House of Commons Hansard #175 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was bank.

Topics

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I fail to understand where the giving and the charity come in. We are talking about private investment and public investment, the only difference being where it comes from. We are talking about, on both sides, that it could be a variety of financial instruments, be it loans, loan guarantees, or equity investment. This is where Canadians would indeed have ownership in these assets and see their investments returned, specifically in the long-term effect of having the infrastructure built, building a better economy, and creating jobs that all Canadians will benefit from.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start off by saying that, given the importance of the issue at hand and what little time we have to tackle it, I will be sharing my time with the member for Elmwood—Transcona.

Since I know that 10 minutes will not be enough for me to make my case, I looked for ways to sum up my speech in a single sentence, which then reminded me of that old saying that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, or, in this case, cover up your big mistakes in assessing a project.

I was also prompted to raise a very basic question: what is “public infrastructure”, anyway? I am clear on the “infrastructure” part; we are talking bridges, roads, water systems, arenas and cultural centres. Everyone knows what infrastructure is. There is not much to say about the word “public”, either. Not only does it mean something is public, but also that it belongs to everyone. Something that is public is paid for with our tax dollars for the benefit of all, and no one expects it to turn a profit once it has been paid for.

In light of all this, I would like to speak out in the strongest possible terms against the Liberals' absolutely outrageous misinformation campaign around the infrastructure bank.

I would like to back up a little. I am not a tax expert, and neither are most of my constituents. However, we all manage a budget and we understand the basic principles. In 2015, during the election campaign, the Liberals explained a relatively simple principle to everyone: if one must borrow, best to do it when rates are low rather than high. We all understood that. I have to admit that it made sense at the time. The Liberals also said that in light of the very low interest rates at the time, they would take advantage and run up a small deficit. I think that Canadians bought into that. The proof is that the Liberals are in government. Let us take advantage and invest in the infrastructure needs of voters while interest rates are at their lowest because it will cost less for all Canadians. The principle is easily understood.

Now, they are introducing an infrastructure bank that does the exact opposite. Instead of taking advantage of low interest rates, the Liberals are going to hand it over to the private sector, which only has one objective. This is not a criticism. The objective of any private corporation is to make the highest possible profit for its shareholders.

Now that that has been established, I would like someone to explain to me why, instead of investing at 2%, the approximate rate the government gets right now for borrowing, Canadians would all agree to pay 7% to 10% returns to shareholders who would be investing instead of us. I am finding this hard to follow.

As if that was not bad enough, the government is saying that we need to do our part to get this bank off the ground and attract private capital. The government is therefore going to inject $35 billion into this bank to show that we are serious and invite the private sector to join us.

I am going to repeat the same question I asked earlier, since I did not get an answer. Where is that $35 billion going to come from? There are not 50,000 possible options. There are three. The first option is that the government could increase the deficit by $35 billion. The second, and this may be a wiser solution, is that it could take $35 billion of the money that it promised for infrastructure over 10 years—since no one has seen any of it yet anyway—and add it to the bank, thereby depriving all those communities of that money. The third option is even more interesting. The government could sell shares. It could sell the infrastructure that Canadians already collectively built and paid for to the private sector.

For one, our airports will be up for sale. The billions of dollars in proceeds from their sale will go into the fund. Our airports have already been paid for by all taxpayers, who are now expected to hand them over to the private sector so it can turn a profit. In exchange, instead of getting free Internet access when I go to the airport, I will probably have to pay a fee. Every time I have to drive over a small segment of a new highway to get to that airport, I will have to pay up, either in the form of a fare or a toll. I will certainly have fees to pay, because private enterprise requires that investments made in infrastructure be profitable. Forget about breaking even; private investment will require a return of 7% to 10%. As anyone looking to invest will know, projects with a 7% to 10% return on investment are quite rare.

This debate is not really on plans for an infrastructure bank. It is about legislation hidden deep within an omnibus bill. The Liberals themselves are not convinced of its merits, which is why they are refusing to allow for a proper study by the appropriate committee, in this case, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. They would rather try to sneak them into their budget and keep telling themselves it is solid and that it will go through.

The fact that they are unable to defend this idea already sets off alarm bells in my head. As we are still debating this, people are already applying for positions at the bank. Oddly enough, of all the positions offered, none of them will represent the public's interest. All the positions at the bank will be filled by private investors, for infrastructure that is now private. I am even beginning to think that we are dealing with a private government and not a public government.

In its reflection on whether to privatize airports, the government is asking for advice from Credit Suisse, which, among other things, invests in purchasing airports. That is rather odd. Then the government will be surprised when the report concludes that it might be a good idea to privatize our airports. Come on.

The Canada infrastructure bank called upon BlackRock, another totally objective source that can provide a neutral perspective on a decision we have to make for our collective future. It is laughable. There is no other word for it.

One way parliamentarians get the clearest possible picture of the country's finances is through the parliamentary budget officer. By setting up a private infrastructure bank outside of government, the Liberals are arranging things so the parliamentary budget officer cannot ask any questions or conduct any studies or investigations to do with the infrastructure bank because that will not be part of the mandate. That is strange and incomprehensible.

This will create a two-tier system or even a three-tier system. For one thing, only projects worth over $100 million, which we all know is out of reach for most Canadian cities, will qualify for infrastructure bank support, and for another, the private sector will be in a position to create demand itself and back what it thinks will be profitable infrastructure projects that people need.

