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Region committees split on Toronto Global

Some councillors want more investment in Durham’s own international economic development strategies

The region’s finance committee has recommended to reallocate annual funding for Toronto Global to its own international economic development strategies. Some councillors, such as Oshawa’s Brian Nicholson, argue the organization is too focused on the City of Toronto, and hasn’t yielded any results for Durham Region. (Photo by Christine Wagner/Flickr)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

With Durham’s population growing, regional council has sought out ways to improve the region’s economic standing by working with Toronto Global.

Founded in 2017, Toronto Global has a mandate to attract foreign investment to Durham, York, and Halton regions, as well as the cities of Toronto, Mississauga, and Brampton.

The organization receives almost $2 million in funding from the six municipalities, as well as provincial and federal support.

However, there’s now some pushback against the organization from councillors unimpressed with the amount of jobs it has brought into the region, while also believing it is too focused on the City of Toronto.

At recent meeting of the region’s finance committee, Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier introduced a motion to reallocate the $206,000 for Toronto Global in the 2020 budget to Durham’s economic development department, and apply it to the foreign direct investment strategy.

Collier believes Toronto Global has brought no jobs to the region, and continuing to support it is a waste of taxpayer money.

Ward 5 city and regional councillor Brian Nicholson agrees with Collier, telling The Oshawa Express he supported the            organization in the past, but quoted Albert Einstein to sum up why he’s changed his position.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results,” Nicholson says.

To him, this is essentially what the region is doing by continuing to invest in Toronto Global.

“It simply is not producing any results, and there comes a point where you just can’t justify continuing to spend over $200,000 of taxpayers’ money on a process that simply doesn’t provide results to anyone,” he says.

The veteran councillor notes the organization has come to council repeatedly and promised a better return on the region’s investment, but they simply haven’t seen the results their looking for.

He believes having the region focus the money on its own efforts, and trying to get better results makes sense.

Nicholson says he harbours no resentment towards Toronto Global and its team, but “they just haven’t produced.”

Ward 4 city and regional councillor Rick Kerr disagrees, however, noting the planning and economic committee recommended maintaining the funding to Toronto Global when it was discussed there.

“There’s an old expression that talks about hedging your bets. This is the time to hedge your bets. It’s not a time to withdraw from the table,” he says.

Kerr explains shortly after he became a member of the planning and economic committee, Toronto Global made a presentation to them, and he had his doubts.

“I read all the documentation, I looked at the past history, and I remember looking at [Ajax] councillor [Sterling] Lee… and I said, ‘I don’t see why we’re continuing this. We haven’t had anything from them ever’,” says Kerr.

However, since then, Kerr’s viewpoint has changed.

“The government made an announcement [last week that] they’re going to extend the [GO train service] to Bowmanville. That in itself is going to open up so much           development land that the business           opportunities won’t just be local, they won’t just be provincial or national, they will be international,” says Kerr.

He feels having a resource such as Toronto Global to market the new business lands is important.

While Kerr believes the expansion of GO train service east in Durham will help bring in more international investment, Nicholson isn’t so sure.

“We’ve been making improvements in Durham Region, and virtually all of them have been the result of homegrown initiatives, not because of Toronto Global,” he says.

He points to programs such as the GO train expansion itself, the relocation of OPG’s national headquarters, Durham Live casino in Pickering, and others as examples of what the region has achieved on its own.

“You have to be involved in our community, we can’t be just involved in the Toronto-centric pie,” he says.

The decision whether or not to continue investing in Toronto Global will be before regional council on Feb. 26.