Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne believes the outcomes of the busy week of meetings she has led between government officials and sectors including business, technology and health will convince naysayers about her mission to Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) this week.
“I couldn’t disagree more with the notion that it’s not worth making a trip like this,” she said in an interview with The CJN.
Over the week, Wynne said, “we have signed agreements and memoranda of understanding worth about $182 million, [creating] 216 jobs. More than that, I would say that there is huge potential for us to do more together, whether it’s in educational exchanges, whether it’s research and development innovation.
“There were 44 deals that were signed… but the impact will go way beyond that.”
Israel is a great connection for Ontario because there are so many cultural similarities, she believes. “We are both knowledge economies and we know that both jurisdictions see our people as our most important asset and resource. So if we’re going to be able to compete globally, we have to make sure that our people are at their best.
“I know that our business delegates have been very, very happy with the connections that they’ve made and have said that it was very much worth being here.”
Deals have been inked between universities, business partnerships and organizations like IBM Canada and its Israeli counterpart, with TEVA Pharmaceutical Industries, which already has a presence in Ontario about possibilities for expansion, and Mississauga’s Inflamax Research and Israel’s AdOm Tech in the medical technology field.
While in Israel, Wynne said, she’s seen “investment in people and their skills and abilities… which is exactly what we’re trying to do,” and she’s developed a better understanding of the term “start-up nation,” crediting Israel’s success, in part, to the fact that the Office of the Chief Scientist, which signed deals with several Ontario entities, is autonomous and not part of the government.
Before her political career, Wynne had a close relationship with the Jewish community, at one point working as an educator helping train students and staff in conflict resolution at schools such as Toronto’s United Synagogue Day School (now Robbins Hebrew Academy). She says Jewish schools were particularly open to her message.
“There was a real receptivity to that work in the Hebrew day schools exactly because there’s the derech eretz portion of the curriculum… ‘We have to figure out how to get along with each other, we have to figure out how to resolve problems and talk things out.’”
Addressing last week’s failed private member’s bill in the Ontario legislature to bar the province from deals with companies supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), Wynne reiterated her support of the Jewish community and her government’s strong conviction that “any movement like the BDS movement that is based on anti-Semitism, that is based in division and promotes hatred, is just unacceptable.”
She has been gratified at how warmly her delegation has been received throughout the trip, receiving an almost-unprecedented level of access for a regional, not national leader, including extended meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. “I hadn’t necessarily expected that, overall, people would be as happy that we’re here.”
Asked if this reception was connected to the unequivocal support offered by former prime minister Stephen Harper during his 2014 visit, making Canada the darling of the Israeli media at the time, Wynne said positive relationships between the two nations go back many years. “We’re part of that goodwill that has been in place for many decades.
“Prime minister Harper built on it in a particular way, but what I have said to all of the folks in political meetings I’m in is that I believe that Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau is going to be able to do the same thing… to build on those decades of friendship.”
Overall, Wynne said, “It’s been an amazing trip…I am leaving with the sense that this is such a beautiful, complex place. I knew it… but now I have a visceral sense of that.”