Which projects will the bank support—those that people really need or those that will give investors the best returns? The answer is self-evident.

I will stop there because my time is up and I have to move on to questions. I still have a lot of points I would like to make. I hope that members who speak after me will be able to further explain the downsides of creating this private infrastructure bank.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Gatineau Québec

Liberal

Steven MacKinnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

I thank my colleague for his speech, Mr. Speaker.

New Democrats claim to have many unanswered questions, but the information is out there.

My colleague is from Quebec, just as I am. We are talking about a major project. By way of example, I would like to explain to the member how infrastructure like this works. In Montreal, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec put forward a proposal. It involves a fund that is like a nest egg for the workers of Quebec, a cause the NDP sporadically defends.

Just like every other public transit system in the world, the Réseau électrique métropolitain requires the payment of user fees, which then serve to pay down the debt on the project. The rest of the proceeds then go into this common fund for Quebeckers.

With the support of the Government of Quebec and of the federal government—which I believe was forthcoming, or at least I hope it was, since I support Quebec's largest city—this major project will strengthen pension funds and serve to shore up this fund, which is the nest egg of the workers of Quebec and which my colleague intends and claims to defend.

Does the member have a better grasp of the issue now?

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Quite simply, Mr. Speaker, the answer is no. The member's example is somewhat flawed.

About the proposed REM project in Montreal that the member spoke of, electrifying public transit and expanding the network are certainly worthwhile goals. That said, concerns about the project have multiplied since its announcement, and answers are becoming less and less obvious and call for a much more in-depth analysis.

Again, this same system, paid for by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, will require rates of return higher than the rates at which the government can borrow. If we were to invest part of the billions of dollars the government has announced into the REM, we could then invest in another project that is truly under federal jurisdiction. I am talking about VIA Rail's high-frequency train project, about which we have been unable to get an answer for at least the past two years and that remains very close to our hearts.

With all that said, I urge the member to keep at it.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, several issues that came up in the KPMG report on the infrastructure bank, which the government originally tried to hide, have come to light. Some of the items are governance worries, jurisdictional issues, duplicate work of provinces, new layers of bureaucracy, and the fact that the bank will slow down infrastructure projects. However, one of the biggest concerns is possible private equity investment controlling public water and public water utilities.

Could the member give some feedback on how his constituents might feel if foreign hedge fund owners manage their local water supply?

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

I do not know how many of my fellow citizens are following our debate today, but I do know that their ears perked up when they heard the work “KPMG” in my hon. colleague's question. We know that that company does not pay its fair share in taxes; if it did, we would have the means to finance our infrastructure. I do believe that to ask the question is to answer it.

I say again that public infrastructure, which we all pay for, belongs to each and every one of us, citizens as well as corporations; everyone wins when we all pay our fair share of taxes.

Businesses are the first to benefit from our infrastructure. In fact, one of the first things they look for when they are considering setting up shop somewhere is whether regional infrastructure is adapted to their needs and whether it is in a condition to serve their best interests.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would say I am pleased to rise to speak to the motion, but I am not. The motion ought never to have graced the floor of the House. It is about separating out an important legislative initiative of the government from an omnibus bill. The Liberals were very clear in the last campaign that they would not use omnibus bills, particularly omnibus budget bills. It is a shame to have to rise to speak to the motion, but it is required. It is also a shame that the Liberals did not keep their promise of not using omnibus bills to advance significant legislative changes.

We have heard from Liberal members all day and previously in the budget debate. In their own view, the infrastructure bank is a new, significant, and different way of delivering infrastructure projects. Whether we think that is positive or negative, the point is that it is new, it is different, and it is significant. There seems to be consensus on that. If that is the case, then it should never have been done as an add-on to the budget bill. It should have been done in separate legislation. That is why it is a shame we have to discuss this today.

I will now speak to the other parts of the motion, which have to do with the virtues of the infrastructure bank, or lack thereof.

I want to focus particularly on the aspect of cost. A lot of work has been done to assess the payback or value to the public of public-private partnerships and the kinds of schemes that are being promoted under the infrastructure bank. This is really P3s on steroids. For supporters of P3s, this is kind of the logical conclusion of the public-private partnership model.

Academics like John Loxley have written about the added cost to taxpayers through P3 models and also the extra costs that we will pay because of the infrastructure bank scheme. The Auditor General of Ontario determined that P3s cost taxpayers an additional $8 billion. The Auditor General of British Columbia estimated the government lost $81 million in additional interest on P3s. It paid 7.5% instead of what its own lending rate was.

I would like to put this in context. It might help to get a sense of the magnitude of the rip-off we are about to embark on with the Liberal government.

If someone were looking to renovate his or her kitchen, a job that would cost about $30,000, was going to borrow $22,500 to do it, putting $7,500 down and borrowing the other 75%, at 2% interest over 20 years, the cost over the life of that loan would be $27,296. The specific numbers are not that important; it is really the orders of magnitude. The person would pay a little over $27,000 to borrow that $22,500.

Let us say a contractor knocks on the person's door and says he has a deal for the homeowner. Knowing the homeowner only has $7,500, the contractor will give the individual the other $22,500 required. The conditions are that the contractor will own the kitchen and a turnstile will be installed. Every time the homeowner goes into the kitchen, a toll will be paid and the contractor will get a 10% return, cumulative over years. If we pop that into the loan calculator, it means that over the life of project, instead of paying $27,000, more or less, the homeowner will $51,000 to the contractor. How will the homeowner pay it? It will not be paid through what we call a mortgage payment, but through the tolls paid every time the homeowner goes through the turnstile in the kitchen.

