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The Canada Infrastructure Bank should not be part of the post-COVID recovery

Written by Vi Bui and Dylan Penner

As communities continue to face the consequences of the pandemic, protect our most vulnerable members and begin rebuilding, it has become clear that we cannot go back to business as usual. Any COVID-19 recovery plan must put community and people first, not corporate interests, while building resilience to confront the other crises we’re facing. That’s how we can build a just recovery.

However, the federal government is signalling worrying signs of corporate influence: major bailouts for the oil and gas sector, ramped up corporate lobbying activities, and bank CEOs tapped to develop the recovery plan.

We wrote recently about how the public-private partnerships (P3s) have no place in Canada’s post-COVID just recovery. The federal government has a different opinion – a cornerstone of their plans for a post-COVID recovery is the Canada infrastructure Bank (CIB), a tool for privatization that promotes public-private partnerships (P3s) and privatization in infrastructure investments.

For decades, privatization advocates have peddled their false austerity narrative while corporations have made billions at the expense of people and communities. Our cities and towns were forced to choose between lead-laced drinking water and losing control of public water services, between overcrowded buses and unaffordable transit. We were told that there isn’t enough to go around.

P3s and their horrible track record only seem like viable options because of this false narrative. The idea that investments in community well-being and essential operations are too expensive, while billions are handed to major industries as subsidies or stashed away in tax havens every year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the federal government is capable of rapid and significant spending to respond to a crisis, and that the austerity narrative our communities are so familiar with is false. The decades of infrastructure underfunding, ignoring urgent community needs, and the worsening climate crisis call for more quick, bold and imaginative action to guarantee a just, equitable and sustainable recovery.

We have the opportunity to rebuild society while centering community well-being and promoting active public participation and stewardship of the commons like water, health care, transit and housing. That requires urgent and significant investments to revamp our aging infrastructure, make necessary upgrades to improve community resilience and build the critical components to help transition to a low-carbon economy.

P3s were a poor model before the pandemic. They should play no role in Canada’s recovery plan. The CIB’s current structure promotes a flawed financing model, inviting and subsidizing private interests to take control of critical infrastructure and services that should be kept in public hands. It’s a tool that poorly invests public funds to further corporate interests while failing to support communities. It’s a wealth transfer from the public to corporations and CEOs.

It’s time we return the Canada Infrastructure Bank to its original purpose: to provide public funding or low-cost loans to municipalities to upgrade and build critical infrastructures.