Justin Trudeau is billing Canada as a stable option for international investors amid market uncertainty in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump in the United States.
Speaking at the end of a day spent courting some of the world's largest wealth managers, the Prime Minister added a clear political spin to his government's pitch that investors should be working with Ottawa on infrastructure projects.
"The fact is Canada is lucky to have citizens that are forward-thinking, that are reasonable, that are understanding that drawing in global investment will lead to good Canadian jobs," he said.
Mr. Trudeau said Canada is attracting attention from people who wonder how the country remains open to investment, trade and immigration during a period of uncertainty, making reference to the "election of the Republican candidate in the United States" without naming Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trudeau is encouraging banks, pension funds, insurance companies and private wealth funds to take equity stakes in Canadian infrastructure projects through a new Canada Infrastructure Bank announced this month. Advocates say such a bank could group public and private funds together for large projects, allowing more construction to proceed more quickly.
Politics aside, some of the investors in attendance gave the government's presentation an enthusiastic response.
Mark Machin, chief executive officer of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, was among the roughly two dozen Canadian-based investors who met Monday morning with Mr. Trudeau and senior ministers to discuss infrastructure spending.
"It's a terrific initiative," he said in an interview at the CPPIB's Toronto headquarters following the meeting. Mr. Machin said the infrastructure plan should "absolutely" attract new money from institutional investors because the bank will offer firms a single point of contact and is promising to do the advanced research in order to prioritize infrastructure projects that are good candidates for private partnerships.
"I would think if this gets off the ground the way it should, then it should result in significant increase in activity in infrastructure," he said.
The CPPIB announced earlier this month that the assets of the CPP fund have climbed above $300-billion as of Sept. 30, which is up from $287.3-billion the year before.
The CPP fund has just one current investment in Canadian infrastructure: a 40-per-cent share of Ontario's 407 toll highway, which runs through the Greater Toronto Area.
Mr. Trudeau also met Monday with global wealth managers in the afternoon, among them representatives from BlackRock Inc., which is the largest asset manager in the world.
Executives from the country's largest banks, pension funds and insurance companies said Monday morning's meeting affirmed the government's commitment to developing its infrastructure plan, but several attendees said it was short on details of what the planned infrastructure bank would look like.
Ministers representing the departments of Finance, Transport, Natural Resources and Infrastructure and Communities outlined the types of infrastructure deals and projects that are most interesting to the government. Some executives offered thoughts on what made certain infrastructure deals work well in other parts of the world, and they suggested different investment structures that could work for building new projects such as pipelines and electricity transmission.
"I believe that they have a vision to put together a model which is pretty ground-breaking," said Ron Mock, chief executive officer of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, after the session. He noted that private funding models exist in Britain, Australia and Mexico and that Canada could be a leader with its plan. "In terms of the details of how it will actually be executed, I think they are correctly looking to the expertise that exists in the country for input and advice on how to move this agenda forward."
Attendees characterized the meeting as an early step in gathering input and support for the part of the government's planned $180-billion spending spree that is counting on an influx of private capital. But some said they were hoping there would be more clarity on what happens next, rather than being asked for another round of input on how to make the plan work.
During the session, the group discussed the widespread interest in so-called "brownfield" assets – where investors buy and operate existing infrastructure, rather than taking on the risk of constructing new projects from scratch. The government has expressed more interest in using private capital in building new infrastructure projects, called "greenfield."
Questions about how the federal government would align its objectives with the provincial and municipal governments that traditionally control a lot of infrastructure spending were also top of mind for many participants. Constructing new infrastructure where users must pay fees or tolls may be a tricky sell to these lower levels of government and their constituents.
"Clearly the execution of this becomes important, and that in many cases requires the federal, provincial, municipal alignment, which is which is pretty key," Mr. Mock said. "Because most infrastructure in this country is either provincial or municipal and it's the federal government that is wanting to initiate such a plan."