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Report On Business Ontario won’t offer billions in grants for Amazon headquarters, head of GTA bid says

Ed Clark, former president and chief executive officer of Toronto-Dominion Bank, is heading a group working to bring Amazon's new headquarters to Ontario.

Scott Eells/Bloomberg

The man heading up Ontario's effort to lure Amazon to the province said Thursday that while the province would consider sensible incentives, 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.

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"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.

"But we have proven people are coming to Toronto right now, and to Ontario, because we've just got fantastic people."

The online retail giant announced earlier this month that it is 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 wants to be near a metropolitan area with more than a 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.

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"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.

Amazon's current campus in Seattle takes up more than 750,000 square metres, has 33 buildings and 24 restaurants and is home to more than 40,000 employees. At the second headquarters, Amazon said it will hire up to 50,000 new full-time employees over the next 15 years who would have an average pay of more than US$100,000 a 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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