Multimillionaire businessman Mitch Garber says Quebec risks losing foreign investment and immigrants if the government goes ahead with a ban on religious symbols for some public servants.
Garber, who is the inaugural chairman of the new federal government agency Invest in Canada, said he told Quebec Premier François Legault that the promised legislation may win him some votes, but will hurt the economy in the longer term.
“We should not be putting up barriers or making it less attractive to come here,” he said.
Garber, who amassed a fortune as the chief executive of a Las Vegas-based online gaming company, was the guest speaker at Cocktails & Conversation on Feb. 5 in Montreal. Presented by Agence Ometz, the annual event is an opportunity for its clients to network with potential employers.
The fluently bilingual Garber, 54, became a household name in Quebec when he was one of the wealthy celebrities on the French-language version of the TV reality show Dragon’s Den a few years ago. He is now an investor in, and chair of, Cirque du Soleil, among a variety of other things.
Garber stressed that Montreal is currently an attractive place for foreign businesses, in no small part because of the political stability and quality of life, including its multicultural character.
A law prohibiting religious wear will “seem ridiculous to most people” abroad, he said. Garber also accused the government of trying to “scare” people about immigration.
In the coming weeks, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government, which was elected last fall, is expected to introduce a bill that would prohibit police officers, prison guards, judges and grade school teachers from wearing such symbols as hijabs, kippot, turbans and crosses while performing their duties.
The CAQ also intends to reduce immigration levels by 20 per cent annually.
Garber – in conversation with incoming Ometz president Michael Aronovici, owner of Interaction Restaurants Group – also spoke of his rather late-blooming infatuation with Israel.
He visited the Holy Land for the first time in 2003 and “fell in love with the country.” As the CEO of Caesars Acquisition Company, Garber bought the Israeli startup Playtika, a mobile social game developer, in 2011 for US$100 million. Caesars sold it to a Chinese consortium in 2016 for US$4.4 billion.
“People said you shouldn’t do business in Israel because the Israelis are arrogant and difficult, some said dishonest, but we have found it to be an amazing, an incredible place to do business,” Garber said.
That’s because of the Israelis’ entrepreneurship, or, as he bluntly put it, “They are very targeted at making money … they think of that one thing.”
Garber is proud that his son, a McGill University graduate, is currently serving in the Israel Defence Forces, in a non-combat cyber-intelligence unit.
One of the reasons he chose to do that rather than follow a conventional career path was to “distinguish himself” when he does enter the job market. Garber’s advice to the young people at the event was to do the same – put some accomplishment on their resume that sets them apart, even if it is working on a farm for a year.
Garber, a lawyer by training, attributed his own success to “outworking” most everyone else, starting with a newspaper route at age 11, as well as keeping informed about what’s going on in the world.
No chat with Garber would be complete without an update on the chances of major league baseball returning to Montreal. Garber, who along with Stephen Bronfman is a key potential backer, expressed optimism.
“The chances today are probably greater than 50 per cent,” he said. “Two years ago, I thought it was 15 per cent.”
We should not be putting up barriers or making it less attractive to come here.
– Mitch Garber
(Garber is a minority investor in Seattle’s new NHL franchise, the Steelheads.)
Although he describes himself as a “pure capitalist,” Garber said the super wealthy have an obligation to share their fortune. He is concerned with the widening disparity between rich and poor and supports higher taxation on the wealthy.
As is customary at Cocktails & Conversation, which was held at the new Herzliah High School, some Ometz clients made brief pitches before the audience.
Among the 20 men and women – who ranged widely in terms of age, education and qualifications – were six from France, including two lawyers and a pharmacist. Two others returned to Montreal after long periods elsewhere in Canada or the United States, while others were recent graduates of local universities.
In 2018, Ometz, a Federation CJA agency, met 1,655 job seekers and recorded 792 “successful outcomes,” defined as finding employment (both in the profit and non-profit sectors), opening a business, completing an internship or furthering education or training.