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Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna listens during a news conference in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 1, 2020.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The federal government has directed the Canada Infrastructure Bank to invest at least $1-billion in revenue-generating projects that benefit Indigenous peoples as part of a new statement of priorities for the Crown corporation.

In a Feb. 3 letter to Tamara Vrooman, the newly appointed chairperson of the bank, Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna said there is an urgent need to address the infrastructure deficit in Indigenous communities and support the government’s commitment to advance reconciliation with those communities.

“As the CIB identifies investment opportunities in the public interest, I understand that will include infrastructure projects made in partnership with, and that benefit, Indigenous Peoples,” Ms. McKenna wrote. “The CIB should establish a new investment target of $1-billion for Indigenous Infrastructure projects across the five priority areas.”

The $1-billion amount is to be found within the government’s broader goals for the bank, which include pledges of $5-billion each for public transit, green infrastructure, transport and clean power and $3-billion for rural broadband expansion.

In September the government also announced that the bank will allocate $10-billion over the next three years primarily for environmental-protection initiatives such as electric buses and building retrofits.

The CIB was created by legislation in 2017 with a mandate to attract private-sector investors, such as pension funds, to participate in Canadian infrastructure projects.

Only about $4-billion of its $35-billion initial budget has been allocated to date.

The bank has announced its involvement in 11 projects, but most are advisory roles with no firm financial commitment. And some of the financial pledges are not firmly defined, such as a commitment to spend “up to” $2-billion on Ontario’s GO Transit expansion and “up to” $300-million for the Port of Montreal’s Contrecoeur expansion.

The CIB has hinted that advisory work announcements could be followed by funding pledges. For instance, it announced $55-million toward the study of VIA Rail’s proposed new High Frequency Rail line between Quebec City and Toronto. The project is expected to cost several billion dollars, and the bank has suggested it will play a larger role in funding it once the studies are complete.

The 11 projects include two with Indigenous connections, neither of which involves a specific funding pledge.

The bank is playing an advisory role in the proposed Kivalliq Hydro-Fibre Link, which would build a 1,200-kilometre transmission line to Nunavut from Manitoba. The project is a partnership that includes the Kivalliq Inuit Association and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

The CIB is also involved in advising the Oneida Energy Storage Project in Southwestern Ontario, a joint venture between NRStor Inc. and Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation. Its proponents say it will be the largest battery energy storage facility in Canada.

In her letter, Ms. McKenna said the bank is expected to report on the expected benefits of each project in terms of job creation, workplace diversity and inclusion and anticipated greenhouse-gas emissions.

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