by JOHN LORINC Globe and Mail
Battling for advantage in what amounts to a dead heat, mayoral hopeful George Smitherman reached out to ethnic businesses and the city’s nascent green technology sector Thursday with an economic development strategy that will rely on unpaid “ambassadors” who will sell Toronto abroad, as well as tax abatements to attract clean-tech firms to the city.
Using measures such as tax increment financing, Mr. Smitherman pledged to establish a green business district in an as yet unspecified area of the city where there’s an abundance of fallow industrial land. At a news conference downtown, he said he plans to create an “incubator” area that will attract environmental NGOs, green energy businesses and research outfits. The announcement came just hours before he secured the endorsement of former Green Party boss Jim Harris.
He also intends to draw on the members of Toronto’s various ethnic chambers of commerce to assemble a team of about 500 emissaries who will promote the city while travelling abroad on business.
Apart from the ambassadors, the core of Mr. Smitherman’s economic development plan does little more than tweak council’s current approach, which focused on using the recently established “Invest Toronto” agency to promote the city. Mr. Smitherman acknowledged the city’s economic development strategy in the past has suffered from a lack of focus, and he says he’ll put the priority on four key sectors: clean tech, arts/media, financial services and medical technology.
While Mayor David Miller promoted the city’s environmental record, Invest Toronto’s strategy placed scant focus on attracting green jobs.
With the pledge of clean-tech jobs, Mr. Smitherman is clearly anxious to use provisions of the 2009 Green Energy Act, which he spearheaded as a member of the Liberal government at Queen’s Park, to encourage manufactures to set up shop in Toronto. The act specifies that green energy suppliers must use equipment that’s been partly assembled in Ontario. But the Japanese government this fall launched a trade challenge to Ontario’s procurement rules, calling them discriminatory.
As energy minister, Mr. Smitherman ran into a wall of public and internal criticism last year when he cut a sole-source deal with South Korean manufacturing giant Samsung C&T to set up a $7-billion wind and solar panel plant somewhere in Ontario. Queen’s Park last January finally approved the deal. The company promised to create 16,000 jobs in exchange for over $400-million in incentives.
Special to The Globe and Mail