Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he intends to promote Canada's diversity and its educated work force to persuade Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos to choose Toronto for the company's planned second headquarters, but signalled he's not prepared offer the e-commerce giant any financial incentives to sweeten the deal.
Mr. Trudeau was to hold closed-door talks with Mr. Bezos at a downtown San Francisco hotel as part of a visit to the city to meet with Silicon Valley executives. Ahead of the meeting, he said he planned to make the case for Toronto's bid for Amazon.com Inc.'s new headquarters. But he said Canada's education system, pro-business climate and access to international markets through trade deals have been enough to lure large technology companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft in the past, not tax breaks and subsidies.
"They're not coming because of incentives that we've offered, which in most cases we haven't, but because of the extraordinary Canadian work force," Mr. Trudeau told reporters on Thursday.
"I'm going to continue to make that case to every business leader I meet, including Jeff Bezos."
Amazon expects to spend up to US$5-billion on a second headquarters, which it says will create 50,000 high-paying jobs. Toronto is the only non-U.S. city among the 20 that have made Amazon's shortlist.
Mr. Trudeau described his meeting with Mr. Bezos as the latest in a multiyear effort to encourage the company to invest more in Canada. Amazon has also aggressively lobbied the Canadian government in recent months for contracts and policies tied to its cloud-based services.
The Prime Minister used his first visit to Silicon Valley to go on the charm offensive, seeking to woo tech firms to bring new investments to Canada based not just on the country's economic benefits, but its diversity, openness to free trade and "forward-thinking" population. It was a receptive message in the deeply Democratic city of San Francisco, where large crowds blocked city streets to catch a glimpse of Mr. Trudeau. Business-software and services giant Salesforce projected a Canadian flag onto its offices in San Francisco's financial district and the city was planning to light up its City Hall with red and white.
"Like you, we're a city that values diversity, we value equality, and we also value innovation," Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff told Mr. Trudeau during a roundtable meeting on diversity that included senior executives from companies including Airbnb, PayPal, Google and Pinterest. At least some of that enthusiasm translated into new investment. Mr. Benioff announced Salesforce would invest an additional US$2-billion in Canada over the next five years, money that will be spread out over investments in real estate, data centre capacity and new hiring to add to the company's existing Canadian work force of 1,300.
But the warm greeting in California comes amid mounting tensions between Canada and the United States over the renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement.
Mr. Trudeau rejected the notion that Canada was standing in the way of progress on modernizing the trade deal, days after a U.S. government official said the United States was considering striking a separate agreement with Mexico. But he reiterated that Canada won't accept a "bad deal" from the United States on NAFTA.
"We're working very hard and seriously to get there, but we know that any deal has to be a win-win-win," Mr. Trudeau said. "That means that we're going to have to ensure that we're standing up for Canadian interests as we move forward on a deal that works for everyone."