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Torontonians not opposed to Sidewalk Labs and support the tech sector: survey

TORONTO — Plans for a high tech Toronto community led by an Alphabet Inc.-backed entity. The Canadian Press

Sidewalk Labs has stirred up quite a bit of controversy in Toronto. But despite the string of negative headlines, a new survey shows Torontonians aren’t opposed to the project and welcome tech-sector growth.

The survey by Environics found nearly two-thirds believe Toronto’s tech sector growth is a good trend, while 3 per cent say it is negative. Local government agrees. When Amazon cancelled plans for its New York headquarters, Mayor John Tory reached out to the company to consider Toronto.

More than half (55 per cent) say they support Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs project, while 11 per cent opposes it. The majority (76 per cent) say the collaboration between Waterfront Toronto and Google’s (GOOG) sister company Sidewalk Labs should move forward if the public interest can be safeguarded.

“The Board of Trade is glad that Sidewalk Labs is here, and glad the company has a shot at bringing innovative development ideas to Quayside alongside our growing smart cities sector in Toronto,” said Jan De Silva, President & CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade, in a news release.

“But our support isn’t unconditional. There’s a process for Sidewalk Labs to confirm approval for their ideas with Waterfront Toronto and no less than three different levels of government.”

Concerns over surveillance and data protection have dogged the project from the start. Ontario’s former privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian quit her consulting role over privacy concerns. The Toronto Region Board of Trade issued a report in January calling on policymakers to develop a framework for a public agency to have oversight over public data.

“Public policy issues like data governance must be resolved as that process unfolds.”

At 71 per cent, most survey respondents agree that the public sector should have custody over smart city data.

The province of Ontario launched data strategy consultations this month and Toronto City Councillor Joe Cressy put forth a motion to start something similar at City Hall.

The survey was conducted before news came out that Sidewalk Labs was eyeing an even bigger expansion that includes a cut of Toronto’s property tax revenue.

“Even if opposition somehow doubled in the short time since the poll was completed, that still leaves only a fraction of Torontonians who are strongly opposed to this project,” said the Board’s Vice President of Public Affairs, Brian Kelcey, in a news release.

“While the survey was clear there is public support to resolve specific policy issues, these numbers do not suggest Torontonians are in any rush to just tear up the Quayside deal and start again.”

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