If not bold, at least a beginning – By Royson James
By Royson James
The premier was there. So, too, the federal finance minister and a clutch of mayors, city councillors, economic development officers and board of trade facilitators.
Mayor Hazel McCallion called them an “assembled powerhouse.” And the province’s economic development minister, Michael Bryant, predicted that attendees would one day regale their grandchildren with stories that they were there the day leaders from the Greater Toronto Region gathered to set the area’s economy on the path to recovery with bold ideas.
Well, future economic recovery is a safe prediction.
But bold and action-oriented? We’re not so sure. For one, the Greater Toronto Region Economic Summit did not conclude with a hair-raising summary session that sent attendees home feeling like they’d scaled a huge hurdle. Rather, it was a beginning.
One bold idea: Make Toronto a global centre for Islamic financing, challenging the Dubais of the world.
Federal Liberal finance critic John McCallum, trading on his knowledge of the banking sector and his most multicultural Markham-Unionville riding, offered that during a session on how to enhance the region’s already boosted financial sector.
Already, Canada’s Big 5 banks are among the top 35 in the world and the top 15 in North America. A London economic index ranks the city 12th among the world’s global financial centres. The Toronto Stock Exchange is ranked number two in the world in terms of number of companies listed, and seventh in the world for equity capital raised.
Still, Canada lives next to the world’s only superpower. To compete, Canada has to be better, not just match the challenge. And Canada can’t expect to match the spending power of the U.S. behemoth. She must spend smarter and more strategically.
For example, Bryant said, the U.S. is spending $16 billion on green technology and $6 billion on the development of a battery cell technology. The current U.S. economic stimulus package amounts to $800 billon for a nation 10 times our size.
While Toronto is a megacity within a mega-region that leads Canada, it will have to be smarter in its investments. Bryant said he is looking to yesterday’s summit to advise his government on where such investments might have the biggest impact.
The entire idea of the summit revolved around how to leverage things the city-region already does well into a global competitive advantage – in other words, play with the big boys and girls on the big world stage.
Janis Koyanagi, director of business development and strategy for the TSX, liked McCallum’s idea. Some Muslim investors don’t want their money going into finance companies that charge interest or have holdings in gaming or alcohol. An investment vehicle that promoted a “sharia index” would give such investors great comfort and make the TSX a place of choice.
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