If the homeowner goes into the kitchen three times a day to get a snack, the cost will be $2.35, which adds up to $7.05 a day to go into the kitchen to prepare food. If we take that as the fixed cost for the homeowner to go into the kitchen, which the person should own, to eat food, it means the amount owed, if the homeowner had borrowed the money at 2%, will be paid in 10.6 years. Instead, the homeowner will pay the same toll every day for 20 years. For people at home, I hope that helps put this in perspective, that this is the biggest corporate heist of the century that the Liberals are engineering. This is about using taxpayer money to line the pockets of private investors, not even Canadian private investors, from Saudi Arabia, China, and all over the world.

That is the magnitude of what we are talking about with respect to the rip-off. When people at home hear that, I think they might think I must be wrong because it is outrageous, who would ever go for that deal, that is a stupid deal, that my math must be wrong. However, that is not so, and I wish I were wrong about that.

We have heard from other authorities that this model risks doubling or tripling the costs of the project. That lines up exactly with these numbers. It is a bad deal, and one wonders why the Liberals are willing to contemplate it. I do not know. I can make some guesses, but even the most charitable guesses are not that favourable.

If we leave aside some reasonable guesses that the evidence suggests with respect to cash for access fundraisers and a cozy relationship between the members of the Liberal leadership and Canada's corporate tycoons and look at what the benefit would be if those guys were not their friends, they could start more infrastructure projects now, and we have heard Liberal members talk about that today, and keep the real costs of those projects off the books so it looks like they are balancing the budget when they are not balancing it. That is all well and good if it is a game of fun with numbers and an exercise in how to make their political party look good.

Canadians want investments in infrastructure. That is one of the reasons they voted for the Liberals. I do not think they are getting what they asked for. However, it is fair to say that it was one of the reasons people felt compelled to vote for the Liberal Party. The enthusiasm and the support is there for investments in infrastructure. However, Canadians did not say that the Liberals should invest in infrastructure but not be honest with them about the costs. They did not say that they should invest in it and pretend that we would not pay as much as we really are for those investments. In fact, they said that they were willing to pay and were even willing to run a bit of a deficit to do that. That is not what they are getting here. They did not ask to be fooled about the real costs of those investments and they did not ask to pay a premium to be fooled. That is what is going on here.

The Liberals will artificially inflate the costs of these projects potentially to the tune of two or three times in some cases. Maybe it is not that much. We would know better if we knew what the rules of this game were, except we do not. We will not have time to study it. Instead of putting it in its own bill and giving it its proper due, not just with respect to debate in the House but study at committee, and time for civil society, economists, academics, and everyone else to study the bill as it goes through the House, they will ram it through in an omnibus budget bill. Maybe if we had the time it would not be so bad, I do not know.

However, the numbers so far, and in some of the expert opinion so far, suggest that we are talking about a doubling of some of the costs. What is the reason? To allow the Liberals to hide the real costs of these projects from Canadians because they want to make their books look better. Better books is a good thing. It is always better when the revenue is closer to what the costs are. However, for them to have better books because they are dealing with another ledger, not recording some of the substantial costs, and causing Canadians to pay more money over the long term is not better. That is political smoke and mirrors.

To ask Canadians to pay billions of dollars more to line the pockets of corporate CEOs just for the sake of the Liberals having better speaking notes is an offence. It is an offence to the intelligence of Canadians and an offence to their wallets. I do not know if the Liberals have been out talking to people, but they ought to know that the wallets of Canadians are not particularly padded these days. These are difficult times. Therefore, to inflate the costs of these projects, maybe for the sake of their buddies or for better speaking points, is completely wrong-headed.

I have not even had time to get into the problems of what the Liberals did when they were setting it up, and Canadians have real cause to worry. People in Winnipeg saw what happened when people in the public sector hired out people in the private sector on the P3 model and did not take the time to do the proper due diligence and provide the right kind of scrutiny for those deals. It is clear that we end up with a bunch of wasteful spending and projects costs escalate far beyond what they are supposed to be in the first place.

If there is any lesson we have learned in Winnipeg, and I would like to share that with the country, it is that if we are going to partner with private people to do infrastructure, and I am really not convinced that it is a good idea, and the evidence says it is not, then we definitely need to spend the time to have the appropriate scrutiny and oversight to make sure that taxpayers are not being ripped off. It is the exact opposite of what the Liberals are doing by ramming the bill through in an omnibus budget bill. It is why we need to carve it off so we can take the proper amount of time to study it.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would have to disagree with my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona on a number of points.

It sounds as if NDP members have actually convinced the Conservatives on this issue. It is a bit of a surprise. They are saying that the only investors are huge corporations, and it is those corporations that are going to take dividends away from Canadians.

Some of the most significant investors today are the CPP and teachers' federations. They are looking for ways to invest. Billions of dollars leave Canada every year, because investors are looking for investment banks so they can invest in infrastructure programs. Canadian dollars, union dollars, and other dollars are leaving Canada to invest in infrastructure outside of Canada.

We are setting a framework now that would enable some of those pension funds to invest here in Canada. Why does the member so adamantly oppose having this option? That is all it is. It is an option for some of these organizations to invest those Canadian dollars here in Canada in our infrastructure.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, according to the press, it is not unions and pension funds that are reviewing the speaking notes of Liberal ministers. It is the BlackRock group.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member for Elmwood—Transcona and his explanation using the kitchen. I can really relate to that.

