Canada needs its infrastructure bank now: Marwah

Newcomers to the Senate lacking experience in government often find themselves, like me, absorbing a lot of lessons that might first appear to have little to do with our role of soberly examining and, when necessary, amending legislation.I’ve learned, for example, that passing a bill can be an often-technical process; that the rules of debate are complex and, even though this Senate is becoming a more independent place, that political matters can sometimes obscure what the Senate really does.And while I’ve become appreciative that these are necessary facets of governing, the recent debate surrounding the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) suggests to me that perhaps we ought to be talking a little more about the substance of this proposal, rather than having a breathless procedural discussion about how to split this government’s budget in two.The real issue is that some want the CIB to take effect as soon as possible, while others would prefer to delay it until the fall. Put me firmly in category one.A large part of the 2015 federal election was fought on the critical policy debate over whether Canada should undertake investments in productivity-enhancing infrastructure projects to address the national infrastructure deficit of $500 billion-plus. Canadians decided our country’s roads, highways and other infrastructure are in need of massive replacement and upgrade, and the $35 billion proposal the Senate is currently studying is a good start toward addressing this deficit. Article Continued BelowThe CIB will bring in badly needed private capital, reduce risk to government and tap valuable expertise from the private and institutional sectors. It would fund projects that are too costly for government alone to undertake, but also too risky for private sector investors to assume on their own.Despite these good reasons, critics have raised a number of concerns. Notably, they argue that the CIB is not really a bank; that there aren’t enough details available on how projects become eligible; and, finally, that the Bank’s CEO and its board should not serve at the pleasure of the government.With respect to the first argument, as a former banker myself, I can attest that the CIB is, indeed, a bank. It may not take deposits in traditional way that we all know, but it is very much a merchant bank that structures projects, takes equity positions and makes investments.