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Finance Minister Bill Morneau attends an infrastructure summit luncheon in Toronto on Wednesday.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the federal government is on track to get Canada's new infrastructure bank up and running this year.

The federal government is currently in the midst of selecting a chief executive officer to head the bank, Mr. Morneau said during a speech at The Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto Wednesday.

"We're making progress to get this institution off the ground this calendar year, and we feel confident that we are going to make the progress that we expected to make in that regard," Mr. Morneau said.

The Finance Minister made his remarks during the launch of the the CanInfra Challenge, a six-month public contest seeking "transformational" ideas from Canadians to solve the country's infrastructure problems. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is spearheading the initiative alongside partners and sponsors that include Brookfield Asset Management Inc. The Globe and Mail is the competition's media sponsor.

Members of the private sector, think tanks, academia and the public can submit their infrastructure proposals until Dec. 31. They will then be voted on by the public and shortlisted next spring, when finalists will make the case for their projects to a panel of experts. The winners will receive a prize and the opportunity to be taken up on their business plan.

The federal government has committed $35-billion to the infrastructure bank and is looking to beef that up with private investment. Mr. Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have spent the past year courting some of the world's largest investment funds with a pitch to build, maintain and operate major Canadian infrastructure projects.

Mr. Morneau said consultations with foreign investors have shown that funds would need to be assured of a pipeline of opportunities in order to entice them to wade through the necessary due diligence required to invest in Canada. Foreign funds would be most interested in investing alongside the country's largest pension plans to mitigate their risk, he added.

"They want to know Canadian pensioners are on the hook for the project," Mr. Morneau told reporters following his remarks. "They want to know that successive governments have that as an understanding as they consider whether there's other arrangements that might be appropriate."

Canadian pension funds and large investors such as Brookfield Infrastructure Partners have developed extensive expertise as owners and operators of toll roads, airports and power transmission around the world, among other infrastructure building. These funds have expressed a willingness to participate in the infrastructure bank initiative to bolster their portfolios in their home market. But many have also said that the devil will be in the details of how the Canadian Infrastructure Bank plans to choose, develop and operate potential projects.

BCG's research has found that Canada's investment in infrastructure over the past few decades has been pretty average – at times dipping below the median rate for similar countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and at other times drifting slightly above.

With files from Jacqueline Nelson

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