He spoke a bit about P3s and said that if proper scrutiny was done, it could be done well.

For my kitchen, which I am paying to use, when it needs repair, how is that taken care of?

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, part of the problem with this scheme is that we do not even know yet, and that is one of the questions. Part of the problem with P3s is that often, at the end of the useful life of the asset, at the end of those 20 years, when the stove is not working quite right, and it is time to replace the fridge, and the floor is scuffed up and it is time to invest again, that is when the ownership of the asset reverts back to the government, or back to the homeowner. Then the contractor is back at the door, saying that he will cut the homeowners a deal again, that it was a great deal.

The really offensive part of this scheme—and I am glad the member mentioned it, because I wanted to get this in—is that the contractor is suggesting to the homeowners in this case that if they do not have the $7,500, they can sell him the washroom, sell him the airport. That is how they can capitalize the $7,500 they need for the contractor to come in and rip them off on their kitchen.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Gatineau Québec

Liberal

Steven MacKinnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Mr. Speaker, it always strikes me when I hear New Democrats taking umbrage at the fact that hard-working Canadians, with their pension money, money they need to grow, money they need to earn returns on to ensure a healthy pension for themselves and their families, can take that money today, and they do, and invest around the world. Pension funds like the CPPIB, la Caisse de dépôt, OMERS, and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan invest in Australian highways. They invest in British airports. They invest in energy infrastructure all over the world, and they garner those returns that secure the pensions and the future of Canadian workers.

We want those pension funds to be able to take that money and invest it here at home and garner those returns for Canadian families and Canadian pensioners. Why does that member not recognize that?

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I just think this is an obvious conflation of issues. The fact of the matter is that the Prime Minister is not meeting with pension funds in Toronto hotel rooms behind closed doors. They are not the ones that are writing the rules for this infrastructure bank.

If the Liberals want to have an open and transparent vehicle by which pension funds can actually do some of that investment, and it makes sense, and the revenue is not just about charging Canadians user fees and tolls, that is something to discuss. It is something I would hope they would bring in a separate bill to the House with the time it would need for study.

The process is broken. The Liberals are trying to use pension funds as a screen for helping their buddies. Even if it were the case that it was all just pension funds, we still need appropriate scrutiny. We still need good parliamentary process.

Get with the program, guys.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Calgary Rocky Ridge, Government Appointments; the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, Health; and the hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable, Air Transportation.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.

Whenever the government creates an expensive new program, the burden of proof for its necessity falls on that government. In other words, it is not the responsibility of the opposition to prove that the program is unnecessary; it is the duty of the government to prove that it is necessary.

What arguments has it made today to exhibit the necessity of this $35-billion bank? Most recently, the parliamentary secretary across the way has said that this bank is necessary to help pension funds earn a return. He points to the Canada pension plan, teachers' pension plans, and other pension plans that invest in infrastructure to produce returns for future retirees. He is right. They do, and they have, all around the world and right here at home. In fact, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec is a large shareholder, currently, in the Canada Line, which is the largest infrastructure project in British Columbian history. It is a large rapid transit train project funded one-third by private investors who formed a consortium that included Quebec pensioners.

There is Pensionfund Realty, which built a public transit station in Coquitlam with the money of its future pensioners because they wanted to bring more traffic to their shopping centre. They said, “We'll build the station in our own shopping centre; then the people getting off the train and walking around will buy stuff from our tenants, and we'll make more money.”

The Canada pension plan was at one time, and may still well be, the largest shareholder in the privately owned Highway 407 in the greater Toronto area, an investment that produced for it very large dividends that support the retirement of Canadian pensioners.

The member is right. Pension funds do buy, own, and even manage infrastructure, and do so well. They have been doing it across Canada for many years, which raises a question: why do we need an infrastructure bank to have them do it? They are already doing it. That cannot be the reason for the bank.

Second, the Liberals suggest in their budget document that there is $2 trillion of potential worldwide investment looking for projects. “Global capitalists have money for projects,” they say, “and Canada has projects that need money, so let's connect the dots.”

Wait a second here. If the dilemma is that there is too much money in the world looking for infrastructure projects, how could the solution to that dilemma be another $35 billion of money? I thought the premise of the program was that there is already a lot of money out there and that we would not need taxpayers' money to build infrastructure, because these global investors would build it for us with their money. That cannot be the reason either.

What is the reason? One needs to look at division 18 of the budget implementation act to find out, because the overwhelming preponderance of money in the infrastructure bank will be delivered in the form of something called loan guarantees.

What are loan guarantees? I can tell members that they are a fantastic instrument for the person being guaranteed. They mean that a person can make risky investments that could produce profits for him or her, but that if money is lost, the investor is guaranteed against those losses.

Be careful. That does not take the risk out of the project. It takes the risk out of the hands of the person who invested in it.

Where does it go? It does not vanish. It has to be somewhere. If a global investor builds a bridge and goes over budget or has a revenue shortfall, that risk is materialized in serious losses. Someone has to pay for it. Who is holding the bag? The answer is right there in the budget, division 18, clause 23: $35 billion Canadian tax dollars would backstop the losses of these international investors. Therein lies the real function of this bank: to backstop the profits of investors in large and sometimes risky infrastructure projects.

