MONTREAL — An agreement to strengthen economic and technological co-operation was signed by Quebec Economic Development Minister Raymond Bachand and Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Industry Minister Eliyahu Yishai in Jerusalem last week.
Israeli Industry Minister Eliyahu Yishai, seated left, and Quebec Economic Development Minister Raymond Bachand, seated beside Yishai, sign an agreement on economic co-operation. Looking on are, from left, Jonathan Levy, Israeli consul for economic affairs and trade commissioner to Canada; Canadian Ambassador Jon Allen; and Lawrence Bergman, member of the Quebec National Assembly.
Bachand led a four-day economic and scientific mission to Israel that included more than 40 Quebec businesspeople, investors and researchers.
The new agreement aims to promote trade, investment and collaboration in sectors such as biotechnology, aerospace, information technology, telecommunications and the environment. It complements an agreement between the two governments signed last December in Quebec City, which also encompasses the areas of culture, education and science.
“The signing of this agreement points to success for years to come. It will be a source of very fruitful collaboration and exchange between our two economies,” Bachand said in a statement.
The minister said the agreement will build upon existing ties between Israel and Quebec, both at the commercial and scientific levels.
“Israel and Quebec maintain solid ties that are based on a common vision and objectives – the promotion of our know-how, of our culture and of our language.
“The presence of a dynamic Jewish community of 93,000 in Quebec reinforces this relationship. By signing this complementary agreement, Quebec is reiterating the attachment it has with Israel and its wish for a closer collaboration in the future.”
He said Israel provides an example of support for entrepreneurship and the growth of enterprises.
One solid deal was announced before the mission’s return to Quebec. The Israeli venture-capital company Vertex is investing $4 million in the Montreal-based communications technology firm Neuralitic, which was founded last year. The Quebec Federation of Labour’s Fonds de la solidarité, which was represented on the mission by vice-president Jacques Bernier, which invests in Vertex.
The Quebec delegation met with many Israeli business and government officials, including Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer. They visited a number of startup companies and research institutes, including Hadassit, the technology transfer company of the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Bachand was impressed by its success in developing and commercializing the results of its medical research. He also toured the Technion institute of technology in Haifa.
Bachand praised the “creativity, audacity and competence” of Israeli entrepreneurs. He noted that Israel is a world leader in spending on research and development. He made a special pitch to Israeli venture capitalists about the bustling high-tech scene in Montreal.
“Quebec must not only maintain, but also increase its relations and collaboration with this country whose expertise is diverse and amazing,” said Bachand, who worked in the private sector most of his life, mainly as an executive of the Métro-Richelieu grocery chain.
He would also like to increase scientific partnerships between Quebec and Israeli institutions. He cited such existing relationships as the joint research into muscular dystrophy between the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Laval and Hadassah Hospital, and the McGill University Cancer Centre and the Weizmann Institute’s M.D. Moross Institute for Cancer Research.
Bachand visited Ramallah on the West Bank, where he met Hassan Abu-Libdeh, an adviser to the Palestinian prime minister, toured a pharmaceutical firm and attended a dinner hosted by Ramallah Mayor Janet Michael.
He also visited two storefront community centres, established by the McGill University Middle East Peace Program, in east and west Jerusalem, as well as an affiliated food co-operative in Gilo. The Quebec government gives a $50,000 annual grant to the MMEP.
Upon his arrival in Israel from Russia, Bachand insisted on going to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance authority, where he spent almost three hours, said D’Arcy McGee MNA Lawrence Bergman, who accompanied Bachand, along with lawyer Eric Maldoff, president of the Quebec-Israel Committee.
“This visit was extremely moving, and we were made to understand the complete horror of this dramatic episode in history and its six million victims,” Bachand said. “It was all the more [moving] because there are still numerous Holocaust survivors among our fellow Quebec citizens.”
Bachand laid a wreath on behalf of the Quebec government in the commemorative hall. He then visited the museum and was particularly struck by the children’s memorial.
“It was important for me to go to Yad Vashem to meditate in this place and to show the full sympathy of the Quebec people for this great tragedy.”
He then visited the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition and then visited the Western Wall.
The Quebecers also visited the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and the Hebrew University’s technology transfer company, Yissum. Bachand also personally met chief scientist Eli Opper of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.
A total of 100 private meetings were held by the 40 delegates with Israeli businesspeople and researchers.
One of them, André Blain, president of Pharma Laser, commented: “This mission was profitable for me and my company. I could identify many potential customers and become familiar with the local business realities.
Bergman described the mission as a complete success, and called it unprecedented in its size and scope. In 1997, Parti Québécois minister Sylvain Simard also visited Israel and concluded an entente, but did not lead a delegation like this.
“There was a lot of electricity in the air,” Bergman said. “It was positive at the political and personal level. There was an excellent chemistry between Mr. Yishai and Mr. Bachand. This was not just a formality.”
Bergman believes the delegates also profited from the experience. “Many contacts were made. I didn’t hear anyone say it did not work out for them,” said Bergman, who estimates that at least half had never been to Israel before.
“The signing of this agreement is yet another affirmation of our mutual desire to strengthen the existing synergy and bilateral relations between Israel and Quebec in areas such as high-tech, as well as science and development,” said Israel consul general in Montreal, Yoram Elron.
“We are convinced this will lead to increased joint ventures and investments between our respective societies.”
Israel is currently Quebec’s fourth-largest trading partner in the Middle East, with exports totalling $96 million (US) and imports of $184 million last year.