Canada's NDP


April 6th, 2022

Support for Bill C-245

I am pleased to support Bill C-245 put forward by my colleague Niki Ashton (Churchill—Keewatinook Aski) which would amend the Infrastructure Bank of Canada Act.

Mrs. Bonita Zarrillo (Port Moody-Coquitlam NDP):Madam Speaker, last fall, devastating rain and floods in British Columbia exposed how dependent we are on public infrastructure for the free movement of goods and people. Stable and robust public infrastructure ensures access to employment, food, medicines and the essentials that keep us and the economy running. The inability to easily move in and out of the Lower Mainland of B.C. for just a few weeks had a harrowing impact on people, businesses and industry. As livestock and crops were lost, so too was infrastructure. Sections of major connector roads were washed away, bridges destroyed and dikes failed, due to a lack of adequate maintenance and upgrades. This was the reality of just one extreme weather event.

Last year, B.C. was just another canary in the coal mine for Canada and the world with floods, droughts, heat domes and wildfires all happening in the same year within kilometres of each other. These incidents of communities losing so much is because of climate change. Black swan events are no longer a rarity, and they highlight the urgency of addressing climate change now.

Monday's report from the IPCC on climate mitigation was clear that limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is all but out of reach without massive and immediate emissions cuts. While the federal government focuses on targets 10 and 20 years out, it is missing the other side of the equation: our local communities. People are suffering now on the front lines of climate change.

Across Canada, the past generation of public infrastructure is failing and is in urgent need of upgrading. New infrastructure must be built to specifications that will withstand today's and tomorrow's climate realities. However, local governments are struggling to fund these competing priorities with their limited tax base. They rely on other levels of government to assist through unpredictable grants, but what they really need is long-term, stable and predictable investment from the federal government to build the next generation of resilient infrastructure.

This reality is magnified in northern and indigenous communities. These are some of the hardest hit by the effects of climate change, and they have been left to fend for themselves after decades of inadequate federal investment and even the most basic of infrastructure. This long-standing inequity in infrastructure investment has led to a chronic lack of housing, inadequate water and waste-water treatment plants and a dependence on diesel with no access to other energy resources.

These communities have been abandoned for far too long.

As my NDP colleague, the member for Nunavut, said yesterday, in her riding there is a need for 3,000 homes, but the government has only committed to building 100. That is 100 homes in a territory that needs 3,000.

The current infrastructure funding model is obviously not working for indigenous and northern communities. The way the federal government allocates limited infrastructure funds to indigenous and northern communities, often on a year-by-year basis, has never been appropriate. This leaves them at a disadvantage and unable to do critical, long-term planning.

Indigenous and northern communities have waited too long for safe housing, clean water, broadband, public transportation and reliable roads. In places like St. Theresa Point in northern Manitoba, for example, the community is isolated and inaccessible by land 80% of the year. As Chief Flett tells us, their community needs more public infrastructure to enhance community services and to ensure all-weather access. Without public roads and publicly funded infrastructure to move goods in and out all year round, we can imagine what the price of food and other essential goods is in that community.

It is time for federal infrastructure to live up to the times, and the NDP have solutions. One of them is to reinvent the Canada Infrastructure Bank to make it work for people living on the front lines of the climate crisis.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank was set up to build infrastructure, yet in five years it has built none. Zero projects have been completed. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has noted that the CIB is not meeting its own goals. Other critics have said that privatizing infrastructure projects through private-public partnerships does not work for workers or communities because these projects are focused on investor profits.

The Infrastructure Bank adds no value to communities today. It is broken. Based on a failed P3 model, the bank cannot attract the investments it promised. This Crown corporation is currently being run under a model that has been proven to cost governments and people more.

Bill C-245 would use the Infrastructure Bank for good. By removing the for-profit corporate cronyism and instead investing in public infrastructure, this is an opportunity to make immediate and critical infrastructure investments across Canada, with a focus on indigenous and northern communities. We need investments in housing, roads, clean energy and water and waste water plants, all while fighting against climate change. This bill would ensure that decision-makers from first nation, Métis and Inuit communities are on the board so that infrastructure projects meet the needs of their communities. This bill would also increase transparency, with regular reporting so that the $35 billion in the CIB goes to projects that support communities facing the climate crisis instead of padding the pockets of wealthy Liberal insiders.

The House has the opportunity right now to commit to indigenous and northern communities that it will harness a public ownership model for the next generation of infrastructure. When this bill is enacted, it will finally put the Canada Infrastructure Bank to work, something that has not happened since its inception.

The power of a reinvented Canada Infrastructure Bank will explicitly support climate change adaptation and mitigation in the most underfunded communities, the communities most at risk of climate change. With this bill, the Infrastructure Bank would be more equitable and transparent and would ensure that indigenous and northern communities can plan for the long term with stable, reliable infrastructure funding. It would ensure the $35-billion Canada Infrastructure Bank lives up to the times.