That does violence to the basic free market principle that risk and reward go together. When we sever those two things, we have something called moral hazard. Moral hazard is when someone is encouraged to take risky behaviour because they can transfer that risk to someone else. That is exactly what the bank does. It is a gigantic insurance fund to backstop the profits of the wealthiest people on earth.

If anyone has any doubt about this, the Prime Minister got the idea for the establishment of the bank at Davos, a congress of billionaires, from the head of the biggest asset managing firm in the world, BlackRock, which controls over a trillion dollars of wealth. He then met again with the same billionaire firm in New York. He then allowed that firm to organize an entire planning session for the establishment of the bank at the swanky Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto, at which his own minister's remarks were vetted by these millionaire pension fund and investment fund managers.

After two years of consulting the billionaires on how they could use $35 billion in tax dollars, he is allowing a parliamentary committee two hours to represent taxpayers. That is right. The billionaires, who have everything to gain, get two years of consultation. The taxpayers, who have everything to lose, get two hours of consultation.

This is a growing phenomenon, whereby powerful financial interests are increasingly looking for ways to put the risk of their investments onto the shoulders of taxpayers.

There is something called “rocking chair money”. It is money that comes to people as they sit back in their rocking chairs. It used to be that institutional investors would get it by buying government bonds. It was risk-free money. However, bonds only pay 2.5% now. They are too low, so these investors are looking for higher rates of risk-free returns. They persuaded the Liberal government in Ontario to pay thousands of percentage points of markup in price on electricity for so-called wind and solar power electricity, which has bankrupted families and driven 60,000 people to food banks across the province. It gave Ontario the highest poverty rate of any of the 10 provinces in the country in order to backstop the profits of wealthy so-called green energy entrepreneurs.

We see it with Bombardier, where, instead of issuing new shares to raise money to pay for their cash shortfalls, the billionaire Bombardier Beaudoin family protected its feudal privileges to control a majority of the company with a minority of the shares by getting money from Canadian taxpayers, handed to them by Liberal governments in Quebec and here in Ottawa.

We see this phenomenon of crony capitalism spreading far and wide, seeking to put the burden of risk on the shoulders of the hard-working middle class through government backstops while giving all the profit to the wealthy elite who can afford the lobbyists, the donations, and the influence to control the levers of government.

The greatest concentration of wealth there, of course, is government, and those with the most power to influence government always attempt to unlock that vault to their own benefit.

Therefore, today we stand in opposition to this naked attempt to undermine Canadian taxpayers by taking $35 billion from their hands and using it to backstop the profits of the wealthiest elite, and we reaffirm our commitment to true free enterprise on the side of those who work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Gatineau Québec

Liberal

Steven MacKinnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Mr. Speaker, I read the member's speech as being more a lament for the decline into populism and Trumpism of the Conservative Party. When the member uses words like “billionaires”, what he really means is it could be the bus drivers' union in Rio de Janeiro, or it could be teachers in Alabama, or it could be municipal employees in Alberta. These are pension funds. These are sources of capital. Yes, there is $2 trillion or maybe more of capital looking for returns to ensure the futures of those very people. We can put that money to work right here in Canada creating jobs, creating construction jobs, building strategic trade-enabling infrastructure, and having Canada be open for business so we can sell our grain, open our ports, and keep this country moving forward economically and in every other way.

These are things the Conservatives used to talk about, but they do not talk about them anymore. They just descend into buzzwords and snap phrases, and now here we have the evidence of the decline of conservatism in Canada. I think it is a sad day.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2017 / 4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member said that the Liberals are doing this for bus drivers and teachers. How many bus drivers and teachers were invited to the Shangri-La Hotel to talk with the Prime Minister about this 35-billion-tax-dollar corporate welfare bank that the Liberals want to set up? Were there any bus drivers there or were there simply those trying to harvest the biggest return with no risk to themselves whatsoever by offloading that risk onto taxpayers? That is not populism. That is basic free market economics. People do not get rich by shuffling off their risk onto someone else. If they want to make an investment to earn a profit, that is great and we stand beside them, but we will not allow them to force other people to take the risk of that investment.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, if I were not sitting in my place watching the member, I might have thought it was the interim leader of the New Democratic Party who was speaking at times. I understand and appreciate that the Conservatives have really lost touch with this particular issue.

When we think about it, the member said that his problem is that the government would be contributing to the bank. By doing that it would be enabling other stakeholders such as, let us say, the City of Edmonton, or the City of Calgary, some of those great western cities, to look at it and say that maybe if they could get some assistance they could pool in some money, and yes, there might be a component for some private investment. As my colleague pointed out, much of that money that would go in there would be from pension funds. Some of those pension funds, if they were not going to be invested, let us say, in this future bank, would in fact continue to leave Canada. Many Canadians would benefit by this investment bank and the member needs to acknowledge that.

The member is wrong in trying to imply that there is no role for government to play when it comes to leveraging additional private dollars in order to get a project up and running. The Conservative Party might want to rethink its position, because I would have thought it would be supportive of a policy of this nature.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party does not believe in welfare for the wealthy. That is exactly what this program is. This is designed to allow a private sector for-profit enterprise to come in and build something to profit, but in the event it all goes wrong, to turn the risk over to taxpayers.

