Opposition parties accused the Liberal government of being too cozy with global wealth funds, after documents revealed extensive interactions between investors and federal officials in the planning and promotion of the Canada Infrastructure Bank.
Both the Conservatives and NDP raised the issue Friday in the House of Commons in the wake of a Globe and Mail report that published behind-the-scenes details of how Ottawa spent months working to pitch the bank to international investors.
The bank is a new concept that the Liberals hope to launch this year. It would aim to reach deals that leverage public money with private investors who would ultimately own and manage infrastructure assets.
Government records show officials from BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, were included in a high-level government working group that spent months preparing for a Nov. 14 closed-door session at Toronto’s Shangri-La Hotel, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet promoted the bank to BlackRock’s global-investor clients. Those clients collectively manage investments worth trillions of dollars.
The documents showed BlackRock’s role included reviewing and commenting on the presentation that federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi and others would be making to BlackRock’s clients, to ensure that the government’s message would “resonate” with investors.
Granting that level of access and influence to investors who will likely be turning to the bank for funding goes too far, the opposition said.
“The government seems to have given extraordinary control over a $35-billion infrastructure bank funded by taxpayers to the very people who may profit off of that money,” Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said. The former cabinet minister said it was “very unusual” for BlackRock to review a minister’s speech ahead of time.
“I’ve never heard of a politician turning over his words to a powerful financial interest, especially when the speech is on the very subject that that interest is involved in,” Mr. Poilievre said.
NDP finance critic Alexandre Boulerice said the documents show the Liberals have allowed private investors to “pull the strings” as the government sets up the infrastructure bank.
“The Liberal government has become the instrument of certain very powerful corporations that are in the midst of creating an entity that corresponds to their interests. And when I say their interests, it’s their financial interests first and foremost,” he later told reporters. “If this isn’t a major conflict of interest, I don’t know what else you could call it.”
The government said that investors are among a wide range of people Ottawa consults as it develops policy such as the infrastructure bank. In addition to the meetings with BlackRock officials, the government also received advice on the bank from the 14 members of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth. The council includes a senior executive from BlackRock, as well as the head of Quebec’s pension fund.
“The Advisory Council on Economic Growth brings together world-leading subject matter experts who bring a global perspective and an impressive depth of knowledge, and our government appreciates their insights,” Morneau spokeswoman Annie Donolo said in an e-mailed statement.
The government announced on Nov. 1 that it would be moving ahead with a $35-billion infrastructure bank, of which $15-billion would come from previously announced long-term infrastructure funding and another $20-billion would be in the form of equity or debt.
Legislation to establish the bank is included as part of Bill C-44, the government’s omnibus budget bill, which is currently being debated at second reading. The Conservatives and NDP are calling on the Liberals to divide the bill so that the infrastructure-bank legislation can be studied more thoroughly on its own. The Liberals have not agreed to split the bill.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, said on Friday that he will be writing to Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to request an investigation of the government’s interactions with investors for potential violations of the Conflict of Interest Act.
Liberal MP Marc Miller, the parliamentary secretary to the Infrastructure Minister, said the government makes its own policy decisions after listening to advice. He also said the bank’s funding is a small percentage of Ottawa’s overall infrastructure-spending plan.
“The infrastructure bank, let us be clear, is only $15-billion out of more than a $180-billion transformational plan,” he said during Question Period. “This government takes counsel. It does not take orders.”Report Typo/Error