Madam Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-245, introduced by my NDP colleague. To begin with, this bill deserves to be debated at the very least.
Bill C‑245 amends the Canada Infrastructure Bank Act. Before explaining why we might want to amend that piece of legislation, we should perhaps start by understanding what the Canada Infrastructure Bank is and where it came from.
The Canada Infrastructure Bank was created in 2016 through legislation introduced by former finance minister Bill Morneau. The idea was to get money from the private sector to finance infrastructure that would normally be public infrastructure.
Former finance minister Morneau came from the high finance world of Bay Street. It is no coincidence that the head office of the Canada Infrastructure Bank is in Toronto, as is the head office of the family-owned and highly profitable Morneau Shepell.
The government had some interesting discussions with all kinds of groups, superwealthy people and global figures in high finance, telling them that it could put lots of public money at their disposal, so they could complete more infrastructure projects and earn more profits. They found that interesting.
When the government saw how happy they were, it thought it had done a great job and could earn plenty of money by making lots of investments. It had some delusions of grandeur. The government thought the whole world was going to come and invest here, that all of our beautiful infrastructure would be privatized with public money, thereby filling its coffers. It was ready to brag about all the investments this would generate. That was basically the idea.
The government then handed out $35 billion for these folks to invest in all kinds of projects. It hoped to get four to five times the amount invested from the private sector, so a $35-billion investment would have generated $175 billion in private investment.
It was a dismal failure. Here we are in 2022, still waiting for that influx of cash from the private sector. Meanwhile, federal infrastructure continues to disintegrate. In the regions, there are ports where boats can no longer be moored, reservoirs that no longer hold water, military bases with dilapidated buildings and crooked, rusty fences. That is the state of federal infrastructure in this country.
Instead of investing where money was needed, the government decided to give money to the private sector, which would then go find great projects. That whole idea, giving the private sector money to go find great projects, never really materialized.
What actually happened was that public organizations took the money from the Canada Infrastructure Bank to invest in projects. In Quebec, we saw things like the Caisse de dépôt et placement investing in the REM light rail project and other projects at the Montreal airport or the Port of Montreal.
There were also projects with cities and public transit agencies to fund buses. Some regions got funding for Internet access, and even irrigation networks in Alberta got money. All those projects seem to make sense.
Why create the Canada Infrastructure Bank to fund projects that essentially could have been carried out and funded in other ways? It is because, originally, the Canada Infrastructure Bank was supposed to fund the private sector. There is something a bit schizophrenic there. What is actually happening is not what was supposed to happen.
At the end of the day, I would say I am a bit pleased about this, but not too much. I think that the Conservatives, on the other side of the House, are very frustrated and disappointed because they would have preferred the former PPP Canada Crown corporation that was kind of the predecessor to the Canada Infrastructure Bank. PPP Canada did not have the fancy title, but it had the same objectives, namely to privatize the country's infrastructure. The Canada Infrastructure Bank goes even further: instead of privatizing only federal infrastructure, it aims to privatize all infrastructure.
The Canada Infrastructure Bank targets all infrastructure, municipal and provincial, no matter where it is. We cannot forget that. What it means is that instead of funding projects that are in the public interest, the bank funds projects that have the potential to make money for the private sector. The public interest is no longer the priority. The idea of an infrastructure project that should serve the public good is being distorted.
This bank seriously lacks transparency. It is a nice Crown corporation, and when it starts a project, poof, all is settled. It is as though it becomes a federal project, bypassing all provincial, municipal or environmental laws. It does what it wants, how it wants, and when it wants. The private sector loves that too.
There is clearly a lack of transparency. What is worse, this organization is not subject to the Access to Information Act. We have no idea what goes on there. Information about executive compensation is secret. No one knows who gets paid how much. Basically, we only know that people are well paid.
Not that long ago, the Parliamentary Budget Officer spoke about this at committee. He stated that even his enquiries went unanswered. It is not just MPs or the public that do not get any answers from the bank. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer cannot get an answer. He should have access to any information he needs, but that is not the case.
The excuse the bank gave him for not providing any information was that it was confidential commercial information. However, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is authorized to receive confidential information. The bank is refusing to disclose confidential information to an organization that is authorized to receive it. That is quite something. Given that the PBO has this authorization, if he were to receive the information, he would go through it and not publish anything that should not be disclosed. He would use his judgment to avoid compromising the security of this information. He would maintain its confidentiality, but it seems that the bank sees things differently. Clearly, the government agrees with the bank, because it has never forced the bank in any way to provide the requested information.
That brings me to the NDP's bill. I hope I have enough time to unpack that. The goal of the NDP's bill is to eliminate the private sector from the Canada Infrastructure Bank's mission. That could work. The bill would also have the bank receive unsolicited proposals. That means it could get slightly out-of-the-box proposals from people who think their project is a good idea, which the bank would then have to assess the merits of. That could work too. The bill states that priority should be given to northern projects, projects put forward by indigenous nations, infrastructure projects aimed at mitigating or adapting to climate change, and projects that are not harmful to the environment. Those are all good things. We see no problem there. The bill states that the membership of the board must include three people representing the interests of the Inuit, first nations and the Métis, respectively.
Another interesting aspect is the requirement to annually submit a report to the minister on the bank's activities and investments to give an account of what is happening there. At the moment, we do not know. It is a state secret, apparently. We do not know what goes on at the bank at all, except when it makes a public announcement. The report would also be tabled in Parliament once a year.
We do not see much in the bill that really concerns us, that really makes us want to tear our hair out. On the contrary, it could make this monster a little less awful. That is part of the problem, though. That is what the NDP does not understand. The Canada Infrastructure Bank is basically a huge federal intrusion into provincial jurisdictions. Some 98% of public infrastructure is provincial or municipal infrastructure, and the bank is sticking its nose into that, instead of just transferring money or cutting taxes. No, the federal government just has to stick its nose into everything. That is the fundamental problem with this bank.
This is a centralizing government that is always trying to impose its vision, to wade in where it is not wanted and mix things up even further, add stakeholders and complicate matters.
Every dollar in that bank is one dollar too many, and we will continue to fight against it.