We have no problem if somebody wants to come in and build something great and profit from it; in fact, we encourage it. We cut taxes for people like that. We remove red tape. Those are called entrepreneurs, but what are entrepreneurs known for? They are known for taking risks. This is not entrepreneurship. This is corporate welfare. This is an attempt to take the risk off the balance sheet of the wealthy interests who have control over the Liberal government and put that risk on the shoulders of Canadian taxpayers. We will never stand for that.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

As always, Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take the floor today, even despite the fact that we would much rather not have had to debate this issue here, in the House of Commons.

Indeed, from our perspective, the current government is making a big mistake with this infrastructure investment bank, which we do not even need since we already have at our disposal a similar mechanism that is better regulated, more appropriate and efficient. I am talking about PPP Canada.

The truth is this new scheme concocted by the Liberals will come with all sorts of roadblocks and red tape. Since its very inception, the infrastructure investment bank has shown potential as the future theme of Gomery 2.0, as the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska so skilfully put it during question period.

Any way you cut it, this infrastructure investment bank is a terrible idea. Let us not forget that a parliamentary committee is currently studying Bill C-44. This is the bill to implement the budget, but it is an omnibus bill that also contains non-budgetary measures. It bears all the hallmarks of an omnibus bill designed to conceal certain measures not included in the budget.

Do I need to remind my friends across the way that, nearly two years ago now, alas, they were elected on certain promises? On page 30 of their platform, they said, “We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny”.

However, that is exactly what they are resorting to with this infrastructure investment bank. They are attempting to avoid the issue being debated in Parliament by steamrolling it through, even though we believe that this scheme is fundamentally wrongheaded and should be shut down. If they want to go ahead with their plans, more power to them, but they will have to submit to Parliament's thorough scrutiny, just as they had committed to do. This is just another of the government's many broken promises.

That is unacceptable because it is in an omnibus bill, which means that this important part of Bill C-44 will get barely two hours of debate in committee. This is a big deal. This is $35 billion of taxpayers' money, and the government is talking about attracting foreign investment. The fact is that parliamentarians, who represent the people who are going to pay for all this, will be rushing this thing through. Two hours, wrap it up, thank you, good night.

We know that the Prime Minister, as usual, is holding quick little secret meetings with people in the private sector who are interested in this idea and maybe with foreign investors too. Once again, instead of doing things out in the open and having an honest debate with the people who represent Canadian taxpayers, the Prime Minister is meeting these investors in hotel rooms behind closed doors. Nobody knows what is going on, and everything is worked out in secret, thank you, good night.

That is not the right approach. Perhaps that is the Liberal approach, but it smacks of what led to the Gomery commission. We are warning the Liberals. They are on a path towards having another huge problem on their hands. If they do this, unfortunately, it will be Canadians who pay for this bad decision once again.

It is important to understand that everything must be done properly. While the ambition to create an investment bank is being hidden in a cowardly and hypocritical way as part of an omnibus bill—and I say it is cowardly and hypocritical because they are the ones who said they would not do what they are doing—and despite the fact that this bill has not even passed the House of Commons, people are already acting as though it is a done deal. They are deciding on the location, they are appointing organizers, they are appointing officials, they are appointing managers, and they are appointing executives. Enough already.

Could they at least have the decency to respect the work of parliamentarians? No, they are already proud to announce that it will be located in Toronto, which has raised the ire of many in Quebec.

I want to clarify something here. For us, it was never about whether it was located in Toronto or Montreal. We oppose the investment bank altogether. Whether they have it Montreal or anywhere else, we think it is just a bad idea. That is why the Conservative members from Quebec are not up in arms, saying that it makes no sense for it to be located in Toronto. The whole thing makes no sense, period. There should be no infrastructure bank to begin with.

This is bad form. The government introduced an omnibus bill, there was no debate in Parliament, the Prime Minister had secret meetings with people he barely mentioned in the House, and the government made its decision when the bill has not even passed yet.

Let us talk about the substance. The government crows about fine principles and says that this will help fund infrastructure. The Liberals say that they are being nice and are investing heavily in infrastructure. Need I remind hon. members that when we were in power, under the leadership of the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean, we put in place the largest infrastructure program in Canada's history, an investment of $80 billion over 10 years? Only, unlike the current government, we did this and still managed to balance the budget.

It is easy to hand out billions of dollars left and right when you run annual deficits of $30 billion and cannot even say when we will return to a balanced budget. It is not right to increase the debt and run big deficits after getting elected on a promise to run small deficits. Life is grand. There is a limit to taking people for idiots.

Unlike the current government, we introduced our infrastructure program as part of a balanced budget. It goes without saying that we support investments in infrastructure, but we believe they must be made within our means, in other words, in the context of a balanced budget.

Furthermore, we already have a mechanism similar to the one the government is promoting to further the Liberal Party's crass commercial interests; it is totally legal and above board, and notably, it does not rely on foreign investment or require billions of taxpayer dollars to be frozen. I am talking, of course, about P3 Canada, public-private partnership. This tool, introduced by our government in 2009, allows interested private investors to invest in infrastructure programs. The member mentioned some successful projects, just as the member for South Surrey—White Rock did. The tool works as intended, I am happy to say.

To illustrate my point, with a core budget of $1.3 billion, when our government set it up in 2009, P3 Canada managed to attract investments worth $6 billion. Has anyone heard of it being involved any scandals? Did it lose money? Did it do a bad job of serving Canadians? No. The Conservative government established this crown corporation in 2009, and it is working fine.

