House Call with Carol Hughes

Infrastructure bank is a sweetheart deal for wealthy investors

We should all be as lucky as the corporate friends of the federal government, especially the ones who played a prominent role in the planning of the new infrastructure bank. They were given the opportunity to decide how the $35 billion bank will work best for them and their wealthy clients, according to government records.

That might explain why the new federal infrastructure bank seems like a reverse Robin Hood story. It began with the Liberal’s election promise to invest in infrastructure, but turned into a program that will pad the profits of large corporations. Instead of supporting communities with critical infrastructure investment that benefits everyday Canadians, the government is creating a scheme that will see tax dollars support for-profit projects that will then change Canadians tolls and user fees.

The fix is in for taxpayers because the government spent months planning this bank with officials from BlackRock, which is the world’s largest asset manager. Those same officials also vetted the speech the Minister of Infrastructure gave to global investor clients at a closed-door session in a swanky Toronto hotel last November.

The way it’s set up to work, the companies propose projects they would like to develop and the government hands over tax dollars to help. After projects are complete, Canadians start to pay for the privilege of use through tolls and fees. This all but ensures small town projects will not be financed by the infrastructure bank since its only focus will be return on investment. That’s probably why they’re rushing the omnibus budget bill that sets up the bank through parliament. The longer it sticks around, the more Canadians will become incensed.

If the government really thinks they have a strong case for using public funds in this way, they shouldn’t be afraid to pull the infrastructure bank out of the budget bill so it can be studied properly. They can respond to experts who argue the government has yet to make a compelling case for why it is better to work with private investors seeking high returns when Ottawa has the ability to finance projects itself at much lower rates.

New Democrats think that setting up a bank like this is completely wrong and are of the opinion that public infrastructure should serve the interests of Canadians, not work to make private investors rich. There was never a hint of this scheme when the Liberals talked infrastructure during the election. The fact is that infrastructure built by private investors will cost more than public infrastructure and allowing private corporations, who will be the largest beneficiaries of the Canada Infrastructure Bank, to participate in the planning and development of the bank amounts to a conflict of interest.

That’s why the NDP is demanding that the government remove the clauses that create the bank from the omnibus budget implementation act. Canadians deserve a full and frank debate on this issue alone before taxpayers are left with an unacceptable burden of fees, tolls, and privatization that only makes private investors wealthy.