Toronto Mayor John Tory “taking nothing for granted” when it comes to Collision in 2019

Toronto Mayor John Tory and Paddy Cosgrave

The Mayor of Toronto may be wearing a walking boot, but it’s not slowing him down during Web Summit in Lisbon.

Mayor John Tory has been wearing the boot around Web Summit after aggravating an old injury during his recent reelection campaign. Opting to forego the boot (an easy target for his younger political opponent, Jennifer Keesmaat) while campaigning, all pretenses have been dropped in Lisbon with a new term secured.

Besides, there was business to attend to: selling Canada to Web Summit attendees in the run-up to sister conference Collision’s first ever appearance in Toronto.

To that end, Mayor Tory has booked a compact schedule over three days: connecting with 150 CIOs from top global tech companies at Corporate Innovation Summit; speaking with Dr. Yossi Verdi about bringing Israeli tech companies to Collision prior to their panel conversation on tech communities at Ecosystem Summit; a rumoured pitch to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to speak next year at the conference before dinner with Prime Minister of Portugal. At each stop, the general message is the same, even when speaking to the 200-plus Canadian delegates Toronto (in conjunction with federal and provincial governments) brought to Web Summit (disclosure: as part of the Canada Delegation to Web Summit, BetaKit received paid air travel to Lisbon).

“We have to make that pitch to people here. They’re not going to come on their own.”
-Mayor John Tory

“We as Canadians are very modest,” Mayor Tory told BetaKit. “We’re modest about the innovation ecosystem we now have, we’re modest about our tech ecosystem, and a lot of people don’t know what we’ve got going for us. We have to be here to say ‘come on over to Toronto, you’ll have a great time in 2019,’ but underlying that from our standpoint is we’re going to showcase our ability as a country and ability as a city to lead.”

“We have to make that pitch to people here. They’re not going to come on their own.”

In addition to a sales pitch, the trip is also a fact-finding mission for the Mayor and the city of Toronto, which has yet to host a tech event of Collision’s size and scale (TIFF, while massive, is an entirely different beast logistically). In addition to getting a brief from the Canadian Ambassador to Portugal on potential business opportunities with Toronto, Mayor Tory also spoke with Lisbon’s mayor to learn the finer points of sticking the landing for 30,000 guests to your city. His advice? Make sure you have good Wi-Fi.

“We have to think about these things from the first minute people get off the plane,” Mayor Tory said. “Even when we met with the mayor of Lisbon, he had the most basic of advice: make sure whatever else you do, you have the amount of Wi-FI bandwidth you need to accommodate 30,000 people who are heavy users. That’s a pretty basic piece of information, but if you don’t think of it, you’ll suffer the fate Dublin did a few years ago [with Web Summit].”

Mayor Tory Web Summit

Toronto Mayor John Tory with Ambassador Elizabeth Rice-Madan, Lisbon Mayor Fernando Medina, and Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.

Of course, after connectivity comes transportation. Toronto’s much-maligned mass transit limitations were a major component of the last (several) elections, and the recent King Street streetcar pilot has only been successful in reducing current congestion levels.

“We’re not going to build new subways between now and next May, but we are going to make sure there’s transportation there so people can find getting around Toronto and all to the different parts of Collision an easy and pleasant experience,” Mayor Tory said.

When asked to describe what he hopes Collision attendees experience during their time in the city, Mayor Tory said that “we’ve got to make to make sure people can see why Toronto is different, and why Canada is different.

“That means we’re going to have to put on display the kinds of partnerships we have,” he continued, citing AI research group the Vector Institute as an example. “[Vector is] something that is absolutely, from the beginning, government, business, and academic collaboration. And I think they’ve got see things like that. What I’m told is that we have a unique depth of collaboration in building a tech ecosystem in a country that is not that big.”

Diversity has been a messaging focus for Canadian tech, as well as home-grown tech conferences such as Elevate. Mayor Tory indicated that the city’s diversity could be used to attract more tech talent to Toronto following Collision.

“I think we’ve got to show our talent pool, we’ve got to show our diversity,” he said. “When people ask me what’s the number one thing they’ll notice when they come to Toronto, I answer diversity. Because they’ll see an extraordinary diversity of people from around the world. Our ability to attract other smart people from around the world, which I’m determined to do, is going to come from smart people who come to visit seeing people like them in Toronto who are happy to make it their home.”

Quayside Sidewalk Toronto

Sidewalk Toronto’s Quayside project could be a major topic of discussion during Collision 2019.

Attendees to Collision in 2019 will also likely see a city still mired in an ongoing debate on the intersection of tech and privacy. A global conversation, Toronto has been put at the forefront due to Sidewalk Toronto and its Quayside smart city project, the public-private partnership that has provided no end of controversy and intrigue. By May of next year a fulsome plan for the project will have been tabled (though not approved), but the near endless series of high-profile resignations and opinion pieces surrounding the project almost guarantee it will still be a major debate during Collision. For his part, Mayor Tory seemed more than willing to leave moderating that debate to somebody else.

“I believe [Sidewalk Toronto and the Quayside project] represents a huge opportunity for us if done the right way.”

“There is no question this is one of the great debates going on right now about privacy, about the role of global companies vis-à-vis data and many other things,” he said. “I expect that debate will still be at a crescendo when May comes around and Collision is in Toronto.”

“I believe [Sidewalk Toronto and the Quayside project] represents a huge opportunity for us if done the right way,” Mayor Tory continued. “That’s all part of the evolution of Toronto into something different and exciting, and it’s all part of the evolution taking place all across the world, as you adjust to the reality of not just global companies, but even other smaller startups and how they treat data and the relationships between the communities they operate in.”

“I suspect that debate will be raging even more intensely when we get to Collision in Toronto, and that’s going to highlight the importance of the conference: you get all these smart people from around the world in a room with speakers, and I’m sure that’s one of the top things that will be debated.”

If Mayor Tory seems particularly willing to kick the Sidewalk Toronto hornets’ nest down the road, it’s not for a lack of vision. Instead, the Mayor appeared at Web Summit as someone with a very singular focus.

“We’ve got [Collision] for three years but we’re taking nothing for granted,” he said. “We want them to come away saying ‘that was the best conference I’ve ever been to. I’m coming next year and I’m bringing my friends.’”

Images courtesy City of Toronto and Sunil Sharma.

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys is the Editor-in-Chief of BetaKit and founder of BetaKit Incorporated. He has worked for a few failed companies and written about many more. He spends too much time on the Internet.