Liberal MPs will not be proposing amendments to the Canada Infrastructure Bank Act even as they move to rewrite other parts of Finance Minister Bill Morneau's budget bill.
After two weeks of hearings, members of the House of Commons finance committee began their line-by-line review of Bill C-44 on Monday, including debates over amendments.
The more than 300-page omnibus budget bill covers a wide range of issues that were included as part of the government's March budget.
The Liberal members, who hold a majority on the committee, announced on Friday that they would be proposing several amendments to address concerns over the bill's changes to the powers of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, a spending watchdog office.
The PBO is expressing initial support for the proposed changes.
However, Liberal MPs on the committee said Monday that their amendments will be limited to the PBO provisions and they have no intention of suggesting changes to the sections creating a $35-billion infrastructure bank, which have also been controversial.
"Some witnesses raised concerns, but others were quite supportive, as well," said Liberal MP and committee member Jennifer O'Connell, in reference to the infrastructure provisions. "Where I'm coming from, I'm quite comfortable with the bill as is."
Since the budget legislation was introduced in April, the provisions creating an infrastructure bank have faced criticism on several fronts. From a procedural point of view, critics have said that an initiative as large as this should have been introduced as a stand-alone bill, for more detailed study, rather than as part of an omnibus budget bill.
The proposed bank would encourage new infrastructure projects that would be led and owned by private-sector partners such as pension funds, which would receive a rate of return in exchange for taking on the debt and other risks associated with the project.
Opposition MPs have repeatedly questioned the purpose of the bank, warning that it takes infrastructure decisions out of the hands of elected officials. Industry officials have raised concerns from the opposite direction, saying that there may be too much political involvement. The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board and a former president of the Business Development Bank of Canada have cautioned that the proposed bank will not be independent enough to protect directors from political interference.
The Conservatives and NDP raised those concerns, as well, on Monday.
"This is a scandal waiting to happen," said Conservative MP Kellie Leitch during Question Period.
Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi accused the opposition of arguing that the bank is both too independent and not-independent enough.
"We have struck the right balance," Mr. Sohi said Monday.
As for the PBO provisions, the Liberals said their changes address concerns about the independence of the PBO to select its research topics and to control when and how reports are released.
"The suggested changes by the Liberal members of the committee appear to address most of PBO's concerns," Mostafa Askari, the assistant PBO, said in an e-mail on Monday. Mr. Askari cautioned that the committee has not yet approved specific amendments.
Former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, who was very critical of the original provisions in the bill, also said Monday that he approves of the proposed amendments.
Opposition MPs are still studying the Liberal amendments to the PBO sections and have said that they may not actually accomplish what the Liberal MPs say they will.
Opposition parties are also expected to propose their own amendments to the budget bill, which would require the support of at least some of the Liberal MPs in order to be passed.
Once the bill is approved by the committee, it will then go to the House for final approval and then on to the Senate. Senate committees have been holding prestudies on the bill. Some senators have mused about potential amendments, including the possibility of removing the infrastructure-bank provisions from the budget bill.