We do not have to move forward with the Liberals' new scheme, the investment bank. We are all for private investment when it is done right and goes through PPP Canada. We also do not object to foreign investment as long as it benefits Canadians and does not just line investors' pockets.

Just a few minutes ago, my colleague clearly illustrated in a pertinent, clear, and obvious way that all the risks associated with the government's investment bank will be assumed by Canadian taxpayers and any problems will be paid for by taxpayers and not the foreign investors. This is not a reasonable approach for those who have the taxpayers' interests at heart.

The government continues to repeat that it is investing in many infrastructure projects. Need I remind members that 94% of these projects have not gotten off the ground? The Liberals can talk all they want.

Unfortunately, we cannot rewrite history. However, had Canadians once more placed their trust in us 18 months ago, billions of dollars could have been invested in our infrastructure program established under the guidance of the member for Lac-Saint-Jean. All we are doing right now is listening to the Liberals talk. Need I remind members that 94% of their projects have not materialized?

I would remind members that in order to create this bank, the Liberals are going to hold on to $15 billion in taxpayers' money, plus another $20 billion, for five years. These billions of dollars will not be available to immediately respond to the needs and requests of small municipalities.

Another thing that does not make sense is that this bank will only fund major investments of more than $100 million. This morning, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska said that Canadian infrastructure projects cost $6.6 million on average.

What cities do we think of when that $100-million figure comes up? Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, of course. I have nothing against them, but what of every other Canadian municipality?

The government proposes to take $15 billion that should go directly to Canada's cities and towns and put it in a bank so it can cater to foreign investors, who will certainly not want to take any risks; taxpayers are the ones who will have to take the risk. It is not right.

That is why, in its current proposed form, the bank should not see the light of day. As KPMG, the firm originally commissioned by the government to assess the project, so scathingly put it, this is a disaster waiting to happen. The government must not go forward with its hare-brained, ill-conceived scheme.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Gatineau Québec

Liberal

Steven MacKinnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, my Quebec colleague across the way has a case of proceduritis. He said that members had only two hours to talk about this issue, when we have been discussing it here in the House today for six or seven hours, which is entirely appropriate.

Earlier, I asked our Quebec colleague from Trois-Rivières a question, and I am going to ask this member the same question. We will not talk about Gatineau, Quebec City, or Trois-Rivières. We will talk about a project in our largest city, Montreal, and that project is the Réseau électrique métropolitain. There is a proposal on the table by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, our nest egg, which invests in infrastructure projects and companies all around the world.

This is a major, economically viable infrastructure project in Montreal, where an investor, our nest egg, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, is going to take our retirees' money and invest it with, I hope, the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec to make sure that we have sound infrastructure. That is the type of project that could be undertaken by the infrastructure bank: a public asset where users pay. They pay to lower the debt of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and make a profit that will go in the nest eggs of Quebeckers.

Is the member against implementing this type of infrastructure project in Montreal, in our province, and likely all across Canada?

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not linger over the member's insipid comments about how we have just spent six hours talking about it. What we are talking about here is the NDP motion to call the Liberals to order. This has absolutely nothing to do with the substance of the matter. This is unbelievable because the member is smarter than that, so he should show it.

He brought up the project in Montreal. We have nothing against that. Do we really need a bank, a new Liberal scheme, to make that happen? No way. If the federal government wants to get involved, that is what PPP Canada is for. We do not need a new scheme to do that.

This is actually a provincial matter, but since the member went there, I am happy to revisit my old passions. If the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec does the analysis and decides that this is a good move for the Caisse and Quebec taxpayers, that is up to them. That is a private undertaking, and it is fine. That is what PPP Canada is for. Why set up a whole other Liberal scheme? We already have PPP Canada.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent for his speech, but also for his passion. I know he loves numbers, so I have a question for him. Perhaps he will have an answer or a rough answer.

For the past few hours, I have to admit that I have started to look forward to retirement, because to hear the Liberals tell it, pension funds are going to be overflowing.

I have two questions. First of all, does anyone know how many workers are not covered by a pension plan, people for whom the Liberals' arguments simply do not hold water? Also, what proportion of earnings can I look forward to in retirement, relative to the extra costs that I will have to incur, from the moment the plan is set in motion until I die? It would be interesting to study that in committee, if this part of the bill could be sent to committee.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is why we should not rush through such a project, such a study and the creation of an institution like the infrastructure bank. We need to take our time and review the project properly. It is not just the NDP and the Conservative Party saying so. KPMG said so in a scathing report ordered by the government to determine how their plans measured up. KPMG told the government to be careful because this will cause big problems and result in a lot of questions.

If perchance the government wants to move forward, which we think is a very bad idea, then let it at least follow the rules of the game. Putting this in a 300-page bill and rushing it through is pure hypocrisy.

Canadians deserve a thorough debate on the subject. My NDP colleague's questions are on the mark. Unfortunately, I do not have the answers, but this shows the importance of having a thorough debate instead of rushing this through to please Liberal Party cronies.

Opposition Motion — The Canada Infrastructure BankBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe the NDP's motion today is very important; it calls on the government to split its mammoth Bill C-44. The budget implementation bill amends 30 statutes, is over 300 pages long, and was only allotted four days of debate.

Of those four days, one was a Wednesday, when we debated for an hour and a quarter, and another was a Friday, when we had one single hour of debate. Just seven of my NDP colleagues have been able to speak to budget Bill C-44.

