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Couillard becomes first Quebec premier to visit Israel officially

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Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard began his trade mission to Israel with a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem

Close to 90 representatives of Quebec’s business, as well as research and cultural, sectors, depart this week for a six-day trade mission to Israel and the West Bank, led by Premier Philippe Couillard, the first sitting premier from Quebec to visit Israel in an official capacity.

The trip’s emphasis is on innovations that can be commercialized, especially those related to information technology, biotechnology, aerospace and agribusiness – areas that both the province and Israel excel in.

“This mission represents major progress, following many years of discussions, and is truly historical,” said Ziv Nevo Kulman, Israeli consul general to Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, who is accompanying the mission.

“We expect that this visit will lead to a major breakthrough in commercial and scientific ties, as a result of the signing of substantive bilateral agreements.

Quebec International Relations Minister Christine St. Pierre proposes a toast with Israeli Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman at a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration

“This mission is the largest ever in the history of Canada-Israel relations and comes at a wonderful time, following the visits (in the past year) of the Governor General of Canada and the mayors of Toronto and Montreal, the announcement of two new direct flights linking Montreal with Tel Aviv and the visit of more than 900 Jewish Montrealers, as part of the Montreal Mega Mission,” which concludes just before the Quebec visit begins, Kulman said.

The program officially begins on the evening of May 20, but Couillard is expected to host a Shabbat dinner on the preceding Friday night, along with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which has been instrumental in organizing the mission.

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According to a preliminary itinerary, the participants will be in Ramallah on May 21 for meetings with local economic leaders. From there, it’s on to Tel Aviv for the remainder of the stay, for activities hosted by the Israel-Canada Chamber of Commerce.

A meeting with Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz is planned. Alan Feld, a Canadian immigrant to Israel and founder of Vintage Investment Partners, is expected to address the Quebecers on Israel’s fertile ground for entrepreneurship.

Participants can attend the opening of the MIXiii Biomed conference, a showcase for the latest developments in the life sciences.

There will be visits to industry sites and time for participants to network with their Israeli counterparts, before departing on May 25.

The delegation is expected to tour numerous companies, including Elbit Systems Ltd., Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. and a plant owned by Bombardier, which is based in Quebec, where diesel locomotives are being upgraded to electrical power.

Not foreseen was that the mission coincides with U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel, and a few last-minute adjustments to the schedule had to be made.

Also heading the mission are Quebec Economy Minister Dominique Anglade and MNA David Birnbaum, parliamentary assistant to the ministers of education and of higher education.

Months in advance, the government put out a call for proposals for joint projects between provincial leaders in research, science and innovation, whether commercial or institutional, and their counterparts in Israel. Those that have the greatest likelihood of “direct and tangible spin-offs” were looked upon most favourably.

“The mission will be a historic milestone in the growing relationship between Quebec and Israel,” said CIJA Quebec vice-president Eta Yudin, who is accompanying the mission, along with Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko.

“Quebec’s eagerness to do business and forge closer ties with the start-up nation demonstrates that the BDS movement continues to fail to erode Israel’s international standing as a sought after business and scientific partner.”

On May 3, Couillard said at Air Canada’s celebration of the launch of its direct flight between Montreal and Tel Aviv that he hopes to return from Israel with ideas that will help create jobs in both Quebec and Israel.

This will be his third time in Israel: his first was private and the second was when he was health minister.

Note: The original version of this article failed to specify that Couillard is the first sitting premier from Quebec to visit Israel in an official capacity.