economic co-operation agreement on innovation also exists. We share many common fields of interest including economic, entrepreneurship, knowledge-based industries, technology, design and culture, among many more. I am proud to lead such a sizeable and prominent delegation and I am enthusiastic about the new mutually beneficial links and collaborations that this mission to Israel and the West Bank will enable us to create.
Montreal – a cosmopolitan and diverse city – enjoys a diversified economy. As part of this mission, Montreal wishes to strengthen co-operation in the fields of innovation, digital technologies, urban development and culture.
With Montreal and Toronto together, you have a strong representation of first-rate Canadian high-tech and knowledge-based enterprises and organizations, which are keen and capable of developing mutually advantageous economic links with Israel and the West Bank.
Through our mission, we plan on opening up economic opportunities. Furthermore, we want to strengthen our political and institutional links – in particular with the cities of Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva, Jerusalem and Ramallah – and encourage cultural and people-to-people relations.
Who is going on the mission from Montreal? Was the response what you hoped for?
I am pleased to be accompanied on this mission by such a sizable and important Montreal business, institutional, academic and community delegation of almost 70 people. We have an excellent mix of well-established enterprises and startups in the field of technology and cyber-security, as well as a good representation from our financial and service sectors and the academic world, in addition to community leadership. I believe that such a group will be able to strengthen already existing links and to open up new avenues for future collaboration, trade and investment. While space won’t permit naming everyone, leaders of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Montréal International, Hydro-Québec, C2MTL, Finance Montreal, Concordia University, Université de Montréal, HEC, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Montreal Jewish community are among them.
What are the highlights of the itinerary? Were there places or events that you insisted on being included? Will this be your first time in Israel?
First and foremost, we will have a series of meetings focused on business. In addition, we wanted to strengthen our city-to-city ties, so that’s why we will be meeting with our counterparts, the mayors in several cities, in addition to participating in an international mayors’ conference organized by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, as well as the HLS conference on homeland and cyber-security. Montreal conducts an active urban diplomacy, as cities play an increasingly important role – not only on local issues like economic development – but also global issues such as climate change, sustainable development, migration and integration.
Each day is packed with business, political, institutional and related meetings and events among the four cities we will travel to. I am pleased to be hosting an Israeli Chamber of Commerce gathering jointly with Mayor Tory in Tel Aviv, and engaging the Ramallah and West Bank business community with Mayor Tory as well.
I am also looking forward to returning to Israel and the West Bank, having previously visited in 2009 as a member of Parliament.
What do you hope will result from this mission? Are there specific areas in terms of economic, scientific or cultural co-operation that you think can be strengthened?
In line with our objectives, I expect that at the end of this mission we will have strengthened our economic ties, in particular – but not exclusively – in the field of technology and cyber-security. I also expect that our academic institutions and business enterprises will have opened up new avenues in terms of research, as well as knowledge and technology development. Several Montreal businesses, institutions, and universities will be signing agreements and have announcements planned in those areas and beyond, and as mayor I am looking forward to signing a new co-operation agreement with Tel Aviv and welcoming Israeli cities to the International Mayors Observatory on Living Together, founded in Montreal and of which Toronto is an early member. Finally, as president of Metropolis, the World Association of Major Cities, I have and will continue to encourage my Israeli large city counterparts to join this vital international organization I have the privilege to preside over.
I also anticipate, more generally, that people from Montreal, Toronto, Israel and the West Bank participating in our various meetings and events will have developed a closer relationship and mutual understanding, so as to launch other initiatives in the months and years to come.
The group BDS Québec, which advocates for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, has objected to the City of Montreal participating in a mission to that country. What are your views on BDS? Also, your meeting in early October in Iran with the mayor of Tehran was criticized, principally by members of Montreal’s Iranian community. Was it politically advisable to take part in such an encounter when Canada has yet to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran?
As I stated last month, I travel and meet with representatives of cities around the world, including, of course, longtime members of Metropolis, like Tehran, in my capacity as president. In meetings with my counterparts, we discuss urban issues, it goes without saying, as well as other local and global issues which impact on our citizens. This urban diplomacy opens up avenues for dialogue where all subjects can be discussed.
Mindful that cities will be home to some 70 per cent of the planet’s population, this urban diplomacy positions the major cities of the world at the table in addressing the major challenges of our time – climate change, sustainable development and migration – and allows cities to play a decisive role on economic, social, and economic issues.
I meet with people all around the world who have various, and even at times opposing, views and opinions. As one who promotes “living together’’, including through the International Mayor’s Observatory on Living Together, I can hold a dialogue with people.
I responded publicly to the questions of BDS Québec in connection with the World Social Forum in August and more recently at municipal council. The Ville de Montréal, like the governments of Quebec and Canada, the cities of Paris, London and many others, do not accept this boycott movement. We stand for dialogue, for openness, inclusion, living together.
Engaging with the Palestinian business community in the West Bank and meeting with the Mayor of Ramallah, who is a member of Metropolis, is also an important part of our mission. I believe that on the eve of our departure in such great numbers, the facts of the Montreal and Toronto economic missions to Israel and the West Bank speak for themselves. I am looking forward to a most productive, enjoyable and successful mission and I invite your readers to follow us via your website and other means while we are there.
I worked tirelessly with Montreal’s Jewish community on the Living Together initiative and its first concrete outcome, the Mayor’s Table on the role of cities in combating anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination, bringing together the leadership of the Jewish communities of Paris and Montreal in common cause. I equally prioritized Holocaust remembrance and bringing Montreal’s diverse communities together in celebration of our city’s unique multicultural character as one of its most precious assets. I’m looking forward to the economic mission continuing to strengthen our link between Montreal and Israel.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.