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Head of Ontario’s Amazon bid says province will not offer billions in subsidies

Ontario's bid will highlight skilled workforce and other attributes

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The man heading up Ontario’s effort to lure Amazon to the province says the bid will not offer billions in subsidies to the tech giant.

Providing large taxpayer subsidies to the firm wouldn’t be fair to other companies that have set up shop in Ontario with little or no government assistance, said Ed Clark, who was appointed last week by Premier Kathleen Wynne to head up the Greater Toronto Region’s bid to become the home of Amazon’s new corporate headquarters.

The region’s bid to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos will highlight other strengths such as the province’s skilled workforce, Clark said, adding that the province would be willing to make other contributions like helping the company secure land.

“There are clearly places in the United States that will, I use the word, bribe, people to come,” he said. “[They] say you just tell us what cheque you want us to write, we will write that cheque. We’re not in that business.”

If that’s what Amazon is looking for, Ontario will not win, said Clark, who retired as an executive with TD Bank in 2014.

The online retail giant announced earlier this month that it was hunting for a second North American office, saying it would spend $5 billion to build the new headquarters to house as many as 50,000 employees.

The company said it wanted to be near a metropolitan area with more than one million people; be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand that headquarters to more than 740,000 square metres in the next decade.

Clark said the two biggest roadblocks a Toronto region bid will face are the pressure to spend large amounts on tax incentives and potential blowback to the firm created by U.S. President Donald Trump’s push to keep American companies from moving operations to other countries.

“It will be seen as a major political statement if Amazon says the next 50,000 jobs we create are going to be in Canada,” he said. “Whether they will stand that political heat, we don’t know.”

“[Bezos] may well be prepared to take that heat and there are companies that say the most important thing is that they get the people and a tax break here or there isn’t going to sway it,” Clark said.

Cities have until Oct. 19 to apply through a special website, and Amazon said it will make a final decision next year.

Toronto Mayor John Tory downplayed concerns the city’s rising housing costs and congestion issues might hurt the bid. If the region is successful, by the time the facility is built, the city and region will have increased its housing supply and transit capacity, he said.

“If you go down [Amazon’s] list and tick the boxes, I would say that this region is as well prepared and represented to bid and to be very competitive as any other in the world. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be a tough competition.”

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