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The Canada Infrastructure Bank has agreed to lend $6.4-million to the shíshálh Nation in B.C. for a wastewater treatment plant, marking the agency’s first investment in the water-treatment sector.

The loan agreement was negotiated with long-term operations in mind and could become a template for other projects, said Hillary Thatcher, CIB’s senior director of project development for Indigenous infrastructure.

“We do think this is replicable,” Ms. Thatcher said in an interview.

“There are other water and wastewater projects across the country that are a part of our ongoing discussions right now – so we hope we’ll see more projects like this and even ones where we can bundle projects under one tribal council or one region,” she added.

The total cost for the new plant will be around $8-million, with the balance coming through a private investor, Ms. Thatcher said.

The new facility will serve homes that are hooked up to the existing plant as well as other buildings that currently rely on septic systems, the CIB said in a statement. The shishalh Nation, formerly known as the Sechelt Nation, in 1986 became the first Nation in Canada to achieve self-government and has traditional territories on the Sunshine Coast on the southern B.C. mainland.

The federal Liberal government in 2021 directed the CIB to invest $1-billion in Indigenous infrastructure.

Created in 2015 by the Trudeau government, the CIB is a $35-billion Crown corporation set up to woo private capital and spark infrastructure investment across the country.

It has come under fire for moving too slowly. In May, the House of Commons standing committee on transport, infrastructure and communities recommended the CIB should be abolished, citing concerns that projects were not flowing as quickly as expected.

In its September response, the federal government rejected that recommendation, saying that the committee’s report didn’t reflect the current state of the CIB and that the bank was needed to help fill the infrastructure gap – the multibillion-dollar price tag associated with building and maintaining facilities such as roads, dikes and bridges to meet existing and future demand.

That gap is acute in Indigenous communities. A 2016 report by the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships said some experts had estimated the gap to be between $25-billion and $30-billion.

The CIB can help fill that gap, Ms. Thatcher said, noting that its Indigenous Community Infrastructure Initiative is designed to help finance projects ranging from $5-million to $100-million.

Indigenous advocacy groups, including the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, have flagged access to capital as a barrier to Indigenous participation in major infrastructure projects and called on the federal government to offer an Indigenous loan-guarantee program to help First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities buy into major projects.

Such programs typically involve bigger projects and more money; the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation, for example, a Crown corporation launched in 2019, has a minimum threshold of $20-million for its investments.

Ontario and Saskatchewan also have Indigenous loan-guarantee programs. Saskatchewan just launched its program this year while Ontario has run its since 2009.

The CIB is looking at the concept but hasn’t made a final decision, Ms. Thatcher said.

The Ontario program has to date issued loan guarantees for about $500-million for 11 projects, including the Wataynikaneyap Power Transmission Project, that represent about $7-billion in capital investments, according to the Ontario Financing Authority. All of the loans are in good standing.