Citizen Action Monitor

Wake up Canada: Trudeau’s Infrastructure Bank will be a “long run theft of public dollars”, says U Waterloo prof

The CIB will be a “bargain store…a veritable game show wheel of asset grabs and giveaways.”

No 1835 Posted by fw, November 30, 2016

Heather Whiteside

Prof Heather Whiteside

“Both the Liberal government and its Advisory Council on Economic Growth are head-over-heels for the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), announcing with fresh-faced enthusiasm that it will be an innovative route for augmenting infrastructure finance, a flywheel of institutional capital participation, and an economic stimulus boon for the middle class. Beyond the euphoria is deception; there are no sunny ways to be found here, only shadowy figures and cloudy rationale. Let’s decipher the fraudulent hype.”Heather Whiteside, The Bullet

And decipher “the fraudulent hype” she does. Assistant Professor Whiteside, Political Science, University of Waterloo, shreds Trudeau’s Canada Infrastructure Bank, referring to it critically as – ‘theft’, ‘deception’, ‘shelf game’, ‘game show’, ‘asset grabs’, and ‘giveaways’.

Canada could learn a thing or two from the UK’s experience with its Private Finance Initiative (PFI) “masterfully rebranded by Tony Blair by turning privatization into partnerships that augment, rather than replace, public spending,” says Whiteside. Consider these selected excerpts from a November 17, 2014 article — Here’s what the Trudeau brain trust has in store for us –

  • Rather than Central Government directly funding infrastructure works like schools or hospitals, Private Finance Initiative (PFI) means a consortium of private sector banks and construction firms finance, own, operate and lease them back to the UK taxpayer, over a period of 30-35 years.
  • The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is a big part of the privatization that’s killing England’s National Health Service
  • PFI financing of public infrastructure is now in use across the NHS, as well as the Departments for Education, Local Government, Defence, Transport, and Justice.
  • UK taxpayers now owe £305 billion in PFI repayments across 700+ projects for the next 30 years.
  • PFI deals have been universally criticised as horrendous value for taxpayers, likened to “paying for a hospital on your credit card”
  • PFI rewires the relationship between the citizen and the state, so that our public services are no longer owned by, or directly accountable to us.
  • NHS Trusts owe £80bn in PFI loan repayments and “unitary charges,” the technical term describing the extortionate ongoing running costs of maintaining PFI hospitals via PFI – where private contractors are granted 30-year monopoly rights to deliver maintenance and services.
  • A public movement is building to fight back against the PFI scam.

Professor Whiteside’s piece is reposted below with added subheadings and highlighted text. Alternatively, read it on The Bullet’s website by clicking on the following linked title.

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The Canada Infrastructure Bank: Theft by Deception by Heather Whiteside, The Bullet, November 29, 2016

Look under the hood of the CIB lemon that Trudeau is imposing on Canadian taxpayers – it ain’t pretty

Both the Liberal government and its Advisory Council on Economic Growth are head-over-heels for the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), announcing with fresh-faced enthusiasm that it will be an innovative route for augmenting infrastructure finance, a flywheel of institutional capital participation, and an economic stimulus boon for the middle class. Beyond the euphoria is deception; there are no sunny ways to be found here, only shadowy figures and cloudy rationale. Let’s decipher the fraudulent hype.

Ontario’s gamble on public-private partnerships ran up $8-billion taxpayer dollars to its debt

Innovative? Canada’s current system of dysfunctional public infrastructure development would certainly benefit from a source of dedicated, pooled national savings. Yet the CIB’s main ‘innovation’ lies in granting equity ownership rights to private capital through investment vehicles like public-private partnerships (P3s), the self-same model tagged with adding $8-billion unnecessary dollars to Ontario’s long run debt, or where borrowing through partnerships is doubling long run costs for BC taxpayers. Not only is that theft, it is deception.

People’s movement in UK is fighting back against PFI scam rebranded by Blair (Read SEE ALSO link at bottom)

We have seen this innovative movie before, many times over. Canada imported the scheme decades ago from the UK where the much loathed and floundering Private Finance Initiative (PFI) was masterfully rebranded by Tony Blair by turning privatization into partnerships that augment, rather than replace, public spending. Fast forward a few decades and many there are calling for a complete abandonment of the bankrupt partnership model – a model as bankrupt as their NHS Trusts teetering on the edge of insolvency, saddled by private partners’ exorbitant fees.

A Flywheel for Investment?

Trudeau’s CIB “shell game” will be “a veritable game show wheel of asset grabs and giveaways”

For mechanics, a flywheel is a store of energy and a momentum-enabling device. For Canadians, the CIB will be a bargain store offering up revenue streams and guaranteed returns, a veritable game show wheel of asset grabs and giveaways. Once established, secondary market equity sales can bring in up to 50 per cent returns on investment for private owners. Canada has already been host to over twenty such equity sales, and nearly half were captured by tax haven-registered investment funds. A shell game is at play: whether financed publicly or privately, more money spent on public works between 2017 and 2028 means someone’s repayment burden is going up, either taxpayers’ or service users’. Ultimately the public pays, and payments frequently fly offshore cancelling revenue recycling at home.

Trudeau’s claim that the CIB will be a “boon for the middle class” is BS

A boon for the middle class? Smoke and mirrors. Focusing attention on the broad benefits of infrastructure-led economic stimulus diverts scrutiny from the guaranteed windfall profits that await investors. Their investment in our stimulus comes at a price – a 7-9% return at the very least – and their equity means changing how public infrastructure is designed and repaid. The CIB will target ‘commercializable’, revenue-generating infrastructure like transit, highways, and bridges promising dedicated user fees to repay private capital. The middle class must decide quickly if a Canadian landscape dotted with tolls and charges matches its needs and wants because the Liberals pledge to increase total infrastructure spending through this innovation, and they plan to reach deep into municipal-provincial jurisdiction to do so.

Canadians need to see the CIB for what it is: “the long run theft of public dollars”

Cutting through the deception means seeing the Canada Infrastructure Bank for what it is: the long run theft of public dollars. Historically low interest rates make for less profitable investments, and with unhappy investors on a hunt for yield, our public infrastructure will soon be on offer. Yet low interest rates equally make for happy borrowers. The government’s own 2015 budget trumpets the lowest net debt-to-GDP ratio in the G-7. While we shouldn’t be foolish with excessive debt run up, we also shouldn’t be fooled into buying what investors are selling.

Heather Whiteside is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo. She is the author of About Canada: Public-Private Partnerships.

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