The Canada Infrastructure Bank should be abolished, according to the single recommendation in a newly released report from the House of Commons transport committee.
The recommendation was approved by the majority of committee members over the objections of Liberal MPs, who continue to strongly support the $35-billion Crown corporation created by the Trudeau government in 2017.
Committee reports generally feature a long list of recommendations, but the report tabled in Parliament on Monday contains just one: “That the Government of Canada abolish the Canada Infrastructure Bank.”
The report is primarily based on hearings that took place in 2021 during the previous Parliament. That work was reviewed by MPs in the current Parliament, and the report was approved with accompanying statements from the Liberals, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP.
The bank was created with the stated purpose of investing in large projects alongside private partners in a way that encourages large institutional investors, such as pension funds and private asset managers, to increase their Canadian infrastructure portfolios.
The report summarizes the views of various witnesses who testified before committee, pointing out that the views they received were “polarized” when it comes to the notion of public-private partnerships in infrastructure.
One common point of concern during the hearings related to the efficiency of the bank, with the report noting that several witnesses expressed concern that projects were not flowing as quickly as expected.
Concerns were also expressed about how the bank decides what to fund and whether those decisions are in line with the needs of communities. Cost and transparency were other points of criticism raised during the hearings, according to the report.
In a two-page supplemental report, the Liberal Party defended the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) and the government’s approach to infrastructure spending.
“We believe strongly, the CIB is an important tool in the government’s toolkit when it comes to generating smart investments in Canadian infrastructure,” the party said.
The NDP has opposed the bank from the start, siding with arguments put forward by public sector unions who say infrastructure can be built more efficiently and effectively through traditional public funding rather than through partnerships with the private sector.
“Over the course of the committee’s study, numerous witnesses detailed the many ways in which the bank has failed to deliver on its mandate,” the NDP supplemental report states. “Overall, the committee’s study made it clear that beyond simple delays and inefficiencies at the Canada Infrastructure Bank, its core mandate to build large projects with private sector involvement is inherently problematic. It raises serious questions about whether projects are being delivered in the public interest, and saddles Canadians with higher long-term costs as they repay the investments of wealthy financiers.”
The Bloc opposes the bank based on the party’s philosophy that federal infrastructure dollars should be transferred to Quebec with no strings attached.
“This report raises a host of concerns ranging from the loss of control of our collective infrastructure, to a lack of transparency in the management of the CIB, to questionable effectiveness of this organization. There are plenty of valid reasons for wanting to close this useless structure,” the Bloc states in its report.
CIB chief executive officer Ehren Cory released an update on the bank’s work last week and expressed optimism about its increased focus on environmental infrastructure such as electric vehicle charging stations.
The bank’s update said it has allocated $7.2-billion of its $35-billion budget. It also said it has partnered in 28 projects to date, and that those involve $7.6-billion from private and institutional investors and $6.1-billion from other public partners.
The bank’s projects announced to date include working with some municipalities to buy zero-emission buses, port expansions, a rural broadband project in Ontario and support for the REM light-rail line under construction in Montreal.
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