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The Globe and Mail

Canada urging U.S. to consider infrastructure bank for cross-border projects

Finance Minister Bill Morneau talks to the media during the Liberal government's cabinet retreat in London, Ont., Jan. 11, 2018.


Federal Liberals are promoting the Canada Infrastructure Bank to the Trump administration as a way to fund large cross-border projects.

Private speaking notes prepared for Finance Minister Bill Morneau show the minister was prompted to raise the bank with Steven Mnuchin in June when he hosted the U.S. Treasury Secretary.

And a new report prepared for the Washington State Department of Transportation says the bank could be a source of funding for an ultrahigh-speed rail line connecting Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. The high-level report, released on Dec. 15, estimated the high-speed rail line would cost between $24-billion (U.S.) and $42-billion.

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The Canadian government recently announced the bank is now operational with a complete board of directors, even though it has yet to appoint a permanent president and chief executive officer. The $35-billion (Canadian) bank will begin reviewing projects in 2018.

The federal Crown corporation is designed to encourage institutional investors – such as pension funds – to lead the funding and management of large infrastructure projects with minority funding from the government bank.

Finance Canada briefing notes obtained by The Globe and Mail via Access to Information legislation show Mr. Morneau was urged to raise the infrastructure bank with Mr. Mnuchin during his one-day visit in June.

"Through this new Bank we will work with our partners to build transformative infrastructure, including projects that cross the Canada/U.S. border," states a list of "suggested speaking points" prepared for Mr. Morneau by his deputy minister, Paul Rochon. "The Bank will also work with partners to develop a pipeline of infrastructure projects which could be attractive investment opportunities for large U.S. investors."

Daniel Lauzon, a spokesperson for Mr. Morneau, confirmed the minister and the Treasury Secretary have discussed the bank and infrastructure several times.

"It's been a point of discussion since their very first meeting," he said in an e-mail. "We find that there is a lot of interest in the bank."

Mr. Mnuchin's visit to Ottawa included a business roundtable attended by top multinational executives with interests in infrastructure. The more than three-dozen executives included leaders from Canada's big banks, insurance companies, pension plans, asset managers; energy firms such as Suncor, Enbridge and TransCanada; auto makers, technology firms such as Apple, IBM Canada, OpenText and Microsoft; and other large companies including Cargill, GE Canada and WestJet.

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Microsoft was represented by Janet Kennedy, who later announced her departure from the company. Microsoft Canada is now headed by Kevin Peesker, who was born in Western Canada.

Microsoft is also funding studies of the proposed high-speed, cross-border rail link between Seattle and Vancouver. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has said he is "bullish" on the project.

The region already has an extensive network of traditional passenger rail, known as the Cascades service. The recent Amtrak train derailment that killed three people in Washington State was on a new line aimed at allowing passenger trains to bypass freight traffic.

The latest Washington State study on high-speed rail makes several references to the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB).

"The CIB, once fully operational, could provide a potential key source to finance major infrastructure projects such as the [high-speed rail] project," the report states. "The CIB could act as a center of expertise for advising all levels of government on infrastructure transactions involving private-sector investment."

Meanwhile, the Finance Canada document makes reference to leaked documents from Donald Trump's presidential campaign, which listed 50 priority infrastructure projects across the United States.

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That list included two projects that cross the Canada-U.S. border: the Peace Bridge and the Gordie Howe Bridge. The nearly 100-year-old Peace Bridge between Fort Erie, Ont., and Buffalo has recently received extensive repairs.

The Canadian government is currently committed to covering all of the construction costs of the new Gordie Howe Bridge between Windsor and Detroit, including a new U.S. customs plaza. The plan is for Canada to recoup the cost of the American share of the project through tolls.

Mr. Trump is expected to release further details on his infrastructure plan in January.

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