Mr. Speaker, the infrastructure bank has been a long-standing issue that continues to be locked in the shadows. New Democrats had to put forward this motion today because of the lack of clarity, transparency, and accountability with respect to this bank. I believe that the most important part of today's discussion is this: If the government is so proud of the infrastructure bank, why make it part of an omnibus budget bill in 2017? Why not have this section of the bill separated out?
I believe that Canadians and municipalities deserve the right to hear, in detail, how this bank will work, especially when its creation is under a cloud of suspect behaviour, with private companies that will be the same companies making the profits from these ventures sitting in the driver's seat. This shows a clear conflict of interest. Now Liberals have cut our ability to debate this by virtue of shutting down debate.
This needs to be clear. First, the infrastructure bank was squished into an omnibus bill, creating a lack of accountability and vigorous debate in the House. Second, the debate was shortened so these issues could be rushed over by the government.
We have asked for this provision to be split from the omnibus bill, something the Liberals have yet to do. If the government is so proud, it should not be afraid and should be willing to have this discussion. I believe this would truly allow for an in-depth analysis, more hours of debate, and a specific committee to review the process, rather than one hour, as it currently stands. This provision will be reviewed quickly at committee, in conjunction with the 300 pages of legislative changes in Bill C-44. This is a lack of accountability.
It is important that all parliamentarians take this seriously. There is a general lack of clarity with respect to the infrastructure bank, and there are many alarming issues surrounding this scheme. First, many measures will have to be dealt with in future legislation. Second, the lack of transparency is troubling. The bank will be able to withhold important information from the Attorney General of Canada and the parliamentary budget officer under the guise of being sensitive commercial information. Third, the bank will have serious consequences for our public infrastructure and the lives of Canadian citizens.
As the deputy critic for infrastructure, it has been a pleasure to advocate in this role, most notably for Canadians living in rural and small communities. Too often we hear the word “infrastructure” tied to larger communities. Too often smaller centres are simply left out of the equation.
For us to quickly demonstrate how the scheme will never benefit our rural communities or the middle class, we can simply break down the nature of the beast. The bottom line is that private investors will not be joining the government's scheme for the pleasure of building infrastructure but rather will be expecting a significant financial return.
I want to be clear. It makes sense to me that these investors will want a return. Investing is for the purpose of making a return. My concern is that infrastructure is moving in this direction. I am concerned that Canadians are not having a say on this bank. I am most concerned that these investors have been shown to be in the driver's seat in building this bank. It is like asking the fox to guard the hen house, with a complete lack of acknowledgement of the role of a fox.
The Quebec pension plan, for example, is very clear. It expects a return of 7% to 9%. Where do members think it would get that from? It would be from the tolls and user fees collected from Canadians. Simply said, rural communities cannot sustain the level of returns Bay Street bankers require. That means that all the communities I represent will be ignored. Other MPs in this House should really reflect on the usefulness of this bank in their ridings, and most importantly, must ask who this bank is really helping.
Why is the government so proud to encourage the urban-rural divide? Canadians deserve to know what will bring these returns. What will be sold off? Where will the new tolls be imposed? What user fees can we expect? Every time the Prime Minister is asked, he talks about the different models and the potential. The outcomes of these models require more taxpayers to shell out more money.
It was hard to understand the reasoning to create this bank from the start. This dubious venture was not in the Liberals' major campaign platform. Why suddenly is it such a major project priority? We have all witnessed the government's mammoth infrastructure stimulus plan fall flat: all this taxpayer money and very little to show for it. Does the arm's length nature of this bank allow the government to relinquish the hard decisions on the infrastructure file? Is this an excuse for its failed stimulus?
The Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy says the Liberals have not shown a solid business case for its new infrastructure bank. At the head of the institute is the former parliamentary budget officer, surprisingly enough. The omnibus budget bill also limits the independence of the current PBO. It does not look good when the Liberals are limiting the PBO's powers in this year's budget while ignoring calls from the previous PBO about this year's budget.
What are the Liberals hiding? It could do with the fact that the bank has the potential to increase overall costs to taxpayers, because infrastructure built by private investors will always cost more than public infrastructure.
The government has the capacity to borrow at a very low cost, so why will it not? It may have to do with its friends on Bay Street. Rather than building critical infrastructure that benefits everyday citizens, the Liberals are creating a privatization scheme that puts the need of their wealthy friends first.
Government records show that corporations and private investors were given unprecedented control in the planning and development of the Liberals' privatization bank. BlackRock's extensive involvement in the creation of the infrastructure bank of the private sector raises conflict of interest questions. These are very important questions that need to be discussed in the House. It is a conflict of interest to allow private corporations which would be the largest beneficiaries of the Canada infrastructure bank to participate in the planning and development of the bank.
The Conflict of Interest Act states that a “public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to...improperly further another person’s private interests.”
The Liberals promised investments in infrastructure to benefit everyday Canadians, but instead they are getting a government that puts the interests of larger corporations first. This is a fine example of a Prime Minister who has lost touch with Canadians who rely on public infrastructure. It is also a sign that he has lost touch with the middle class and those working hard to join it.
Infrastructure can create meaningful employment for many, but this bank will pay with taxpayer money with one hand and take our user fees and tolls with the other. Therefore, Canadians will be paying twice.
The government has yet to make a compelling case for why it would be better to work with private investors seeking high returns when Ottawa has the ability to finance projects itself at a much lower cost.
While the Liberals are unphased and standing tall in the face of this important criticism, Canadians deserve better. They deserve to know what is happening. Canadians need to know what is being pawned off, where the tolls will be, and what user fees they can expect.
This project will hinder the growth of middle-class Canadians by imposing costs that will line the pockets of millionaires and billionaires while leaving everyday Canadians on the hook.
While the Liberals and their buddies are too busy figuring out how to make this venture profitable, Canadians are quickly figuring out how unaffordable and impotent the government is.
Last night on Power Play on CTV, the member for Gatineau said on a panel about the infrastructure bank that Canadians do not need to know. I disagree. The Liberal government needs to take this discussion out of the backroom secret meetings, pull it out from the omnibus budget bill, and put it in the House for debate. I hope the government will stop hiding and do the right thing.