François Cardinal is editorial page editor at La Presse.
Canada stands a chance to host the future headquarters of Amazon, whatever the doomsayers we've been reading and listening to over the past two weeks have to say about it.
Jeff Bezos's company didn't extend its invitation to the metropolitan areas of "North America" by accident. No international trade regulation forced it to include its neighbouring country in the call for proposals, and yet, the "provinces" are mentioned in it – 13 times! And why shouldn't they be?
Canada is the focus of intense interest, and it would be dishonest to restrict that interest to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's look or the colour of his socks. This is, after all, the "best country in the G7 for doing business," in the words of the Economist Intelligence Unit.
It's gone the way of innovation, it attracts foreign scientists and investments, it boasts an impressive labour pool and it offers an incomparable quality of life.
So: Amazon in Canada? Sure. Especially with the prevailing context in the United States. Donald Trump won't be in the White House forever, but voters who espouse his ideas won't be disappearing in 2020, and neither will the country's inward-looking attitude.
The battle is therefore far from lost for Canadian cities. Vancouver probably doesn't have much of a chance, being too close to Seattle for Amazon to take advantage of a fresh pool of talent, but Toronto and Montreal have every reason to actively prepare their candidacies.
Between the two of them, let's face it, the Toronto bid has the advantage, and not just because it was faster out of the starting blocks in enlisting former TD Bank chief executive Ed Clark to push its candidacy. It's also a tech-focused city enjoying the strongest growth on the continent. It's on the radar screen of the Ciscos and Ubers of this world and possesses enough assets to work its way onto most of the short lists drawn up over the past few days by CNN and others.
That said, Montreal's name is also going around. It even found itself on the list published by The Washington Post, which Mr. Bezos also owns.
All it takes is a glance at the list of criteria in the call for proposals to see that Montreal ticks all the boxes, except for the non-stop air link with Seattle, but that's easily fixed. It even has, with the former Blue Bonnets racetrack, a gigantic stretch of land that meshes with Amazon's needs (access to the subway, less than 45 minutes from the airport, less than three kilometres from a highway, and so on).
The city is halfway between Seattle and London, 60 minutes from Boston and New York. It's a hub of artificial intelligence, as evidenced by Facebook's announcement that it will be creating a laboratory in town. It offers clean and inexpensive electricity. It's hip and cosmopolitan, innovative and diversified, affordable and competitive.
As for language, a number of people in Canada have brought that up as a handicap in recent days. But it can also prove to be a vital asset. Montreal's population is the most bilingual and trilingual in the country, which is invaluable for a company whose business model is based on differentiated local offerings, with many different languages, all over the world.
The energy and resources that Montréal International and Toronto Global make available are therefore well worth the trouble; if only for the message that the presence of a Canadian among the final candidates would send. But there's nothing stopping us from aiming for the jackpot.