Tories say Liberals putting infrastructure in hands of foreign billionaires

By  | 

Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose speaks to members of the Conservative Party of Canada caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday November 16, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose speaks to members of the Conservative Party of Canada caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday November 16, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Liberal efforts to court billions from pension funds and foreign investors are under attack from the left and the right, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces accusations of selling out the public interest in an effort to boost infrastructure spending.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose criticized Mr. Trudeau Wednesday during a public speech to her party’s caucus, claiming sarcastically that the Prime Minister should be able to work well with Donald Trump because of the president-elect’s vast wealth.

“Prime Minister Trudeau loves hanging out with billionaires. This could work out,” she said. “Our prime minister sure likes spending time with them. He spends time with them in Davos, at a billionaire retreat in Sun Valley, with Chinese billionaires at Meech Lake, and early this week with hedge fund managers and billionaires at the Ritz Carleton.”

Ms. Ambrose was making reference to a day of closed-door meetings in Toronto Monday in which Mr. Trudeau and senior cabinet ministers met first with Canadian-based institutional investors at the Ritz Carleton and then an afternoon of meetings with foreign investors organized by BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest asset manager, at the Shangri-La Hotel.

The Liberals used the meetings to promote the proposed new $35-billion Canada Infrastructure Bank, which would aim to develop a priority list of projects worth at least $100-million each and package them in a way that combined public money and private investment dollars.

Ms. Ambrose said the “so-called infrastructure bank” would go against the interests of the Canadian middle class that the Liberals claim to be helping.

“Let me just decode this for you. It’s a plan to take loans for bridges, hospitals and schools from foreign billionaires. Billionaires who, let’s make it clear, they’re not doing this out of the best interest of Canadians. They’re going to be looking for a return, and that means jobs will be a cost that’s kept to a minimum, and taxpayer dollars will come second to their profits whenever there is a project that goes over budget. So that means that decisions about tolls and user fees will be made in boardrooms in Beijing and Dubai. Not here.”

The NDP is continuing its long-held criticism of public-private partnerships and public sector unions are ramping up their attacks this week, releasing opinion pieces and union-commissioned polling to argue that the public does not support such arrangements.

The Conservatives however have historically been strong advocates for more private investment in infrastructure. The Conservative government created a federal Crown corporation called PPP Canada in 2009 that has some similar attributes to the proposed infrastructure bank, but a much smaller budget. The Conservatives also imposed a P3 screen on infrastructure spending that forced municipalities to test all projects for their potential of being delivered through a publi- private partnership. The Liberal government removed the P3 screen and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi told The Globe this week that no decision has been made on the future of PPP Canada.

Conservative spokesperson Jake Enwright said the party remains philosophically supportive of public-private partnerships but is raising concern about the lack of detail around the Liberal plans and the fact that it will lead to more deficit spending without a clear plan to create jobs.

Mr. Sohi promoted the government’s plan this week in an appearance at a conference in Toronto organized by The Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships.

In an interview, Mr. Sohi said the government is still working on the details of the infrastructure bank and any decisions related to imposing user fees like toll roads will be left in the hands of municipalities and provinces.

“As proponents and owners of the projects, they determine whether to charge a price for use of the infrastructure or not. That’s their decision. We don’t get involved in that discussion and we don’t want to get involved in that discussion.”

Report Typo/Error

Follow us on Twitter: @curryb, @l_stone