Amarjeet Sohi OTTAWA — The chairwoman of a new federal agency that will help finance the construction of new highways, transit systems and electricity grids says it could also help fund multiple, smaller projects that are badly needed across Indigenous communities.
The needs in some Indigenous communities are many: hydro, clean water, safe housing and broadband internet, to name a few.
On First Nations reserves alone, the infrastructure gap — the amount that it would cost to replace and repair crumbling roads, homes, bridges and pipes — is estimated to be as much as $40 billion. The Liberals are turning to the private sector for help. Earlier this month, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott challenged private companies to work with Indigenous communities to design, cost and transfer some of the financial risk of projects.
Janice Fukakusa, chair of the Liberal’s new infrastructure bank, said the agency could help further by taking a concept or project on one reserve, or one community and rolling it out over a number of communities to build interest from institutional investors.
"The ideas you have and what you’re rolling out has to be somewhat repeatable," said Fukakusa, a former Royal Bank executive.
"If you can find a way of leveraging the one thing into many things, then you’ll have a flow of projects, infrastructure that is constantly rolling out and then you’ll get the attention of institutional investors who are always looking for that flow."
The Toronto-based bank will take $35 billion in government funding and seek to leverage three or four times that much in private dollars to help finance infrastructure projects across the country. Eligible projects will have to generate revenue, meaning roads, bridges, water and transit systems will need user fees to defray costs.
The agency will help make projects financially viable, either through funding construction, or helping investors project revenues so they can feel more comfortable putting in long-term capital, Fukakusa said in an interview Thursday.
"The outcome will be more infrastructure for Canada for the future, because we can attract capital, long-term capital, that will feel the risk profile is acceptable (and) therefore invest more," she said.
"We definitely can’t support all the infrastructure we need through government of Canada balance sheets."
But before that can happen, Fukakusa and the new board of directors have to create an organization from scratch.
The federal government unveiled Thursday the 10 people who will guide the new agency as it evaluates projects to see which ones it can help make reality. The list of directors for the Liberal government’s infrastructure bank includes lawyers, business people and Indigenous leaders.
Fukakusa said board members have experience overseeing large projects and know what interests investors.
The board’s first big project will be to help the Trudeau government decide who should be the agency’s first chief executive.
An announcement is expected in the coming weeks, as the agency is supposed to be up and running by the end of the year.
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