This bill is of capital importance and we cannot even debate it. The fact is that, the shorter the debate, the less informed the Canadian public will be about all the measures being proposed that will hit them square in the wallet. This mammoth omnibus bill, this statutory juggernaut, is undemocratic.

The Liberal Party even bragged during the campaign that it would never introduce omnibus budget bills and that it would never resort to tactics to withhold information. In fact, that is precisely what the Liberals are doing.

We are talking about the infrastructure bank, which is really the privatization bank, because that is what this is about and what it is turning into. No members of the public were consulted.

Only members of private companies, billionaire companies, were consulted. They were some of the advisors to the Minister of Finance and they came up with a scheme to ensure that these companies would reap the profits generated by these infrastructure investment projects. It is clear that there is scheming involved. They discussed it behind closed doors. No one had access to these conversations.

We are asking that this part be taken out of the bill so it can be studied separately, allowing experts to study it, and so we can study it and let Canadians know what it is all about.

In fact, $35 billion in public money will be invested in this infrastructure bank. It is really important that we be able to debate this. I hope that the government will listen to reason and support this motion. If the government has nothing to hide, the infrastructure bank project should be studied in detail in committee.

Since they started in November 2016, discussions on the infrastructure bank have been dogged by controversy. This omnibus budget bill only confirms the fears we have had from the outset. The bank will certainly not serve the public interest. My colleague from Trois-Rivières said that public infrastructure must serve the common good and the public interest, that of all Canadians.

What we now understand is that the projects submitted to the bank will have to be profitable to the companies looking to invest. That will not be in the public interest.

When my other colleague spoke, he talked about renovating a kitchen that would be used by the owner. In order to fund the project, he would have to rely on private investors and thus have to pay a fee every time he wanted to use the kitchen. That simply makes no sense, and it certainly is not in the public interest.

What does this investment bank have going for it? How come the Liberals have such a hard time telling us how it might benefit small towns and ordinary Canadians?

All we know is that this bank will benefit wealthy businesspeople. The Liberals, however, were elected on their commitment to start investing in infrastructure and communities again. That is not at all what we are seeing in this mammoth Bill C-44, where the legislation setting up this infrastructure bank was sneakily included.

What is more, we do not know what the criteria for the projects will be. The private investors' criteria should meet the needs of Canadians, but instead, they will meet the needs of the investors.

This bank was created by the private sector for the private sector. We cannot blame businesses. They want to make money. That is their whole reason for being. However, we are wondering why the government chose to get companies to build our public infrastructure, which should be permanent, sustainable, and properly used. The money spent on infrastructure should be money well spent. I would like to remind members that $35 billion in taxpayer money is going to be used for this infrastructure investment bank.

An advisory council was created by and for the Minister of Finance. Its official title is the advisory council on economic growth, not the advisory council on the development of public infrastructure.

BlackRock, an investment fund specializing in the acquisition of infrastructure, is part of that council. It is important to remember that name. BlackRock is the world's largest private asset manager, and it examined and commented on a briefing on the infrastructure bank prepared by the Minister of Infrastructure before he presented it to private clients. This company worked with the government for three months to try to promote the bank to investors in Toronto. BlackRock had three months to discuss this bank, while the House had one day, thanks to the efforts of the NPD. How is it that the government discussed this project with private investors for three months? That does not make any sense.

Internal government files show that large multinationals like BlackRock were given unprecedented control over the development of the Liberals' so-called infrastructure bank. That is another troubling fact. That is serious. There are so many conflicts of interest here. Where is the public share? What role do members play? We cannot discuss it. We are asking that an independent committee be allowed to examine this issue.

Also on that council is Goldman Sachs, one of the investment banks that contributed to the financial crisis of 2008. Other notable mentions are oil companies, including Alberta's Cenovus, one of the country's largest oil companies.

Who will sit on this infrastructure bank's board of directors? There will only be private sector appointments. Not a single representative of federal, provincial or municipal governments will get to sit on the board, which is meant to be working in communities' interests. Not a single public voice will be heard. Great job!

It also seems as though the bank will have to ensure that all information relating to developers, private companies and institutional investors remains confidential. Anyone who dares disclose any public information would be subject to prosecution. This is scary stuff. It stinks.

Mr. Speaker, I forgot to mention that, if I have any left, I will be sharing my time with the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith.

Regarding this infrastructure bank's aims, the bill states:

The purpose of the Bank is to invest, and seek to attract investment from private sector investors and institutional investors, in infrastructure projects in Canada or partly in Canada that will generate revenue [profits, in other words] and that will be in the public interest by, for example, supporting conditions that foster economic growth...

Basically, profit comes before Canadians' interests. Nowhere does the government explain where, how, and to what specific ends investment projects will be approved.

We know that highways, toll bridges, and physical infrastructure such as airports and even pipelines will be funded with public money and managed by the private sector.

Who is on this advisory council? Brian Ferguson, CEO of Cenovus, one of the biggest oil companies, as I mentioned earlier.

I do not have much time left, but we have plenty of examples of how private financing can double infrastructure project costs. I am thinking of three big ones. The Auditor General of Ontario found that public-private partnerships cost taxpayers an extra $8 billion. The Auditor General of Quebec figured out that the province would have saved $10.4 billion had it built the CHUM with public money instead of turning to a public-private partnership.

I am out of time, but I hope the Liberals will agree to split the omnibus bill and have an independent committee do a thorough study of the infrastructure bank.