How well has Montreal weathered the economic crisis?

TREMBLAY: We've been working very hard for the past 20 years to diversify our industrial sector. That's one of the reasons why Montreal is the one North American city that has best weathered the economic crisis. We were able to do so through diversification and through investing in many different sectors of our economy, including aerospace, information technology, gaming, life sciences, film, financial services, and the cleantech cluster. Additionally, through diversification, we were able to create high quality jobs. We are currently investing in 188 projects that total $16 billion, most of which is in real estate. We’ve certainly seen a trend of business people that have decided to invest in Montreal.

Aside from the US, who are your biggest trading partners and how do you hope to expand those markets?

TREMBLAY: The United States is of course a very significant partner of ours because we have access through Montreal to 460m consumers. However, with the recent increase in the value of the Canadian dollar and the fact that the consumption has reduced a bit in the US, we've been shifting. If you look at the trade percentage from 2002 to 2010, it's reduced by 4.3% in the US, and increased in Africa and the Middle East by 12.3%, which has caused us to shift closer to those markets. The US will still remain one of our major trading partners. However, when we see what is happening in the Middle East, we've decided that it is important to focus our attention there.

Montreal has very strong ties to the Middle East by way of immigration. What is the scope of the economic ties between Montreal and the Middle East? How do you hope to further develop those ties?

TREMBLAY: There's not a great deal of demographic growth in Montreal. Therefore, immigration becomes very important. We have 120 communities of different origins and many come from the Middle East. As a result, they often become our ambassadors in a sense when they leave to visit their home countries. We have 28,000 students that come from throughout the World to Montreal to attend our universities. We try to retain most of them, but it's difficult, and when they go back to their respective countries, they become ambassadors of Montreal. With regards to the Middle East, they want to do exactly what we did 20 years ago. We diversified our industrial structure and now they're looking to do the same. They have major resources from oil and gas and they're interested in diversifying. Some of the areas they are looking to invest in include information technology, gaming, healthcare, film, and financial services. They're also looking at all questions concerning the environment. Therefore, with our cleantech cluster, we are hoping to build a long lasting relationship. This is why we’re in the UAE, to build a link of trust. Two ministers from the Quebec government and a Minister of the Canadian government were here recently promoting the Nord Plan in Quebec, which includes $80 billion of investments over the next 25 years in different clusters such as the light-metal cluster, aluminum, metal minerals, agri-food, and forest products. There are major investment opportunities throughout Canada and specifically in the greater Montreal area, which supplies many of the engineering firms, the head offices of the mining industry and the forest product industry. There are benefits of over $51b in the greater Montreal area and 350,000 jobs could be created over the next 25 years. It is important that we establish a long lasting relationship to do things that are important for the Middle East, but also very important for Montreal and Quebec.

How much of an impact do you think the proposed change in Canadian immigration policy that would fast track skilled workers will have on the city's ability to grow and develop?

TREMBLAY: It will have a major impact. The Quebec government has been working diligently with France and the European Community to ensure that we could accept their diplomas. We will need those people because the challenge here is how to fill the number of jobs that will be created in the different clusters with the human capital that will be required. This is a great challenge indeed, but one which I fully embrace. It reminds me of our past when there was a need to train a large amount of workers specialized in research and development for the pharmaceutical industry, and we met the challenge and adequately trained more than 8,000 new employees. So, if we've done it before we can do it for the aerospace and financial services industries. A big reason why we've been successful in this sense is because Montreal is a city of creators; this is our competitive advantage. Many of the different clusters call upon people to be creative, imaginative and innovative, as well as collaborative because we cannot do it alone. This is why a long lasting relationship with the UAE is very important and this is what we're trying to build in Dubai presently.

What is your forecast for economic growth for 2012/2013 for Montreal?

TREMBLAY: We're looking at about 2% growth. It's difficult to say because we're creating the environment; we're investing in our underground infrastructure, our roads, our parks, and in improving our heritage. We've invested in 4 major projects including our entertainment district. That alone is going to generate a need for $1.9bn of investment. $10 billion is invested in healthcare centers, Francophone and Anglophone. There’s still an additional $6bn to be invested in different projects. In the downtown area, there is 4m square feet of prime location, and in the residential and the commercial outlets that are being built presently in Montreal there is $16bn being invested. On the island of Montreal, there’s 60m square feet. The opportunities to create a great deal of wealth in the different sectors, industrial, commercial and residential, are very promising, not to mention the different clusters that we have. Montreal truly is a prime location, but once again if we don't collaborate with for example, the Emirates, it's going to be very difficult to accelerate the development of Montreal. Therefore, we must create the proper environment. The business community and the promoters are investing in Montreal. The minimum that we're facing is 2-2.2% growth in GDP. I think that we could do better than that. Let's see what happens in the future.