Mr. Speaker, I thought I would only have 10 minutes, but it sounds like I will have 20. I will try not to bore you too much and close off nicely this long day that the Liberals have granted us.
The subject of today's debate is the transportation modernization bill. The Liberals have proposed this transportation bill—an omnibus bill, I might add. Bill C-49 establishes new rights for air passengers and liberalizes international ownership restrictions for Canadian air carriers; enables the Minister of Transport to consider and approve joint ventures by two or more airlines; updates the Canadian freight system; requires railways to install audio-video recorders in locomotives; enables the Governor in Council to require large railways to provide rate, service and performance data; and amends the Canada Marine Act to allow port authorities to access Canada infrastructure bank loans. I will focus on that last aspect in a few minutes.
I am saying all this to show how huge this part of the bill is. Unfortunately, we will have little time to discuss it. This part is hidden in an omnibus bill. The government has found a way to muzzle us so that we cannot point out the flaws in this bill.
The Emerson report is a study of the Canada Transportation Act that was led by the Hon. David Emerson. The study was launched on June 25, 2014 to address a variety of changing conditions and challenges, especially in the grain transportation industry across the Prairies.
Liberals tabled this report on February 25, 2016. Then, they launched a new process because the work done by the Hon. David Emerson was not enough for them. This means that today we have very little time to discuss this issue. The bill was introduced after 18 months of work. It built on the work done by the previous government and contained 60 recommendations to deal with a variety of changing conditions and challenges in Canada's transportation industry.
Unfortunately, the Liberals decided to launch another consultation process, and are only now introducing another bill. We will study it to make sure it strikes the right balance between the industry and consumers rights. That is the thorough work we, the opposition parties, will do together to try and support the government, who needs a lot of help implementing structuring bills for all Canadians.
This bill is supposed to amend the Canada Transportation Act but surreptitiously empowers the mysterious Canada infrastructure bank. This particular clause can easily be overlooked, and yet it raises many questions. We are not even sure why this infrastructure bank is being created in the first place.
That is what I what to speak to in the House tonight. The infrastructure bank is funded with taxpayers' money to the tune of $35 billion. Those same citizens will have to guarantee these $35 billion if foreign investors fail to bring projects to fruition. Thus, it will be the citizens taking the risks. The Liberals are putting their infrastructure bank in place for all of their friends around the world, those foreign investors our Prime Minister likes to visit outside of the country.
The top infrastructure bank official said it was created to underwrite funding for carefully planned, complex projects.
“Underwrite” means that if someone defaults on a loan, the underwriter is responsible for the debt.
In this case, Canadians taxpayers will assume all of the risk for the Liberals' bank venture. Considering how they are managing the deficit, we have every reason to be concerned about how they will manage the $35 billion if that is really how the bank was set up.
I would like to tell the House the story of the infrastructure bank.
In October 2015, the Liberals promised small deficits on the order of $10 billion and announced the creation of an independent infrastructure bank. We know what happened next. In November 2016, the highly anticipated bank was announced. At a meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, I asked the minister where the money would come from. All I got was radio silence. There was no response in the budget.
The next day, I again asked where the money would come from, and I was told that the government would take the $15 billion out of the infrastructure program that was supposed to help all Canadian municipalities.
The minister decided to take that money and put it in the infrastructure bank to finance projects worth more than $100 million in the municipalities.
Now we get to the really good part because a few weeks later, I had an opportunity to ask the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities questions about who would really benefit from these $100-million-plus projects they wanted to fund through the infrastructure bank.
We are wondering about this because most municipalities cannot afford projects of $100 million or more except maybe Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. We get the feeling that the government has diverted $15 billion that should have been given to all Canadian municipalities to support infrastructure projects and put it in a new infrastructure bank that it created for its little friends. The government is still trying to figure out what kind of projects can really be funded under this program.
In November, December, January, February, March, April, and May, we asked the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities to name a single project of $100 million or more that could be carried out in Canada's small or medium-sized municipalities. Every time, we got complete radio silence, despite the fact that, at one point, the minister was surrounded by his cohort of senior officials and experts at a committee meeting. We repeated that it was not a complicated question and asked him to name, not five or six, but just one single project. We wanted to know one project that a small or medium-sized municipality in Canada would need the infrastructure bank to carry out. Radio silence.
That is normal, because over the past 10 years, and not over the past six months or 10 days, the average cost of infrastructure projects in Canada was not $100 million or $500 million, as certain investors would like. It was $6.7 million. The difference between $100 million and $6.7 million is a lot of money. This is simply to prove that this infrastructure bank will not serve many people, apart from reassuring investors by making sure that it will be Canadians all across the country who carry the risk for these projects.
I think the Prime Minister is missing something about the Robin Hood story. Indeed, instead of taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor, he decided to take taxpayers' money and give it to his friends and Liberal Party donors. This is where we get a sense of the dishonesty of these plans for the infrastructure bank.
Then we learned that Michael Sabia, president of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, and other investors who are working with the infrastructure bank, will want returns of 7% to 9%.
As a former mayor of a municipality of 45,000 residents, I can say that I never would have accepted funding at a cost of 7% to 9% when I had access to all kinds of municipal bonds at a rate of return of roughly 2% to 2.5% at most.
Once again, one might wonder why a municipality would need to go looking for financing. Just last week I had the opportunity to meet with the vice-president of the Union des municipalités du Québec, who is also the mayor of an important city in Quebec. I do not want to name him and put him on the spot here tonight. He is probably sleeping at this hour, but he might be listening on CPAC. I asked him whether, during all his years as mayor and at the council table, he had ever needed to go looking for financing from a bank. It has never happened.
It is late and we all want to get to bed. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the time you have given me to speak to Bill C-49. However, it is not nearly enough time to speak to such an important bill.