MONTREAL — Premier Jean Charest hailed Israel as a country that Quebec would like to do more business with, expressing admiration for its excellence in technology and science.
Charest was the guest speaker at a Nov. 17 fundraising dinner for the Canadian Technion Society (CTS) in honour of one of Quebec’s most successful high-tech entrepreneurs, Stephan Ouaknine, who learned much about startup ventures during the time he lived in Israel.
Charest praised the contributions the almost-century-old Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has made to the world, noting that three of its professors have won Nobel Prizes.
“But how could it be otherwise in Israel, an extremely small country with just seven million people, in an often hostile environment, politically, geographically and for its security.
“Israel is also part of Quebec, an important part of our lives that we share with you.”
Charest said he’d like to see greater links with Technion and other Israeli institutions to share expertise. “Science and technology are an important motor for the creation of jobs and wealth,” he said.
That kind of collaboration will be especially important to fulfil Charest’s $80-billion Plan Nord, the development of the vast territory of Quebec north of the 49th parallel, $47 billion of which is to be invested in the development of sustainable energy resources.
Charest expressed admiration for Ouaknine and what he has accomplished already at the age of 37. He said Quebec’s economy needs people with the vision and boldness of Ouaknine, the founder of Blueslice Networks, which he sold to Nasdaq-listed Tekelec. His new company is Inerjys Ventures, a fund for the development of renewable energy and its distribution.
Charest was also generous in his praise for the Jewish community.
“I want to express gratitude for the extraordinary Jewish community and what it has done for us. This is one of the greatest, if not the greatest places in the world to live.
“Here we can be a Montrealer, a Quebecer, a Canadian and love the State of Israel at the same time, and there is no contradiction,” he said. The declaration received enthusiastic applause from the audience of about 300 at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim.
He stressed that Quebec values diversity and wants to attract talented immigrants from around the world.
Even before he spoke, the premier was enthusiastically received, with guests chatting and taking their photos with him, and he got a standing ovation when he went on stage.
Ouaknine, the son of Moroccan and Egyptian immigrants, left Montreal for Israel after receiving his undergraduate degree at McGill University. After six years in Israel and one in New York, he returned to Montreal, and continues to have business interests in Israel.
Israeli Consul General Joel Lion officially invited Charest to visit Israel, which he has never visited.
Proceeds from the event will go toward research at Technion on alternative energy sources to fossil fuels. Nine faculties are working in this area, from a multidisciplinary perspective.
Philanthropy and investment for profit can coalesce for the benefit of humanity and the environment, Ouaknine believes, and he advocates greater public-private partnerships, something he has in common with Charest.
Ouaknine said his goal is to grow Inerjys into the first multinational provider of renewable energy through the development of more efficient storage. It’s an ambition he presented this year at the Clinton Global Initiative, a gathering called by former U.S. president Bill Clinton of influential world leaders.
A love of nature was instilled in him at an early age, including the summers he spent at the Y Country Camp, he said.
Ouaknine is also determined make more younger people aware of Technion and bring in a new generation of leadership to CTS.