Councillor Michelle Holland: Toronto punches above its weight, but we need to tell our story
In politics for her entire career, Michelle Holland wants to make sure that government can one day be as proactive about innovation as the tech startup world. That’s why she’s been a champion of innovation during her tenure as a City Councillor with the City of Toronto, connecting big thinkers to infrastructural government support. Read on to see her global idea for tech and innovation.
How did you get involved in tech?
I have always worked in politics, starting at the federal level in the early 2000s for the deputy PM, then to the provincial level after that.
In 2005, I left to work for a government relations firm, where I got exposed to many of our cleantech clients. I learned so much about companies trying to innovate and modernize, and found that I gravitated towards innovation.
I took that with me when I started my government career again, this time at the municipal level, when I was elected in 2010.
The municipal level of government is often slow to react to innovation; we saw this with Uber in 2014, for instance. So my initiative was to create a portfolio at the city that would be here as a proactive role for innovation instead of reactive, and Mayor Tory said yes.
You have 3 hours to make someone fall in love with Toronto – where do you take them and what do you show them?
I live in the Beaches, so we’d start there. It’s amazing that we have a Blue Flag beach in Toronto. It’s a unique community, too, because it’s quiet yet interesting. You can have picnics, barbeques, and it’s family oriented. I’d spend an hour here, though you could spend a whole day.
For a second hour, I’d find the coolest tech place to show them – MaRS itself – to show them what we are doing for tech and innovation.
Then we’d probably go to the west end – Ossington and Dundas for dinner to try the phenomenal food in the area.
Elevate Toronto is founded on three principles (#DiversityIsOurStrength, #DisruptTogether, #ItsOurTime). Which one resonates most with you?
People know Canada and Toronto for its diversity. We’re blessed to have that. When looking at attracting and retaining talent, however, we need to look at why they are driven to Silicon Valley. It’s not necessarily because of the cuisine or the diversity; they go to amp their career. It’s the same reason they’d go to Boston or New York.
Especially at a younger age, talent may not move to Toronto because of diversity or because it’s an amazing city. They’d come here because they want to cut their teeth and make their mark – that’s what we need to be known as.
Amping up Toronto as the place to be for tech talent means we need to tell the stories of the amazing companies here. We are punching above our weight, and that story needs to be told.
What is your “global idea” for tech and innovation?
Amp up your brand! In Canada, for example, it bothers me to hear we are the “____ North.” I’m all about being Canadian. It’s about amping your own brand and saying ‘we’re here, it’s our time.’
What should the world know about the Toronto tech community?
They need to know the stories of scale ups here and the phenomenal work that our companies are doing.